Schools Superintendent’s proposed budget shows $2 million increase, or 1.77%, is within tax cap

Monday, March 3, 2014
by Christine Yeres

Last Tuesday, Superintendent Lyn McKay presented her proposed budget of $116,856,988 for School Year 2014-2015, an increase over the current year’s budget of $ 2,028,900 or 1.77%.  The budget shows a loss of 12.2 “full-time equivalent” teaching positions, corresponding, according to McKay, to population shifts at the three school levels.  Figures for the next school year show 27 fewer elementary students, 60 fewer middle school students, but an increase of 46 students at the high school. 

McKay opened by noting that in a survey the district conducted in November 2011, 95% of people “felt favorably” toward the school district, 69% of them “think taxes are too high,” and 74% “think that property values will go down if the educational quality of the schools goes down.”

“Those are three really important pieces of the survey that we keep in mind as we develop our budget,” said McKay.

Proposed School Budget for 2014-2015

• Approved 2013-2014 Budget:  $114,828,088

• Proposed 2014-2015 Budget:  $116,856,988

• Increase:  $ 2,028,900 or 1.77%

McKay intends to add 0.5 social worker at the middle school level, rather than continue with the 0.5 social worker they now share.  Advancing her interest in the “social-emotional well-being” of students, she proposes adding a “Student Life Coordinator” at the high school “to help all students, not just special education students, to make the connections they need to make in their lives outside the classroom.” 

“In addition to strong academics,” McKay explained, “we want to be sure we’re looking at the whole child.”

McKay proposes designating one teacher as “Director of Literacy” for K through 12 and another to direct and coordinate technology, taking on “innovation and inquiry for [Greeley’s new] iLab” and to work with all the other schools.  The two “teacher chair” positions will be filled by current staff development personnel who will receive an additional stipend for their work.

Some modified sports programs will be added to the middle schools.

The middle schools show 60 fewer students next year, with very similar enrollment numbers at both—Bell with 628 and Seven Bridges with 620.  Greeley’s student population will increase by 46. 

Chow showed a slide of area schools ordered by per-pupil expenditure, highest to lowest, in which—in the “projected-for-2014-15” column—Chappaqua was 13th on the list, spending $28,859 per pupil.  At $49,070 per pupil, Potantico Hills is the perennial leader in the list; Scarsdale’s $30,067 puts it at seventh; and Pleasantville is 30th, at $25,907.  The per-pupil cost is derived by taking the total budget and dividing it by total enrollment—projected next year to be 3952, down from the current year’s 3979.

In view of student population projections [see slide below], Board President Jeffrey Mester asked McKay and Chow to address the “Sell Bell” concept.  “Every year we look at a capacity analysis,” said Chow. “If you look at the Bell numbers, they go down, then up.” He pointed out that if Conifer’s Hunts Place affordable housing and Chappaqua Crossing’s market rate plus affordable housing are developed, any students from both would increase those numbers.  “And if you ‘Sell Bell,’ more students would be in those condos.”

“You can always crowd students into a school,” added McKay, “and have art-on-a-cart,” but that was not the direction she envisioned for the Chappaqua school system.

Students and parents plead to keep tech teacher and wrestling coach Mike DeBellis

On the video of the meeting, embedded below, this budget presentation lasted for about 50 minutes.  The house was packed, not so much for budget reasons, but in support of Mike DeBellis, a teacher whose position is set to be cut.

Beginning at the 50-minute mark of the video—and running for the next hour—students and parents pleaded with Board of Ed members to retain Seven Bridges tech teacher and district wrestling coach Mike DeBellis in next year’s budget.  DeBellis’s 0.7 teaching position is one of those eliminated, the result of the decline in the middle school student population.  Two dozen students, a dozen parents—and one parent who is a teacher in Scarsdale—begged Board of Ed members to find a way to keep DeBellis, for his skill and dedication both as a tech teacher and as a coach.  It was not lost on several of the speakers that two positions McKay had just proposed to add to next year’s budget—a Student Life Coordinator for “students’ social and emotional well-being” and a technology “chair”—were the very jobs at which DeBellis excels both in and out of the classroom.  They begged that he be kept.

See A cautionary tale for Board of Ed members from a Scarsdale teacher,, 3/3/14.

Budget Presentation

The following budget information is taken from PowerPoint slides shown at last Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.  To see the PowerPoint in its entirety, click HERE


Expenditures: 2013-14 Approved v. 2014-15 Proposed


Each Category of Expenditure as a Percentage of Budget


Revenues: 2013-14 Approved v. 2014-15 Projected

Each Category of Revenue as a Percentage of Budget

Enrollment History and Projections: 2009 through 2020


Elementary School Sections


Middle School Teams/Sections


High School Sections


Where were we on January 15, 2014?


Where are we now?


How did we get here?

