The $114.9 million spending package, presented at Thursday night’s Board of Education meeting, reflects a budget-to-budget increase in spending of 1.67 percent from last year.
Communities within the district would experience different tax rates based upon assessments and equalization rates in each town. Based on current equalization rates, Lewisboro property owners would see a 0.37 percent increase in the tax rate, while Bedford would have a 6.85 percent increase. North Salem would see a 6.26 percent hike and Pound Ridge would experience a 5.33 percent increase.
District officials say those tax rates are likely to change slightly before the final budget is put before the voters in May as more assessment information and updated equalization rates become available.
“The numbers will change because assessed values will change,” said Michael Jumper, assistant superintendent for business. “If assessment values and equalization rates would remain the same – the tax rate would be the same as the tax levy – 1.5 percent – for every town in the district.”
School Superintendent Paul Kreutzer said his proposed budget meets the Board of Education’s goal to adopt a “fiscally responsible spending plan that maintains and, where feasible, enhances district programming” and achieves spending levels within the state-imposed 2 percent property tax cap. He said that the district’s educational programs remain intact and in some cases are improved.
Kreutzer said there are several forces that drove this year’s budget.
“The increases in cost associated with maintaining an ‘as is’ educational program far exceed our revenues,” he said. “The imbalance is considerable, with expenses outpacing revenues by nearly two to one. When the budget preparation process began, we faced a budgetary shortfall of approximately $2.6 million.”
Kreutzer noted the district’s rising pension costs, which he called “staggering.” The 2013-14 budget calls for $10.3 million for the Teachers Retirement System and the Employees Retirement System combined, a 23.2 percent jump from last year.
Other major budget increases include $280,000 for school safety. The district recently underwent a safety audit, which looked at student risk behavior, storm preparation and site security – all of which are addressed in the proposed budget. A reoccurring expense for a school resource officer is also included, an expense shared on a 50/50 basis with the town of Lewisboro.
Staff reductions include 9.1 full-time equivalents (FTE) in teaching. The cuts will be seen throughout the district in a variety of subjects. One special education teacher, three special education assistants and one psychologist are also targeted for elimination. The budget also calls for cutting 2.5 positions in support staff. The district would save $825,000 from the staff reductions.
Kreutzer said most of staffing cuts are driven by the district’s drop in enrollment. From 2004-05 to 2013-14, the district is projected to see an enrollment drop of 18.5 percent. District staffing has followed suit. Since 2007-08, the district has reduced staff by 19 percent.
The Board of Education will hold several budget review meetings throughout March to tweak the superintendent’s budget and then will adopt it on March 21. There will be a public hearing on the budget on May 9 and it will go before the voters on May 21.
Besides the budget, district residents will be asked to vote on a proposition for bus replacement. The proposition would authorize the district to purchase 12 78-seat buses and one wheelchair-accessible van for a total cost not to exceed $1,724,300. The money would be raised by a levy on taxable property in the school district and collected in annual installments.
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