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Bedford School Board Sends Budget to Voters, Picks $1m for Building Fixes

Proposed budget cuts 55.4 jobs, raises tax levy by 2.69 percent.

Last night, Bedford Central's school board unanimously approved putting its 2012-13 budget up for a public vote for this year's election.

The budget is $122,698,040, a spending increase of 3.12 percent. It raises the tax levy, which is the total amount of property taxes to be collected, by 2.69 percent, to $108,063,040. It stays within the state-mandated tax levy cap because it includes exemptions such as changes to the property tax base.

A more direct measure for taxes, however, is the tax rate, which is how much property owners will pay per $1,000 of assessed value. It is not subject to the cap. For Bedford residents, the rate will go up by 8.49 percent. Mount Kisco residents will see a drop of 0.89 percent and Pound Ridge residents will see a 0.26 decrease. New Castle residents will have a 3.66-percent drop and North Castle residents getting a 3.15-percent drop. The tax rates are different because of the equalization rate, a state-mandated equation used to determine apportioning the taxes, as the towns assess their properties at different percentages of their market value.

The budget calls for deep job cuts. In total, 55.4 positions are proposed for elimination. Most of them, 37, are coming from a decision to layoff in-house transportation workers and contract out the work, a proposal first raised more than a month ago in the first iteration of the budget. The district currently relies on a combination of in-house and outsourced labor.

The remaining jobs cuts range from 2.9 elective teacher positions at the high school and middle school levels, to 4.0 instructional assistants, to 7.5 teacher aides.

Other proposed cuts brought up last month during the initial proposal, including reducing energy usage by 10 percent, cutting cable TV overtime and consolidating bus runs, still stand.

Board Chooses to Spend $1 Million in Surplus for Capital Projects

After being presented with choices at last Wednesday's meeting on what to do with some of the district's surplus money, the school board agreed to spend it on capital projects to make some fixes in buildings.

The budget originally called for spending $250,000 on capital work, for replacing boilers at Mount Kisco and Bedford Hills elementary schools. However, $1 million is being added to fix a range of things deemed important. They include replacing asbestos ceilings at Fox Lane High School and Pound Ridge Elementary School, fixing a chimney fume problem at the high school, and fixing two elementary school kitchen exhaust systems.

School board President Susan Elion Wollin noted that spending budget money on the capital projects means that it would not need to be added to a future bond. The district is considering a large bond referendum in the medium term that involves major fixes to West Patent Elementary School and Fox Lane Middle School. According to Mark Betz, assistant superintendent for business, revised proposals for fixing those schools will be presented in the fall.

If Board Needs to Adopt Contingency, the Extra Surplus Will Stay

What if the budget is put for a vote and defeated twice? In that scenario, Betz told the board, a contingency budget would need to be adopted. 

Under the tax levy cap, a contingency budget now requires that the levy not be increased at all. This would result in the district having to find $2.8 million in more cuts, he explained. Such cuts could include funding for field trips, modified sports, physical education jobs, a Cable TV tech job, and teacher training, among other programs. Other cuts would come form things like facilities use, equipment, and having no salary increases for certain non-union employees, Betz explained.

Under state law, according to Betz, contingency budget do not have room for capital expenses, except for those deemed to be emergencies, which the proposed fixes are not. This leaves the district with $1 million in surplus that would need to be put to another use. Betz gave two scenarios in that case: One involves adding on the surplus to general budget funding, which would be in addition to $,630,000 in reserves already appropriated for that purpose.

The other case would involve taking the capital money out of the budget and finding another use for it. This scenario has drawbacks, explained Betz, because further cuts would be needed and because if the money is placed in another reserve, it is then limited to that purpose. In presenting his arguements, Betz was more supportive of keeping the funding in.

Board members agreed, and the contingency budget is proposed to be $119,866,560.

Wollin noted that budget's strengths, both on the fiscal side and in keeping taxes low.

“We have made substantial cuts and efficiencies," she said.

The issue board members will have, some felt, is in making the case to the voters, and in making a connection between budgeting for capital work and how doing so would mean a lower bond being requested in the future.

Voting is on May 15, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with polling places being at whichever elementary schools residents are zoned for.

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