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Board of Education Reviews Budget and Addresses New Allocation

choiceIn its fourth budget study session, held this past Monday, the Scarsdale Board of Education and school administration provided a full review of the proposed budget as it currently stands.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Facilities Stuart Mattey began the overview by addressing some questions posed by the public, including an explanation of the year-over-year increase in the special education budget, a justification for not deferring facility project items to save money in a particular budget year, and the plan for the CHOICE building at Scarsdale Middle School, which will not house students beginning next year.

Mattey then reiterated the budget process for residents who may be unaware. Remaining public budget sessions include a League of Women Voters information session on Monday, March 12, a district forum on Tuesday, March 13, and a discussion at the next BOE meeting on Monday, March 19. The board plans on voting to adopt the proposed budget on Monday, April 16.

Mattey also addressed specific budget components such as enrollment, staffing, expenses and revenue. Enrollment is projected to be flat in 2018-19, increasing by just four students. District staffing currently is projected to increase by 2.4 FTE's.

The expense budget is estimated at $156,899,407, which is a 2.09 percent increase over last year, or $3,208, 642. The largest expense component is employee benefits, which total $36,851,470. Employee benefits also account for the largest line item increase in the budget, increasing by $1,583,514 or 4.49 percent.

Revenues are projected at $156,899,407, which represents a 1.83 percent increase year over year. The main driver of the increase is building aid related to the 2014 bond projects, which is estimated to rise by 3 percent. Interest earnings also are expected to improve by more than $214,000 over last year.

The tax levy is estimated to increase by $2,922,514 (or 2.07 percent) over 2017-18, for total levy of $144,412,640. The tax levy limit is 3.08 percent and the draft budget is $1,429,955 below the projected limit.

The board then discussed the administration's request for an additional $250,000 for security enhancements (building and technology upgrades) and the hire of a director of security, which were discussed earlier in the evening. The amount was not included in the budget numbers as of yet, and, if treated as an add-on, would increase the expense budget by 2.25 percent.

Schools Superintendent Thomas Hagerman said, "There were conversations about ideas and thoughts relative to safety and security... We want to have more detailed security information (and) someone who can coordinate, interface with children and staff, someone who conduct safety activities/drills, someone with expertise and liaison experience with police, etc." He continued, "We need to have a more coordinated approach to this work... I don't see this being a high stakes investment for the next decade, but over the next couple of years, in order to do this right."

The board then considered two questions, should the proposed safety measures be funded and, if so, how? Board Vice President Scott Silberfein said, "I have no problem with increasing the budget line... to accomplish whatever it is you believe (necessary)... I would obviously like some clarity... but (building and technology improvements are) easier for me to get my hands around, knowing that we're going to have to do some of this stuff." Board President Bill Natbony stated, "We have a recommendation from the administration to spend $250,000 next year... (it) is very well-articulated, with known costs. I very much think this has to be done." He then asked the board as a whole, "Do we have a consensus to add this to the budget?" With no board members objecting, the allocation was approved.

The discussion next shifted to how the allocation would be funded, and if it would be treated as an add-in, covered by reserves or paid through eliminating another line item. Silberfein said, "I think we easily can find $250,000 in the reserves without exposing ourselves to risk in any meaningful way or influencing taxes." Natbony agreed, "I wouldn't want to take something away... I can be comfortable with taking the funds from reserves."

Board Member Pam Fuehrer added, "Considering a flexible and responsive budgeting process, saying that a 2.09 percent increase that we saw in January is important today... after weeks of discussion, is not genuine. To say we can be flexible and allow us go to 2.25 is what this is this is about. I don't have a problem saying... is this expense critical, necessary? Yes. Timely? Yes. Then, let's add it to our budget." Silberfein responded, "I agree with everything you just said... I personally think we have plenty of reserves (to cover the cost), especially for a high need like security."

The board then turned the issue over to the school administration to determine the best means to cover the security cost. The administration is asked to decide funding by the next board meeting.

Following the discussion, the board and administration addressed questions raised in the public comment portion of the meeting, which took place earlier. Specifically, they explained how the new security recommendations were developed, covered the timing of security vestibule construction (which will remain unchanged), and provided reassurance that the district's wellness initiatives are meeting the emotional health needs of students, on a school-by-school basis.

Not addressed, but noted, were budget questions sent to the board and administration to help guide preparation for the upcoming League of Women Voters budget information session. Leah Dembitzer (Mamaroneck Road), chair of the league's budget study committee, reminded the public that the session is scheduled for 10:00 am on Monday, March 12.

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