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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.

D.S. September 28, 2011 at 12:31 AM
KLdudette.....many our our teachers are making 6 figure salaries......the majority of our school tax bill goes not to the education of our children but to the teachers salaries and benefits http://www.seethroughny.net/StatePayroll/tabid/69/Default.aspx?BRANCHID=6
rene September 28, 2011 at 12:46 PM
Our budget is bursting from these generous pensions we are paying out too. Perhaps you folks missed the Patch's article on Aug 14th about our former superintendent Dr.Roelle getting hired as an interim superintendent in Tarrytown with a 6 figure income. That's on top of his 6 figure pension from Ossining and a 6 figure pension from KL schools. That's 3 six figure incomes; hello...this is not okay!
D.S. September 28, 2011 at 01:05 PM
people need to quit approving the budget......the world won't end.......the more we give the more they expect and the more they want......How many of you parent with athletes or musically inclined children for example know anyone that got a scholarship because of middle school or high school performance? Those hoping for scholarships get them for the extras they do...like, summer leagues or camps etc Those children that get A's because of hard work need to pat themselves on the back because there is a class of lets say 20......not all 20 are pulling A's those kids will get in college anyway......My children have graduated....both went on to get athletic scholarships( because of camps and summer program exposure).......they were disciplined in their studies.......The teachers taught the classes....it was up to the child to do the work....So lets stop kidding ourselves.....You get out of school what you put into it......and paying outrageous salary and benefits to our teachers aren't going to get your child into any better of a college is you as parents and the child themselves don't put in the extra work.....I have lived in this district for many moons and salaries have almost doubled......and the test scores have remained about the same......so all the extra salaries do is pad the pockets of those that work for the system......When is enough enough? When do school districts have to come to terms with the fact that money doesn't grow on trees?
Laurel September 28, 2011 at 10:51 PM
You are so right, on all counts Deborah, and Glen and Rene, too. I have voted, NO, the last two budgets and it pained me greatly, but I am looking at the big picture. I voted NO, not because I don't value an excellent education; I am a passionate advocate for this, however, at 30k/per student expenditure, this budget is not sustainable and what is going to happen is that the programs are going to suffer. If Dr. Kreutzer, does not have the experience , expertise, or knowledge to figure out how to make the necessary cuts/changes, etc. that will not impact our educational programs, then he needs to tender his resignation, ASAP so that our BOE can find a more suitable leader. We've already incurred enough damage, at the hands of greedy, and/or incompetent superintendents. Oh, and the "this is what I inherited" excuse, will not fly, either!
D.S. September 29, 2011 at 11:30 AM
We seem to be the only few people that think this way Laurel, everyone just closes their eyes and pretend everything is peaches and cream. Tough love is a hard thing to do, but sometimes it's the last option. We can't sustain these high taxes, we have no big business( at least in Katonah) to help pay them. They get you coming and going. If people challenge their home assesments and win they make up the lost revenue by raising everyone elses.Government workers have a sense of entitlement....and also for schools the notion of tenure is absurd. There should be an evaluation every 5 years at least...... again I urge everyone to see exactly how much our teachers make using the link in my previous posting....make sure you click on professional workers and not general for the K/L district....
John Craig September 29, 2011 at 01:33 PM
Why do you assume that people with a different opinion from you "just close their eyes and pretend everything is peaches and cream." Maybe some have considered the issues and just disagree with you. Each year their is a vote on the school budget -- people get a chance to voice their opinion (with their vote). Seems like a fair way to find out what the community values. As for me, I agree that the low contribution to health benefits is an issue. I agree that pensions are an issue. Both have a significant impact on the budget and rising taxes. These are contractual issues that need to be addressed over time. I believe Dr. Kreutzer has a bit of a reputation for trying to address contractual issues -- yet many in community didn't support his hiring and seem to question his abilities now. I also believe teacher evaluation is an issue, but I've been VERY PLEASED with the quality of teachers at IMES & JJMS. When it comes to actual pay, here's my question for you. Just how much do you think someone with a Masters Degree and say 10 years of experience should be paid? What do you think is fair?
