Op-Ed: The community bears 100% of the risk in school enrollment calculation

October 9, 2009
by Gregg Bresner

My personal view as a resident of Chappaqua, not as a school board member nor on behalf of the Board of Education, is that I find the Chappaqua Crossing residential proposal deeply troubling. It is a very serious mistake to equate physical school capacity with the reality of school operating expenses.  If there are enrollment declines going forward, which may or may not happen, the Chappaqua School District has the ability to adjust its budget expenses accordingly to take into account any such enrollment declines and pass along any savings to the community in the form of reducing the tax burden or re-investing in our educational programs.

According to the analysis submitted to the Town Board by the Chappaqua School Board (which submission is on file and available to the public), the annual cost to the District per student enrolled is $25,246. The projected incremental school tax revenue estimated for the proposed 278 units at Chappaqua Crossing is $1.29 million annually, or approximately $4,628 per Chappaqua Crossing unit per year.  Therefore, after approximately 51 students are enrolled as the result of the proposed residential development at Chappaqua Crossing, current New Castle and Mt. Pleasant taxpayers will assume 100% of the costs of paying for any additional students enrolled beyond 51.  Effectively, the risk is that the developer will be selling 278 non age-restricted units to buyers who will have unlimited access to our school system for a fixed $4,628 per unit in incremental school taxes when the current cost for each pupil enrolled is $25,246.  If a Chappaqua Crossing household has three students enrolled in the school district, the budget costs would be $75,738 with only $4,628 in school property taxes contributed by the owner of that Chappaqua Crossing unit.  Current taxpayers will be responsible for the remaining $71,110 for that household.

I believe it is reasonable to assume that at least 250 new students would enroll in our school system if Chappaqua Crossing’s proposed residential development plan is approved.  The 2000 Census average for the Town of New Castle is approximately 0.7 students enrolled per household.  If Chappaqua Crossing is allowed to market residential units without age restriction, which I believe it is reasonable to assume based on established legal and market precedent, the average would then imply 194 students new students enrolled at Chappaqua Crossing alone.  In addition, the developer assumed in the DEIS that a 32% factor was appropriate for current New Castle residents selling their single family homes to move into Chappaqua Crossing condominiums.  This would imply that an additional 62 students would enroll (278 units x 32% x 0.7 students per household) as the result of these homes turning over to new buyers in New Castle.  This illustrative case results in 256 new students in total, with a likely concentration in our most crowded Grafflin elementary and Bell middle schools.  The addition of 256 students would result in an implied annual budget shortfall of $5.2 million based on current assumptions, without factoring in other potential increases in costs for redistricting, class size constraints, busing and special education needs.  Essentially, our school property taxes would have to rise substantially or we will face the risks of increasing class sizes, painful and unnecessary teacher/staff cuts, and the loss of academic and extracurricular programs to compensate for this avoidable budget shortfall.

Given the substantial economic and budgetary constraints faced by school districts in Westchester, I believe taking on the well-documented risk of avoidable increases in our school budget and property taxes simply to accommodate the financial motivations of a for-profit, private developer at Chappaqua Crossing makes no sense for this community when less risky alternatives are available.

Our community, students, and school employees are being asked to shoulder 100% of the enrollment risk

from this project and I still cannot identify one single benefit to this community for this residential project as proposed.
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The town board has invited the community to “continue the conversation” on the issues surrounding Chappaqua Crossing by writing the board at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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