May 11, 2012

A ‘doable’ budget in Bedford Central

In years past, Bedford Central residents may have felt like turnstile taxpayers who cross their fingers and hope for the best. A proactive superintendent, Dr. Jere Hochman, and strong leaders on the Bedford Central school board are changing the way the district does business. This year’s budget is a collaborative effort between the administration, board and community, and that’s as it should be.

The Bedford Central School District is presenting a $122.7 million budget for the 2012-2013 year. The adopted $122,698,040 budget is just over $3.718 million higher than last year’s, with a tax levy of 2.69 percent, under the 2.7 cap.

Even with the complexities of the equalization rate and the variability of the so-called “2 percent” tax cap, Bedford residents in the Bedford Central School District will see an 8.49 percent rise in their estimated tax rate. (Pound Ridgers will see a .26 percent tax reduction in their tax rate.)

Departing board member Graham Anderson may be right: the real policy decision-making drivers affecting our district are in Albany. A crushing combination of salaries, benefits and state mandates are choking taxpayers and potentially limiting student learning opportunities. Unfunded mandates like teacher evaluations only add to the mix.

Dr. Hochman and administrators know they have to do more with less. The approach of itemizing areas that are “doable, dramatic or drastic” has become this spring’s mantra, and it makes sense. The budget reductions include transportation reorganization, staff cuts, energy conservation and more.

The school board, upon the administration’s review of capital needs, included $1.25 million for health- and safety-related capital projects in the budget. We view these as necessary expenditures, particularly ceiling asbestos removal at Pound Ridge Elementary School and Fox Lane High School.

Voting no in a well-run, budget-conscious district is counterproductive. It is time to show our support for their decision-making skills and budget choices.

The Bedford Central budget will go to vote before the community on Tuesday, May 15. In addition, three candidates are running for three open board seats: board president Susan Elion Wollin, trustee Andrew Bracco and Lee Goldstein. They deserve our support.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the local elementary schools.

Vote yes for K-L budget

In Katonah-Lewisboro, superintendent Dr. Paul Kreutzer ushers in his first school budget as superintendent. Last week, in a discussion in his office with school board president Mark Lipton, Dr. Kreutzer presented the sobering news that even with student enrollment decreases — 700 students since 2003 — salaries and benefits are rising 4 percent a year. Of the $113 million annual school budget, 85 percent is associated with salaries. That 85 percent is going up 4 percent every year, including salaries, health insurance, pension benefits and step increases. “If you have a 15 percent reduction in population, that doesn’t mean you have a 15 percent in reduction in expenses,” said Mr. Lipton.

We appreciate the difficulty districts face as they battle this lopsided structural deficit. It means that every year’s budget will cut personnel, services or capital projects.

The Katonah-Lewisboro School District board of education adopted the proposed 2012-13 budget and a separate capital projects proposition at the March 22 board of education meeting. The budget-to-budget increase from 2011-12 to 2012-13 is $1,976,123, or 1.78 percent, The tax levy represents a 2.09 percent increase over the 2011-12 tax levy, well below the district’s calculated tax levy cap of 3.52 percent. According to the superintendent, this board “underutilized its ability to tax for more.”

Reductions were realized through refinancing debt and removing some funds budgeted for a tax anticipation note. The budget focuses on reducing third-party costs, utility savings and staff reduction, particularly in art and gym. The board and superintendent also realized reductions in pharmaceutical costs and savings from implementing recommendations from an outside benefit consultant.

In the adopted $113 million budget, the largest increases came at the hands of salaries, benefits and transportation, said Mr. Gordon. Transportation equipment is expected to cost roughly $1,150,000, while salaries occupy approximately half of the total budget.

In addition, voters will be presented with a separate capital projects proposition asking authorization for the district to use $5.9 million from its reserves to address capital projects, specifically boilers and roofs, including roof repairs at Katonah Elementary School. Funding these projects does not require borrowing or increasing taxes, as the funding sources exist in the capital fund reserve established in 2009, along with a fund balance that became available as a result of the conclusion of employee negotiations.

We believe that the administration and board have presented a prudent and lean budget. We urge them to continue to look for reductions, especially using consolidation, conservation and negotiation skills to spare us from more ominous cuts in the future.

Despite what seems often to be a crushing burden, residents have traditionally shown their support for the district by an underlying knowledge that education is the key to our community’s well-being. This year should be no different.

We urge a yes vote to the Katonah-Lewisboro budget proposition, and a positive vote for the capital improvement plan.

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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