Glenn J. DeFaber September 29, 2011 at 06:21 PM
Fair pay is what the community can afford.There is no magic number in a capitalist society. K-L teachers make similar pay to Scarsdale, Rye, Harrison, and Chappaqua.The median price of a home in Scarsdale is approximately twice that of Lewisboro plus each district has much more of a commercial tax base. The K-L School District has allowed itself to be deluded into thinking we can afford top pay for employees because our school board in run by top compensated residents. I appreciate the hard work they do for no pay but I wish they would look beyond their moneyed lifestyle and realize not everyone makes $1000 per day. I think the 60% approval of a budget increase of more than 2% will give the many people who did not vote in the past the incentive to vote because they now have a chance of success.
John Craig September 29, 2011 at 07:09 PM
Actually Glenn, there is what you might call a "magic number" in a capitalist society - what Adam Smith called the Invisible Hand. You've alluded to only half of the dynamic - demand (what the community CHOOSES to pay). The other half is supply. Both work in combination to set price which helps distribute scarce goods in an efficient manner. And the truth is that in a geography of maybe 30 - 50 miles, we're all competing for the same teachers -- regardless of home prices. Economic theory would also suggest that the factors that effect home prices do NOT have the same effect on most other goods. Pizza or soap or alarm systems or cars are not half the price here in Lewisboro as they are in Scarsdale. And relatively speaking, home prices here are still quite high. If you've lived here for a long time, you've seen a significant increase in the value of your home (even with the current decline).
D.S. September 29, 2011 at 08:24 PM
People have this idea that the more you pay for something the better it must be......that's not always the case...people from every school district in westchester are getting into the same colleges....surprise.........This might also come as a surprise to you but a lot of teachers look for jobs in communities that are going to pay them top dollar in salary and benefits......For those of you that feel the need to pay more for teachers there is always the option of private school!......Let us not forget the bottom line.......if your child studies, pays attention in class,does their homework and has good parental support at home....they will do well regardless of what school they attend........You can give a child the best teacher money can buy, but if they don't do these things they won't have gotten a good education....and commenting on an earlier posting....it's ridiculous that Roelle is allowed to collect 2 pensions plus a paycheck from taxpayers to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars........talk about gaming the system
Glenn J. DeFaber September 29, 2011 at 08:48 PM
John there is no scarcity of teachers. When a job opens up in K-L for a probationary teacher's position there are hundreds of applicants. Does your 30-50 radius stop at the Connecticut border (they make an average of 20% less)? Scarsdale's median family income was $202,000 in 2009 Lewisboro's was $136,000 and we pay more per pupil. A new house I built in Cross River was sold in 1987 for $504,000 down from the asking price of $580,000 due to the 1987 stock market crash. That same home sold in the mid $600,000 this past year (well maintained and not a short sale). So how long do you have to wait for a profit?
John Craig September 29, 2011 at 08:51 PM
Deborah, you make a lot of assumptions about other people. Who thinks "the more you pay for something the better it must be?" How about you let me decide where I send my kids to school and the parental support I give them. How about each of us decide where to live and how to vote on the school budgets. Everybody gets an opinion and an opportunity to influence the community. But I don't think it's helpful for you to make assumptions about other people just because they disagree with you. I'd still like to know how much you'd like to pay the teachers. What's the number? Or do you just like to complain about things and cast aspersions without offering useful suggestions?
Glenn J. DeFaber September 29, 2011 at 09:05 PM
Hey John what useful suggestions have you come up with? Your comments tend to be the thinking that got us where we are today.
John Craig September 29, 2011 at 09:37 PM
Well Glenn overall I'm pretty happy with things in this community. I really like living here. My kids have been in the district for about 8 years. For a 2nd time, I bought a house here, just last summer. I've voted in every election here including the primary a week ago. And for the most part the people I run into seem pretty happy too. So I'm not looking to make big changes, but... As I SUGGESTED in my original post, I think there are parts of teacher compensation that need to be address. I was specific. And I know it's benefits and pensions that are having the biggest impact on the GROWTH of taxes. I'm not a fan of unions. But it's what we've got and I know it takes time AND community pressure to change contract issues. I just think it's more beneficial to focus on the key issues instead of complaining about lots of other things or talking in broad generalities. I was using "Scarcity" as a specific economic concept. While it is likely that there are plenty of applications for open positions - I believe many probably wouldn't meet my own standards. I have seen no data to suggest that teachers are paid less in Ridgefield, New Canaan, Stamford, etc. If you provide such data, I will happily change my opinion that $110 - $125k is reasonable pay for a teacher with a Masters Degree and 10 years experience. I ask again, is there a more fair way to decide the budget than local elections?
