School board begins line-by-line review of proposed $91.1 budget that would raise taxes 2.95%


Kicking of the school district’s budget season, Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ outlined Wednesday the aims of the preliminary $91.1 million budget for next year during the board of education meeting, calling the 8.17% spending increase “a little bit larger than what we have seen in recent years.”

“Starting with students first and foremost, we always want to make sure that everything we are putting into our budget is in line with our strategic plan, is helping to build us towards sustainability, and is something that is responsible to our taxpayers,” Champ said during the first of three meetings where the board will review the proposed spending plan line by line. 

While the maximum tax increase allowed the Pelham school district under the state formula is 5.86%, the budget would raise the tax levy by 2.95%, according to the district’s budget document. This would ensure that this year’s plan is a “tax cap compliant budget,” said Jim Hricay, assistant superintendent for business.

Trustee Will Treves asked why there has to be any tax increase at all.

“We really want to work hard to be mindful in how we address our expenditures,” Hricay said. He said the district has “a long-range plan” under which it strives to look out many years when crafting a budget instead of going year by year. “You can do things for one year,” he said. “But it gives you less maneuverability in future years.” 

Hricay said health insurance costs will climb 8%. Other large increases the district has to take into consideration come from the two pension systems. These are two examples of categories that are uncontrollable by the district, he said.

State aid for the district will increase significantly from the current year, giving the Pelham an additional $2 million.

Seventy-five percent of spending will go toward salaries and employee benefits. “Schools are a people business,” said Hricay. “We have a lot of staff to educate our students, and that is why it makes up 75% of our budget.”

Source: Pelham Union Free School District website.

Academic highlights of the preliminary spending plan include increased staffing. Champ said the goal is to maintain elementary class sizes so they are at or below board of education guidelines. Increasing the math and social studies departments at Pelham Memorial High School in order to reduce class sizes and meet enrollment needs was also discussed. 

Next year, the district plans to bring in a consultant to work with the high school staff “to look for strategic and innovative ways of adjusting the master schedule for efficiencies that may help solve logistical problems—and take a look at class size,” said Champ. 

Another addition to next year’s budget focuses around the special education program, said the superintendent. The district wants to add a full-time employee as well as an additional teaching assistant at Hutchinson Elementary School. 

“That’s where the need is, and we always work to plan our programs to meet student needs,” said Champ.

The next two school board meetings will continued the line-by-line budget review. The board will vote on the budget on April 18, sending it to voters May 16.  

During the meeting, the board also welcomed three staff members—Pelham Middle School Principal Lynn Sabia, teacher Mark Finegan and assistant Toni Damiano—who are working together until the end of the year to handle the responsibilities of former Athletic Director Christian Hodge, who resigned in February.

“They are already aware of making sure that everything is up and running, coaching spots are filled and field allocation is equitable,” Champ said.

The next board meeting is scheduled for March 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the middle school library.