Katonah-Lewisboro school officials presented what they’re calling a ‘a very lean’ budget proposal for next year during Thursday’s school board meeting.
The proposal, would increase this year’s budget of $109,281,408 to $111,133,000— an increase of about 1.69 percent. The community budget vote is scheduled for May 17.
The proposed increase is less than the 1.92 percent cap school districts would be allowed to spend under a contingency budget.
“A community is permitted to vote on a budget at least once,” said Michael Jumper, the district’s assistant superintendent for business. “If it's rejected the first time, the board of education can immediately go to a contingency budget or they can put the budget up second time to be voted on by the community. It can be the same budget or a reduced budget. In either case, if the community rejects the budget a second time, then the board of education is confined to the contingent budget cap.”
Although the contingency budget would be more than the budget that is being proposed, the district would lose control over the areas where it could direct spending. For example, the district would be restricted from making any additional equipment purchases that are not related to health and safety, according to Jumper.
Robert Roelle, the superintendent of schools, said that the budget addressed several priorities that were set by the board of education earlier this year.
Those priorities included developing a plan to relocate the district’s offices, creating elementary school class sizes that are closer to district goals, investigating possible cost savings in staffing.and analyzing transportation expenses.
Jumper said there are approximately 11 staffing reductions in the budget proposal. Those reductions include six special education teacher and the elimination of a business administrator’s position.
The district is from Shady Lane in South Salem to Increase Miller Elementary School in Goldens Bridge, which is expected to bring $180,000 in savings.
Proposition for $1.3 million in vehicle purchases under consideration
As part of the district’s review of transportation costs, officials have determined that a $1.3 million proposition is needed for the purchase of six large buses, five vans and another wheelchair accessible van.
“We’ve gone well beyond a want for new buses,” Jumper said. “We need new buses.”
Jumper said Jim Minihan, the district’s transportation director, will do a presentation on the need for new buses during a presentation on March 3.
Officials also suggest that the district continues with its triple tripping policy, but they don’t believe it’s feasible to extend walking limits for students in the district.
Eve Hundt, a member of the school board wondered if the district would be better off including the bus purchases in the budget proposal.
“I’m sure there are lots of pros and cons about that, but I just want to throw it out there early on,” Hundt said.
Tax levy increase of 3.2 percent projected
The current budget proposal bring would result in a tax levy of $100,017,007, which represents an increase of about 3.2 percent more than this year’s levy.
“It is also important to note that every August we actually set the levy and, generally speaking, the numbers that we set are generally lower than the numbers that we set in these meetings,” Jumper said. “So, it’s always better for the taxpayers is what we presume.”
Hundt encouraged residents to take a "longer view" when looking at tax rates. "Last year, Bedford residents were apoplectic when there was a 7.45 percent tax rate increase; this year there is 1.95 percent. Lewisboro was 1.22 percent last year and this year is projected to be 5.68 percent. There always seems to a whiplash, some back and forth."
Tax rates, based on 2011 equalization rates, are projected to increase by 1.95 percent in Bedford, 5.68 percent in Lewisboro, 7.58 percent in North Salem and 8.12 percent in Pound Ridge.
Jumper said the district would have to make an additional $1.2 million in cuts if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for a two percent cap on property taxes was in effect.
Lynn Siegel, a Katonah Elementary parent, commended the administrators and school board members for the budget.
“As a taxpayer and as a parent, the process that you followed has been extremely gratifying,” Siegel said. “You started to work on this last October when you engaged all of the sectors in the community to see what was important. You took these findings and created budget priorities and set out to really address them. Thank you for keeping the cuts out of the classroom.”
Several meetings will be held to discuss the plan in detail prior to the board of education adopting a budget, said Roelle, including a half-day session to be held on Saturday, Mar. 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.
A copy of the budget has been posted with this story.