John Craig September 29, 2011 at 09:56 PM
Oh and if it was really up to me, I would: -eliminate band & choir in the the elementary schools -eliminate Latin as a foreign language option in the middle & high schools -be willing to support pay to play for more athletics -consolidate the school system with North Salem -privatize and charge parents for the transportation system But all of those things would be widely unpopular and would gain limited community support. Gotta get back to my life. Maybe I'll see you at the next School Board meeting.
D.S. September 29, 2011 at 10:35 PM
Hey John....I don't think I mentioned you by name.....now who is making assumptions? But please, by all means...if the shoe fits feel free to wear it
Glenn J. DeFaber September 30, 2011 at 12:04 AM
John I agree with most of what you say. I have lived here for over twenty-six years put four kids through K-L. I intend to live here the rest of my life unless I go broke first. Dr. Paul Kreutzer is the first Superintendent of Schools I am excited about. The best data I could turn up for teachers salaries for K-L can be found on the web site: www.myshortpencil.com/NewYorkteachersalaries.htm. The 2007-2008 school year average salary $93,633. For Ridgefield: www.teachersalaryinfo.com/connecticut/teacher-salary-in-ridgefield-school-district It shows an average salary of $61,862. I believe teachers should be paid the highest they deserve in a free market environment. With a combination of the union specifically the Triborough Amendment and past school boards the deck has been stacked against the taxpayer. I believe our children deserve the best education our district can afford. This district does not exist for the benefit of the wealthiest families with kids in school. The largest segment of taxpayers do not have children attending school. Without these stakeholders like myself school taxes would be double or more. Just for the record two of my daughters are educators. One teaches at another district in Westchester (she started out as part time teacher at Increase Miller) and the other is working at a local college. I want the best for everyone, not just a select few.
John Craig September 30, 2011 at 06:37 PM
Deborah, you were replying to MY post. But feel free to quote back to me any assumptions I made about anybody? YOU'RE assumptions (as I quoted) seemed to apply to anybody who doesn't agree with you. Oh and I think I've seen the phrase ".if the shoe fits feel free to wear it" posted somewhere else. Is that just some non sequitur you picked up and like to repeat?
D.S. September 30, 2011 at 10:36 PM
John, you appear to be the kind of person that likes to hear himself talk....You just keep rambling on,,,,,,i do believe you commented on my post first.....but having said that I happen to agree with some of the things you'd like to do away with. ( posted in one of your previous postings) I don't agree with the transportation aspect....but everything else is on the table
Glenn J. DeFaber October 01, 2011 at 05:56 PM
Mark Dembo commented on the article K-L School Board Aims to Keep 2 Percent Limit on Budget "So rather than just fire barbs at each other - how about some constuctive comments? I read these chain of posts and it turns my stomach that we seem to take more pride in telling the other commenters why they are misguided... yet no-one seems to be able to offer a well constucted approach that would help keep expenses/tax increases down, while minimizing service cuts. The only thing I seem to be hearing is a diatribe that our teachers are paid too much, the board has cowed to union demands, and we are inefficient.... OK - so NOW WHAT? should we bust the union? Should we fire teachers? Should we cut programs? Should we just pay more taxes? Hmm... sounds to me like we're just a microcosm of the petty antics of Washington... can we rise above, or are we just as petty as the rest? I would have thought that we can do better....What do you think?"
Glenn J. DeFaber October 01, 2011 at 06:13 PM
Mark it is not the residents responsibility to propose what to cut or keep. That is what you pay the administration for and elect a school board to approve or not. Then We The People vote on it and voice our opinion on the results. You don't need a Harvard MBA to figure out that expenses are exceeding the financial ability of the taxpayer.. What is tough is telling Mr. and Mrs. Smith that the school district cannot afford to pay for everything you want no matter how much you whine about it. That is where the political courage is... here and in Washington. Let's keep it simple. .