Personnel Reductions and Additions (“FTE” = Full Time Equivalent)


CCSD Board of Education 2/26/14 from New Castle Media Center on Vimeo.


We encourage civil, civic discourse. All comments are reviewed before publication to assure that this standard is met.

Can someone please provide information on salaries of all staff residing in the Board of Ed building? This is part of the “salaries” figure above, and should be separated into instructional vs non-instructional functions.

If teacher counts (and therefore salary) are tied-into student population, what should we measure the Board staff against?

What are the total staff counts and $$$ of those who roll-up-into departments such as:  Chief School Administrator, Business Administrator, Auditing, Legal, HR, Public Information, etc?

By Jackie on 03/03/2014 at 12:43 pm

In a journalism course decades ago, I learned that it is not news when a dog bites a postman but it is news when a postman bites a dog.
Using that simple comparison has helped me in many years as a journalist—and also persuaded me to differentiate in what I would take time to read, hear, or view in print & electronic media.
Without reflecting negatively on your news judgment—in this case, you have to report on what you are given in an official document—I have to wonder how long we have to see the Chappaqua School Board’s annual proposals to comply with the law re the cap on tax increases being treated as news.
When will see real news of slower growth or reductions—of the state cap not being treated as a minimum, as has appeared to be the case—without siphoning money away from the quality of our students’ education?

By Long-time resident on 03/03/2014 at 2:21 pm

Why isn’t Foreign Language part of the Middle School Team? That way the students would have the same amount of instructional time as in other academic subjects. Why is a Social Worker being added (time-wise) and a Foreign Language teacher being reduced? A well-rounded education is just as or more important than socio-emotional development—which is taken care of quite well by the Guidance staff the School Psychologist, the current Social Worker setup. Was this a Lyn McKay top-down “café” idea or a financial decision?

By Nancy on 03/03/2014 at 2:42 pm

I am not satisfied with Lynn McKay’s dismissal of a review as to whether the town needs 2 middle schools. 

A full review of the school system should be included in the master plan update.  Our schools are a major component of this town.  As a tax paying resident, I am not happy with decisions that the school administration, the school boards, this one as well as previous ones, have made.  I am interested in what is best for the students.  I feel that they have been short changed.

By Jeff on 03/03/2014 at 4:33 pm

What was inadequate about the previous review?  For the class sizes in that year, the admin estimated that they could potentially save up to $600K due to economies of scale (e.g. staffing cuts) in a 5-6 and 7-8 set up.  Along with that would be some kids sitting on a bus for an hour both ways to and from 7B which is at the edge of town, which I believe they said violates there busing policy?  What weren’t you satisfied with?  I don’t want my kid sitting on a bus for that long.  It is definitely the worst and least productive part of the day.  If you have new ideas, please share.

By Dear Jeff on 03/03/2014 at 7:34 pm

The demographics.

By Jeff on 03/04/2014 at 12:39 am

Seven Bridges is only 20 years old. Prior to that, Bell was a 6-8 school and students rode the bus all the way to Bell from all over town. Now they ride to HGHS from everywhere. It is not a one hour ride—and I’m sure Chappaqua Transportation would figure out a way to ensure that. A 5-6, 7-8 breakup of the middle schools would be an appropriate grouping of ages AND a wise allocation of money.

By Nancy on 03/04/2014 at 6:32 am

Seven Bridges is 10 years old, not 20. Bell is not located at the periphery of the district, as Seven Bridges is, so you’re comparing apples and oranges.  Current bus rides to Greeley are often 45 minutes, so the 60 minute projection doesn’t sound too inflated to me. I don’t know that the $600,000 cost savings justify reconfiguring the schools to 5-6 and 7-8, but you might make a pretty compelling argument that it would be better for the Roaring Brook kids and would allow the schools to absorb demographic fluctuations more easily with less fluctuation in class size.

By Dear Nancy on 03/04/2014 at 1:49 pm

There were good reasons why the decision was made to build a second middle school, but some people seem to have forgotten them, or perhaps they’re new to the district and not aware of how overcrowded the schools were. There were so many students at Bell that 6th graders actually were bussed across town to Westorchard for part of their school day. Furthermore, if you were to get your way and we did away with Bell, what do you imagine would go there that isn’t being proposed (and opposed) at Chappaqua Crossing? If anyone is looking for office space, there are multiple vacancies in buildings that are already designed for that purpose. If a developer wanted to turn it into condos (as was successfully done in Tarrytown and other places) we would again be faced with the Chappaqua Crossing dilemma about residents paying taxes below what it costs to educate their children.

By Dear Jeff on 03/04/2014 at 1:50 pm

@ Dear Jeff,

Many people did not buy those ideas. They still do not.  If you remember it was a very close vote and barely passed.  Such a major investment should never have moved forward with such a close vote.

