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Board Reviews Proposed 2015-16 Budget: School Taxes to Go Up 2.58%

shs2The Board of Education formally presented the preliminary 2015-2016 budget to the community at a meeting on March 18. Overall, there was not a lot of change from what was originally presented and has been reported about on this site on February 5, February 15, March 3 and March 12.

This point in the budget development marks management transition of the process to the Board Members from the district's administrative leadership. The Board itself is no longer in an inquiry period and fully supports the budget as it was presented last night. Their goal is to make community members aware of the budget and how it supports Scarsdale's educational goals and garner support for the budget vote on May 19 2015. However, the Board stressed that it still welcomes feedback and comments and nothing is final until the budget is adopted at the April 20, 2015 meeting.

The meeting opened with Dr. Hagerman thanking the many members of the district administration who worked tirelessly over the last few months to develop the budget and respond to feedback with a special shout out to Linda Purvis who will be retiring at the end of this year. The presentation being used for the evening was developed with slides to highlight certain aspects of the budget, but also includes pictures of Scarsdale students and teachers as well as slides with quotes from the community. This presentation will be available for viewing at the BOE website. Dr. Hagerman stressed that the budget process was collaborative and iterative and supports the defined educational goals identified for the year and with an eye toward the future.

He highlighted the following points:

• The proposed 2015-16 budget preserves and enhances our student's educational experiences.
• It introduces some significant structural changes that will improve academic, athletic and social-emotional programming; district and building operations; and coordination of services with supporting organizations, institutions and agencies.
• It is aligned with the values and priorities that have been established by a broad range of stakeholders, including the BOE; administration, faculty and staff; parents and school committee; and the broader community.
• The proposal represents a year over year budget decrease. Although this was not a stated goal for this year's budget process, it is a testament to many contributors of this work.

Board President Mary Beth Gose provided a general overview of the budget. She stated that the proposed budget of $148,048,080 represents a year over year decrease of about 10%. The associated tax levy of 2.58% is under the allowable tax cap of 2.97%.

Board Member Suzanne Seiden presented on Curriculum Instruction and Assessment. This category represents less than 1% of the entire budget. She began by discussing Scarsdale's curriculum titled "Scarsdale Education for Tomorrow" and its three key components:

• Empower students to think critically and creatively
• Advance students' knowledge with globally competitive skills
• Inspire students to collaborate and make positive contributions locally and globally.

Important points about this section of the budget include traditional class sizes for K-12 will be maintained, more literacy instruction in the early grades supported by additional reading teachers and an ELA "helping teacher" (as a result the commencement of Spanish instruction is now 2nd grade), a new administrative position of Athletic Director to focus solely on Physical Education and Health programs. The Athletic Director will hire, develop and evaluate staff and provide consistent program review and improvement. This portion of the budget also includes funds staff development.

Board Member Lewis Leone addressed Special Education and began by thanking Director of Special Education Eric Rauschenbach who he called "a true gem". There is a 6.8% year-to-year budget increase requested driven by growth in out of district placements, funds for increased professional development and the purchase of common assessment tools and the addition of a Special Education teacher at the middle school due to enrollment.

Board Member Scott Silberfein discussed enrollment and staffing under the Human Resources section. He briefly reviewed enrollment projections and there is a small decrease in overall enrollment for next year (47 students). In summary, the budget proposes to maintain staffing levels at all schools (including the reorganization/hiring of some positions discussed in other sections such as Technology, Special Education, and Athletics). He concluded staff remains at 596.9 FTEs with a requested increase of .55 FTEs.

Board Member Chris Morin, who addressed Facilities, opened with a slide that depicted facilities spending over the last 11. This analysis showed what Morin described as a lot of "discipline" in facilities spending.

Important capital initiatives in the 2015-2016 budget include:

• Drainage repair at Edgewooddean-field
• Playground repair and front office renovation at Fox Meadow
• Fire alarm replacement at Heathcote
• Replacement of tech room dust collection system at the Middle School
• Repair of Dean Field and exterior painting at the High School
• District wide roof repairs, changes to the technology offices to accommodate the department reorganization, and paving the bus compound.

He concluded by looking ahead to 2016 and beyond. The approved 2014 Bond projects (not including in this budget) are the Edgewood library, Heathcote multipurpose room, Quaker Ridge roof, Middle School orchestra space, High School learning commons and improvements to district-wide technology infrastructure. Also, on going is the Greenacres feasibility study, the High School Master Plan and a five year building condition survey all of which contribute to the District Facilities Master plan.

Board Member Bill Natbony handled the Technology budget. He described the various aspects of the technology budget and the department reorganization that was fully discussed in this article (link to my piece from feb. 11 study session).

Board Member Lee Maude concluded the presentation with a brief discussion of debt service and benefits. Employee Benefits represent 27% of budget. Many benefits are mandated (retirement system contributions, social security, etc.) or negotiated as part of a contract (health and dental coverage). Our district has a self-insurance plan that has saved the district money, but can also be volatile. The district will maintain a health-care reserve fund that is now allowed as a result of recent legislation. Health-care budget is increasing 10% year over year. Maude stressed that healthcare benefits are an important part of compensation for district employees many of whom spend their entire careers within the district.

Debt services are 6.6% of total proposed budget and represent a minimal increase from last year.

Community members are encouraged to view last night's meeting on the Scarsdale School's Video on Demand sight and contact members of the Board of Education with questions and concerns.