Over 200 petitioners have signed an online document aimed at getting Katonah Lewisboro officials to work together collaboratively.
"We are all in the same boat economically," said Josephine Ziegler, a parent organizer. "People have lost jobs, taken pay cuts or freezes and yet we are all paying more in school taxes. Now we have a hole in the budget and a threat of losing programs. If the district worked better together, we could literally fill that hole."
Disrict officials say this year's proposed budget is affected by a lack of revenues—expenses outpace them by nearly two to one—as well as rising pension costs and healthcare expenses.
Ziegler is one of five founding members of a group that's mobilized to push for change in the school district. Other members include Katonah residents Sherri Goldstein, Sara Weale, Nelson Salazar and Cynthia Schmitt.
Their online petition outlines five steps they'd like to see district stakeholders take—among them, negotiating sustainable labor contracts.
"If you look at other districts, you can see they've been able to work some things out," said Goldstein, noting a recent deal in Chappaqua where teachers froze step increases and increased health insurance contributions resulting in a district savings of about $1.5 million.
Weale said that the group's next steps would be to promote their messages to other media outlets and meet with stakeholder groups, including the board of education and teacher's association, which agreed to meet this week.
A Patch call for comment to teacher's association president, Sandra Grebinar, was not immediately returned.
School Board President Mark Lipton said he agreed to meet with their group and was in favor of bringing attention to any problems the district was facing. "The more people that know about our current issues, the more it helps us do our job," he said.
Lipton said that negotiations with the district's collective bargaining units were ongoing and they have touched on issues relevant to the petition.
The group banded together with a combined desire to maintain education programs and see lower tax increases. Goldstein said for a catalyst for her was the threat of losing eighth grade teaming. For Ziegler, it was a 22.89 percent increase in taxes over the last four years.
"I understand that it's relevant to property values and different from town-to-town—but that's more like a ten-year increase, not a four-year number," she said.
A more flexible school calendar and a little less mudslinging wouldn't be a bad idea, either, the group says, suggesting on its petition that the "negative tone and pattern of public antagonism" has hurt the district's reputation—both as a place to live and attend school.
It's not about the great relationships their kids have with teachers, or the day-to-day dedication they witness from staff, the group said in a phone interview.
"It's about the public tax dollar and getting a good return on your investment," said Weale. "What we're trying to do it help educate the community. We want to build awareness of the issues—if they go unresolved, there will be a material impact on our taxes and quality of education."
The group's members also expressed frustration with the fact that local residents shoulder a bigger school tax burden than comparable school districts, and cited the work of the district's finance committee in analyzing the district's per-pupil expenditures.
Former school board members Eve Hundt and Mike Gordon both signed the petition and left comments.
"Two years ago, the board agreed to a contract with the teachers that made minimal change—with the idea of creating the time, environment and opportunity to address the enormous challenges facing the KLSD district," Hundt noted after her signature. "A series of meetings were required. What has been the result of these meetings? Has there been any progress? The community deserves to know."
Gordon applauded the grassroots advocacy of the petition.
"The only way we stand a chance of solving these problems is by pressure from the taxpayers and the rank and file KLSD staff," he said. "We don't need rancorous, divisive and antagonistic rhetoric from either side. We need thoughtful and persistent grass roots advocacy from individual taxpayers and individual teachers and support staff."
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