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School Administrators Unveil First Draft of 2014-15 School Budget

shsberke1In between the two snowstorms this week, the Scarsdale School administration presented the first proposed school budget for 2014-15 to the Board of Education and the community on Tuesday February 3. Board President Suzanne Seiden emphasized that the budget draft is a starting point for a conversation between the administration, the Board of Education and the community and it is expected that items will be added and taken out before the final budget proposal is voted on in May.

Setting the stage for the first budget review Seiden made a plea for the community to come to consensus. She said, "We are a community in transition ... and the (budget) "conversation has pitted neighbor against neighbor." She said the Board is "the steward of the community and will decide what is best," and asked residents to "please bring light, not heat to the discussion."

This proposal was for a total budget of $148,731,524 for 2014-15, which is 3.36% higher than 2013-14 and would mean a 4.40% tax increase. For 2014-15 the administration proposed using $3.8 million in surplus funds from the prior year, a reduction of $422,000 from the $4.3 million in surplus funds in the 2013-14 budget.

The adjusted tax cap would be 4.18%, which means that the current proposed budget is $278,993 or .21% above the cap and would require a 60% approval rate by voters. The tax cap was calculated beginning with the 1.46% figure from the state, plus 1.59% in real property growth in Scarsdale in addition to the adjustment for capital improvements.

This initial budget includes additional elementary and high school teachers and capitol improvements but no new programs or course offerings. Five additional teachers will be needed at the elementary schools to maintain class sizes at a maximum of 22 students for grades K-3 and 24 students for grades four and five. With the addition of the five teachers the average elementary school class size is projected to be 20 students – and the new staffers will prevent oversized classes like the ones that occurred at Greenacres and Edgewood this year when a surge of new students signed up for school in late August.

At the high school, the budget includes three additional teachers in math, science and social studies. Currently about 20% of classes at SHS are above 25 students – and the addition of these three teachers will bring class sizes in line with historic norms. This budget also included an additional gym teacher, but after considerable discussion at the meeting that position was eliminated.

The proposed budget includes maintenance and repairs at district schools, and renovation of the science rooms at the high school to accommodate more students in chemistry and physics classes. A larger ninth grade class this year, and an expected increase of 32 students next year necessitate more laboratory facilities.

Proposed facilities improvements include:

Fox Meadow:
Expansion of the kindergarten playground and a new fence to increase the size of the play area- $20,000
Upgrade to the fire alarm that is currently not in compliance with code - $288,000

Greeancres
Replace condensate station - $35,000
Relocate the school office so that it is next to the entrance for security reasons: $150,0000

Heathcote
Exterior painting $40,000
Fence replacement at Innes Road and kindergarten playground $15,000

Quaker Ridge
New oil tank concrete pad- $20,000


Middle Schoo
l

Cooper House exterior stair replacement -$291,000

High School
Renovation of science rooms - $551,000
Carpet VAT abatement (8 rooms)- $130,000

District wide roof repairs -$325,000

Other costs that are driving the budget increase include:

  • $1,108,680 increase for the teacher and employees retirement funds
  • $847,612 increase for employee health insurance
  • $400,000 for special education out-of-district placements
  • $369,900 for increases in employee benefits.

During the discussion period, Board Member Lew Leone asked the administration to look at the elementary school staffing again. "Would it be possible to move people around,," he asked? Have we considered staff children? "Given that we know that the population will decrease over the next five years we should look carefully at adding five heads."

Joan Weber replied "these numbers are carefully calculated. We would have to change our policy to accommodate more children with fewer faculty members."

Referring to the high school, Leone asked if teacher course load could be increased rather than hiring additional teachers. He said, "This year at the middle school, one teacher was out and they had the remaining math teachers each teach an additional sections."

In a discussion about teacher course load, Seiden said that increasing teacher course loads would "cut into the time they spend with individual students." Dr. McGill said, "Increasing course load would be a big change and is something that the Board needs to discuss." The Board agreed that this was a policy decision and Jonathan Lewis asked that it be placed on the agenda for the fall.

Other items that were discussed included a proposal to cut a full-time physical therapist and utilize outside consultants instead, the merits of the position of the purchasing agent in the district office and the decision not to restore the second librarian at the Middle School.

The discussion continues Thursday night February 6 at 6:30 in rooms 170-172 at Scarsdale High School.

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