D.S. October 01, 2011 at 11:29 PM
Hey Glenn, my husband and I don't expect the school to pay for eveything and I don't believe we were whining...in fact we think the school pays for too much, like door to door service for kindergarteners...when my kids went to school the kindergarteners waited at the bus stop with all the other kids....now they get picked up and dropped of at their houses...that's just one thing.........
Laura Beth Kerr Gilman November 22, 2011 at 01:20 PM
Hi Deborah -- just a clarification regarding Kindergarten transportation: KLSD still has half day Kindergarten, which is an issue for another article all together. The little buses you see are taking the morning students home and picking the afternoon students up - in the middle of the day. At the beginning and end of the elementary school day, the Kindergarteners take the big bus with the rest of the kids and use the same bus stops.
D.S. November 22, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Laura......My husband and I put 4 children through this school district.....and they too had half day kindergarten.......we took them to the bus stop and then waited there for them to come home......what a waste of tax payer money to have to hand deliver each of these children to their individual homes......I bet if the smart people of this community were to vote against a few of these budgets the school would focus on what was a more prudent expenditure and decide that this wasn't one of them.....but as with any socialistic government , it's easy to spend other peoples money. While we're on the subject maybe you can explain to me why I often see these little buses at the Katonah A & P......they shouldn't be using these vehicles for personal use......I'm tired of the waste....but it seems that a lot of people move into the area to use our school system and when their children graduate they move out for a less expensive place to live leaving those of us who have lived here our whole lives with enormous school tax bills........
Laura Beth Kerr Gilman November 22, 2011 at 05:04 PM
Deborah- did you and your husband have other Kindergarteners at your stop? The reason I ask this is that if the bus has to stop anyway, isn't it good and nice they stop at the Kindergartener's house instead of at a bus stop? Most times, the one student is the only reason the bus stops, so why not stop in front of the home of the student? To me, that is SMART and not wasteful. Anything we can do to help young mothers, possibly with other children, without wasting money, is good for our society. We all know how challenging mothering at home can be. I don't know about the little buses at A&P - I agree the buses shouldn't be used for personal use. Perhaps there is another explanation for their use? ... I agree that our family's money should not be spent unnecessarily. I don't like waste either. Taxes are very stressful for my family. I can tell you that I do think they (meaning our school board) are trying to cut all corners they can. I went to a PTO meeting at the Middle School and learned how "bare bones" they have become. I was concerned that my 7th grader is eating lunch at 9:30 AM - that is right - LUNCH at 9:30 AM - and the administrators said that they have gone over the schedule many many times, but due to the unfortunate reality of our times, this is the reality -- many teachers have been cut and the ones that are left must be stretched from school to school. It is a reality that because of these cuts, kids eat lunch at 9:30 AM. I don't think this is good.
Laurel November 22, 2011 at 07:13 PM
The little buses are used to bus not only kids going to our 6 schools, but for special needs kids, from preschool on up, as well as private school kids, who are legally entitled to bus transportation and it could be all hours of the day. So, a bus parked at the A&P might be killing a brief bit of time, rather than wasting gas and driving all the way back to the high school, before his next pick up time. Or, he might not be. who knows? Our budget is a HUGE MESS. Unfortunately, for the kinds of changes that need to be made, it'll take an edict from the state, as well as the Unions submitting that in order to save the schools, that the salaries will need to come down, or at least be frozen at their current rates, for quite some time. And then, caps will need to be put on those salaries. It should also be illegal for a person to "retire" from his teaching/administrative position and THEN, get hired by another school for the SAME position, thereby collecting a new salary AND a pension. Either a person is retired and collecting the pension or he is still working. This practice is so widespread, and must cost the state and tax payers some untold millions in revenue that could be put towards preserving our educational services. The sad truth, is that the schools are there, for the well-being of the adults, employed there-- first and foremost. The actual education, for our children, becomes a by-product of whatever is left over.
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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