Though the school year is barely underway, the Katonah-Lewisboro school board is preparing to hammer out a 2012-13 budget that stays within the state-legislated two percent cap, but adopted formally a financial goal that gave them some wiggle room.
The board discussed and adopted four goals for the upcoming school year, with input from the administration, at its Sept. 22 meeting.
Though Mike Gordon, school board member, said it was “the board’s responsibility to stay within the cap,” and he didn’t think the community had “the wherewithal to go north,” other board members, including Peter Breslin and Mark Lipton, board president, pushed for flexibility.
“If we have a goal, and that is to come in at 2 percent or less, we study it over the course of months,” said Lipton. “If we have to report back to the community in February or March, and say, it can’t be done…at least it was our goal to begin with and I’m confident saying to voters, we made our best our efforts.”
The district's cap —or its tax levy limit—refers to the figure that determines what level of voter support is needed for a school budget to pass. If the tax levy increase is above the cap , the support of a supermajority—60 percent—of voters would be required for the budget to pass. If the spending increase is within the cap, only a simple majority vote would be needed.
During the board’s discussion of their budget-related goal, Michael Jumper, assistant superintendent of business, explained that the district’s expenses were growing at a pace that exceeds what the cap will allow—which translated into a budget that was two percent over the two percent cap.
“Even if we just roll things forward, we are over the cap. We are in a pickle,” said Jumper.
Paul Kreutzer, superintendent of schools, pointed out the challenges associated with crafting a budget within the limit.
“I’ve been a superintendent for 10 years and operated under a tax cap for all 10 of those, and if you’re telling me you want a budget that operates at 2 percent with no losses of programming—I can’t do that with the current labor agreements we have and the rollups of all the other expenses we’re going to face,” he said. “I can mitigate and lessen damage, but can’t begin of thinking of taking ground in that scenario. I lack that skill and can’t think of a superintendent who has it.”
In the end, the board adopted a goal aspiring to stay within the cap.
The school board adopted three additional goals, in the areas of facilities, education and collective bargaining.
With demographic data in hand, district officials developed a goal around long-term facilities planning while facing a downward enrollment trend.
Kreutzer pointed out that a single teacher was teaching two sections of kindergarten at Increase Miller, which he found “startling.” He cited a slow birth rate and a down housing market and suggested not focusing on growth in facilities but being prepared for a loss of student population.
Lipton added that the district should study the impact of a variety of scenarios regarding students and facilities, from middle school teaming to closing an elementary school.
On education, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction, Alice Cronin, suggested that the board develop a goal around educational programming that complies with state mandates in a manner consistent with district values.
“We’re moving on APPR [new teacher evaluation system], RTI and common core standards,” she said. “Some of this will happen whether its formalized by the board or not.”
The board confirmed that they would like to finalize the development of the district’s long-range plan by the end of the 2011-12 school year. For his part, Kreutzer said that parts of the plan would “undoubtedly” advance, but other, “big ticket” items might need to be abandoned.
Below are the official goals adopted by the school board for the 2011-12 school year:
Adopt a fiscally responsible 2012 – 2013 budget, that to the maximum extent possible (a) maintains and, where feasible, enhances district programming and (b) achieves spending levels within the property tax cap mandated by the State of New York.
Develop, before the end of 2011 – 2012 school year a fiscally responsible, comprehensive Long Range Facilities Plan.
Develop, before the end of the 2011 – 2012 school year a Long Range Academic Plan that complies with State mandates that is consistent with District values.
Reach fair and equitable collective bargaining agreements for the Katonah-Lewisboro Support Staff Association and the Katonah-Lewisboro District Nurses.