Every prediction made as to the school population by those against this second school regarding the decrease in the population is now happening.  A review of the demographics are in order.  It should be a part of the master plan review.  What are you afraid of ? 

In any case, you are not convincing me.  We will never agree, so please, give it a rest.

By Jeff on 03/04/2014 at 2:59 pm

@Jeff: The town and the schools are separate entities.  What does the master plan have to do with the school?  Why would the school district give up its sovereignty and allow the town or a bunch of commenters on NewCastleNOW to make those decisions? The schools should certainly consider the town’s needs when making decisions, but the one to sell Bell is not part of it.  The Napoli plan which uses some of the school property should only be given the green light by the school if the master plan thinks it is a good idea.

By Prudence on 03/04/2014 at 9:21 pm


It would be prudent to have ALL the residents who happen to be the people who support the school system with their tax dollars weigh in through the survey what they want for their school system.

The master plan review would take into account the true demographics of our area.  As an independent agency, the school board that pushed through the second middle school discounted the various independent studies brought to them by many residents because that school board would let nothing stand in the way of getting that second school built.

Lyn Mckay has now done the exact same thing by dismissing a call for a look at the town’s demographics.  She also set up a financial committee with the participants names kept secret.  It was disbanded because of an outcry from the tax paying residents.

We need an open, honest look at how our tax dollars will best be spent going forward.  That would be the prudent thing to do. 

Editor’s Note:  The advisory committee was first formed by John Chow several years ago, and soon after declining to release names of participants he did in fact release them.  And I asked John at Monday night’s PTA budget forum whether he had an advisory committee this year.  Yes, he does have one and Yes their names are published on the district’s website.

By yes, it would be prudent on 03/05/2014 at 1:21 pm

As a member of that budget advisory committee for several years, I’ll even be so bold as to sign with my name, although as of this year I am no longer a participant.  I’ll concur that demographics are certainly important, but I think there are relatively straightforward ways to work through this.  As a baseline, one can start with the housing stock encompassed by the district.  It is a decent assumption to forecast no decline in the housing stock, and certainly reasonable to expect some level of growth, albeit perhaps less than during the past 10 to 15 years.

So with that assumption regarding the housing stock, what is left is household composition.  I am sure there must be some information available that tracks that information historically.  The past composition is probably a decent starting point, but given the level of taxes, probably not unlikely to have some bias toward more kids in the composition than less. 

The recent housing cycle likely stands out as an anomaly, resulting in much lower turnover.  In fact, you now see that in the numbers with an increase in entering students after a several-year trough that will work its way through the system.  Are people having fewer kids?  One might be able to use the incoming kindergarten households as a decent proxy, but then again they might not be done yet.

But one last comment, on a separate topic.  With respect to the per pupil cost numbers posted above, I actually prefer the version included in the presentation that shows all 46 districts.  Reason being is that it shows the overall distribution and the fact that at 13th, we are actually not all that far off from the vast majority of other districts.  Specifically, the 13/14 CCSD per pupil spending of $28,859 is roughly 7.5% above the median level of $26,840 for Edgemont and Putnam Valley.  You have to go all the way to the 40th ranked district (out of 46) for that number to get below $24,000.

By Roger Klepper on 03/05/2014 at 4:55 pm


Thank you for the correction.

By yes, it would be prudent on 03/05/2014 at 7:38 pm

It is certainly popular, particularly in New Castle, to try and blame the administrators’ salaries as the problem.  It sells well politically (i.e. Bill DeBlasio in NYC), but the reality it is the mandates and goodies for the teachers union.  Jackie, it would be far better for our kids if you had the conviction to confront the real problem and deal with it, rather than continue to deflect the truth.  The math does not lie.  Why not look at the teachers’ salaries and benefits.  Just a thought…

By To Jackie on 03/05/2014 at 9:42 pm

Jackie and Nancy,

Letter to the Editor: Now let’s look to administrators’ share of the school budget

Check the NCNow archives in the seach box for the above to get the numbers.  It’s a couple of years old, and the numbers are probably higher now with increased salaries and more administrative staff.

By Jackie and Nancy: The numbers on 03/06/2014 at 10:32 am

@Jeff / @yes, it would be prudent

ALL the residents of the town do not support the Chappaqua schools. Although the majority of the town does fall within the CCSD, residents of New Castle also send their children to Ossining, Bedford, Byram Hills and Yorktown schools. If you have an issue with the school district, take it to the CCSD Board of Education. There is absolutely no justification for spending town tax dollars to study issues that only impact the CCSD. The master plan review should be focused on the town (although I have no problem with it envisioning a redevelopment of the Bell School property, if the CCDS indicates that they intend to close the school and sell the land). Whether or not there should be 2 middle schools in the CCSD is an issue for the Board of Education, not the Town Board.

By West Ender on 03/06/2014 at 2:35 pm

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