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K-L School Board Aims to Keep 2 Percent Limit on Budget

Among its goals for the upcoming school year is to adopt a budget that maintains programming while keeping spending within the two-percent state-imposed property tax cap.

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: 

Fiscal Climate
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. 

Facilities
Develop, before the end of 2011 – 2012 school year a fiscally responsible, comprehensive Long Range Facilities Plan.

Education
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. 

Collective Bargaining
Reach fair and equitable collective bargaining agreements for the Katonah-Lewisboro Support Staff Association and the Katonah-Lewisboro District Nurses.

Laura Beth Kerr Gilman November 22, 2011 at 10:06 PM
Hi Laurel and Deborah, The budget and the decisions made seem complicated. I am, over the years, understanding more as I attend BOE meetings and read the budgets that are published in the papers. There are ideas passed around that are worth discussion, though I don't know about them in reality, i.e some of John Craig's ideas. We have to be careful about what we cut. These cuts (or non-existence) affect our children, our property values in a real way, and may not really help reduce taxes so much. Take half day kindergarten. I know our state has considered making full day Kindergarten a state mandate. I know studies have shown, without a doubt, full day Kindergarten helps test scores and students later on. I can also tell you on a very practical level it affects property values. Last fall I co-lead a school tour of Katonah Elementary School for two families from Brooklyn who were considering moving here. One of the mothers asked about our Kindergarten program and when I told her about the half day (and the working families who send their kids to CCC for day care the rest of the day) , I could see she thought we were from the dark ages or were country bumpkins - that we only had half day Kindergarten was a sign that our school district lagged behind the others. In that moment she turned cold towards our community and warmed to the house she had seen in Bedford (who has full day Kindergarten)...we have to be careful where we cut. Is this why Bedford village house are worth more?
Katoner November 22, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Deborah, I'm with you. Like you, I'm going to attack John Craig without really reading what he wrote because I can tell there's something in there I disagree with. I'm going to ignore the fact that he said he (1) thinks teachers pay too little towards healthcare, (2) he thinks the pensions are too luxurious, (3) that he has specific cost-cutting ideas, including popular programs, and (4) that he favors pay-to-play to bring in non-tax revenue to cover the costs of athletics. Because John says he thinks things are generally OK and likes the ability to vote on school taxes every year and isn't suggesting to burn down the school district and start over, he must be a crazy, destroy-America socialist.
Laurel November 23, 2011 at 12:05 AM
I'm with you LB. The reason I write on these blogs is that I am absolutely appalled at what is potentially going to happen to our great schools. I am an advocate for the children because I believe firmly that they are entitled to having a rich and varied education. I'm not sure either way, re: half day kindergarten vs. full-day. One of my kids did have full day, but he has autism and was in a BOCES program out of district. The other one. hmmm.. can't remember the other one! LOL but he's fine; got a nice scholarship to college, for music and almost done. yikes! And half is class are at the Ivy's and the like. I would die a thousand deaths if anything happens to our precious music program, however. Its the MOST important subject in the elementary years. Its math and science, a foreign language, helps in brain development, and in learning, in general. am I preaching to the choir? ;) And furthermore, BOTH of my kids would be dead, (no exaggeration) without it and they are not alone. For the kids who NEED music, taking it away, is like taking away their food and water. And yes... our district didn't even come close to meeting our older son's intense needs, and we didn't expect them to. We did spend 10s of thousands on outside music programs. BTW, Bedford educates their kids for over 3k LESS PER student, than we do and they are a very similar community in size and demographics. (actually, about 5 sq. miles Larger.)
D.S. November 23, 2011 at 01:11 AM
I think that all those people that think throwing money at a problem solves it should concider sending their kids to private school...the rest of us can't keep throwing money away on these high taxes. Also athletics, music and drama should not be part of the taxpayers expense....for those interested in those things the towns usually have programs that cover most sports and I'm sure there are outside venues for music and drama too. FYI...kids from Fox Lane, Carmel, Somers, Mahopac, North Salem, Greeley etc go to college too....go figure that......27 thousand dollars a year to educate children in this district...are you kidding me.....they can go to a state college for less than that and get room and board included1!
Laurel November 23, 2011 at 01:25 AM
I agree with all, except for diluting and eliminating more of our rich programs. The savings needs to come from other places and it can. Its just that its all locked up and its been because of practices that have been in place for a very long time. BTW, its currently over 30k to educate a child in our school district 111 mil divided by 3,700 students. And it will be more next year and the next and the next... I noticed for one teacher, that he has made a 7 thousand dollar increase in the last 3 years. That is completely out of line with what is going on with the rest of us. Many of us in the private sector have either stayed the same, or LOST income! It is going to take dramatic and sweeping change and reform to effect any significant changes, but I truly hope those changes don't come on the backs of our kids. I am sick and tired of them, and the taxpayers, taking the hit.

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