Proposed 2024-25 School Budget Increase to Exceed the Tax Cap, Plus 2024-25 School Calendar Adopted
- Category: Schools
- Published: Thursday, 08 February 2024 13:39
- Wendy MacMillan
Big news from the school board this week: There will be another two week break for the holidays for the 2024-25 school year. The board adopted this calendar option at their February 5 meeting, following their second budget session for the 2024-25 school year.
On the budget front, the administration increased their request for staffing for 2024-25 to include an additional dean at Scarsdale High School to decrease the existing dean’s caseload and to allow more students to go into the Civ Ed program. The total proposed staff increase now stands at 9.9 FTE’s (full time employees.)
The increase in salaries, retirement contributions and health benefits along with other expenses adds up to a proposed $9.1 mm budget to budget increase, translating to a 5.6% increase in the tax levy at a time when the state tax cap is projected to be 3.62%. If the final budget increase does exceed the cap, a 60% passage rate would be required.
The fund balance from June 30, 2023 to June 30, 2024 is expected to drop about $4mm from $23.8 million to $19.8 million.
Introducing the budget discussions, Superintendent Dr. Drew Patrick emphasized that “The school budget provides the necessary financial resources to operate the school district and to help achieve the goals and objectives of the School District.” He went on to outline our District’s goals as they are defined in our Mission and Purpose statement:
“The Scarsdale Public Schools seek to sponsor each student’s full development, enabling our youth to be effective and independent contributors in a democratic society and an interdependent world.”
Dr. Patrick also made clear that the Budget is structured to support three spheres of our School District’s organization:
-Teaching and learning which includes items such as, appropriate class sizes, rich and enriching offerings, and professional development.
-District Operations including student and staff safety, sound fiscal stewardship, strategic capital planning and attention to infrastructure, and talent recruitment/retention.
-Student Support which encircles special education, MTSS Counseling, wellbeing, and community partnerships.
Dr. Patrick concluded by stating that “Items only appear in the draft budget after much careful consideration.”
Dr. Partick first explained the additional staffing recommendation. At the January 22nd meeting, BOE members were presented with an overview of staffing recommendations for the 2024-2025 school year. In that presentation, members were informed that Tier 1 recommendations included Overall: 4.7 (new) + 2.0 Elementary + 2.2 Secondary = +8.9 FTE. The presentation went on to describe Tier II recommendations (requests that are not being proposed at this time, but are worthy of further consideration in future budget planning) which included a request from Scarsdale High School for a new Freshman Team (3.0 FTE).
He said, “We are requesting the addition of a Freshmen Civ Ed team, which requires an additional 3.0 FTE as follows: one dean* (counselor), one English teacher, and one Social Studies teacher. There are currently 356 8th graders at the middle school; the additional counselor would reduce freshman teams to 42 to 45 (currently approximately 50) students per counselor. Adding a dean would also reduce the average caseload of all deans (from ~190 to ~170 students per dean). For the 2023-24 school year, there were 190 requests for Civ Ed, and the 4th section would have allowed us to meet all of them. We believe this request is in line with the strategic plan by creating student-centered opportunities and environments by meeting student choice.”
At this prior meeting, there were a lot of questions from Board Members about why this request wasn’t considered as a Tier I recommendation. Many of the members expressed their belief that an extra team at SHS would have great benefit for teachers, students, and deans alike. Since having an extra dean (SHS Deans are guidance counselors who work with students from grades 9-12, including supporting students through the college application process), seemed especially beneficial, some members also expressed their interest in having a phased in approach to hiring a complete Freshman Team starting with hiring just a dean for the 2024-2025 school year.
Administrators promised to look further into this strategy as an option and at the BOE meeting on February 5th, SHS Principal Ken Bonamo was present to discuss the benefits of hiring an additional dean for next year and how the phased-in approach would work. Bonamo emphasized that one of the greatest impacts would be seen in the decrease of caseloads for each of the deans allowing them to spend a more optimal amount of time with each of their students.
Having taken all of this information into consideration, the new staffing recommendation was updated to include the hiring of one dean at SHS bringing the new request to a total of 9.9 FTE.
Assistant Superintendent for Business, Andrew Lennon gave an overview of the 2024-25 draft budget plan including the consideration of key components such as expenditures, revenues, fund balance, and the tax levy limit. Here are some of the highlights:
The proposed 5.60% tax levy limit exceeds the projected tax levy limit of 3.61%.
Above are the major budget expense drivers.
Lennon focused on these four components: Transportation, Facilities and Operations, Debt Services and Employee Benefits.
Increases in the budget for transportation are due to the cost of maintaining an aging fleet of buses. Some older parts are not even sold anymore. Lennon explained that the department spends a lot of time and money ensuring that old buses pass inspections and struggles to keep them on the road. He discussed the needto purchase a new communication system as the existing radio system is antiquated and beyond repair and is a pressing concern for the safety of students and drivers.
The increase in expenses is largely due to rising pension systems costs and an increase in health claims.
In comments from the Board, Ron Schulhof remarked that the 5.6% increase to the tax levy is a lot, and wondered if the BOE would be open to having a discussion about possible areas of the budget that can be postponed or delayed, i.e. what budget items are “must haves” vs. “nice to haves” to see if the draft budget could be culled down. All board members members were open to having that discussion as they have done in years past.
During the public comments, Mayra Kirkendall-Rodriguez asked for more context for the budget and said it is hard to forecast financial needs without a strategic vision and a long-term financial plan which she urged our District to create.
Rachana Singh said that the draft budget is very high in a year that the Village plans to go over the proposed tax levy as well. Singh urged the BOE to adopt a fiscally responsible budget. Singh also stated that she is very supportive of the Special Education program in our District but would still like to see the data that supports the District's claim that the students in the program are thriving. She wondered if there are any metrics in place that can evaluate the data to show that students are indeed making gains. Lastly, Singh stated that she agrees with Kirkendall-Rodriguez and urged the District to create a long-term financial plan.
The Board adopted a school calendar for 2024-25 that starts on Tuesday September 3 and includes a two-week break during the holidays. The Board recognized that this might be a hardship for some working families, but said that moving forward the calendar would be re-evaluated based on where the holidays fall and other factors. You can see the 2024-25 calendar here:
Meghan Troy announced the following retirements:
From Fox Meadow Elementary School: Psychologist Jennifer Batterman and teachers Beth Kaplan, Barbara Laman, and Peter McKenna.
From Heathcote Elementary School: Teacher Katherine Bescherer.
From Edgewood Elementary School: Teacher Connie Leviatin.
From Scarsdale Middle School: Teachers Andrew Verboys, Lisa Bryan, Adam Nichols, and Yurry Buckler.
And from Scarsdale High School: Teachers Sheilah Chason and Joseph DeCrescenzo.