Just to keep pace with current educational outlays while staying tax-cap compliant, Katonah-Lewisboro school officials will have to chop $1.6 million from next year’s budget, Assistant Superintendent Michael Jumper said Thursday.
And that figure—the difference between allowable expenditures and the rising cost of even no-growth budgets—will only get bigger in years to come, a first-ever projection of cap-constrained spending shows.
Katonah-Lewisboro’s assistant superintendent for business, Jumper called the projection “an early estimate” of future outlays. “It hasn’t gone through the scrubbing process that the current budget will go through,” he said.
Jumper outlined the cap gap’s growth and other fiscal realities at a school board meeting in the John Jay Middle School last week. On a screen, a pair of steadily diverging lines plotted district expenditures and maximum anticipated revenue for the next four years, starting with the upcoming 2013-14 budget.
Providing a longer view, the diverging lines grow farther apart as years go by, the slope of the expenditure line steeper than the slope of the tax cap line. By the next budget round, for the 2014-15 year, projected expenditures of $120.5 million confront a cap on spending of $116.5 million, for a $4 million gap awaiting a sharp knife. In 2015-16, a $6 million gap separates projected spending of $124 million against a cap of $118 million, and that swells in 2016-17 to almost $8 million, $126 million vs. $118.2 million. In budget-speak, that area between the lines is known as the "structural deficit."
Jumper’s presentation was based on taking current expenditures and projecting them forward. The forecast did not appear, however, to take into account anticipated economies from such things as declining enrollment. The school board agreed Thursday on the broad outlines of a committee—comprising school and district administrators as well as members of the public—to evaluate the use of school space and, perhaps, recommend a school closing.
None of that affects work on the next spending plan. “We are in the process of developing the [2013-14] budget now,” Jumper said. Simply duplicating current spending— $112,996,167—in the next academic year would require a cap-busting $116.4 million budget. Ironically enough, increases in state-mandated pensions are among the major costs vaulting school budgets past the state-mandated tax cap.
Indeed, as Jumper made clear, salaries, at $58.8 million, and benefits, at $35.3 million, make up fully 81 percent of next year’s budget. Toss in debt service of $6.4 million, or 5.5 percent, and these items alone account for more than 86 percent of district spending.
Said another way, since many of those costs are baked-in, by contract or state edict, the balance of the $1.6 million in cuts would largely come from less than 14 percent of the budget. Other factors impacting the expenditure forecast include enrollment, staffing, special education, technology and transportation.
Nevertheless, Jumper predicted, the 2013-14 budget will likely come in at a cap-compliant $114.8 million. The formal spending plan will go to the board Feb. 28, followed by an all-day workshop on March 2.