May 10, 2013

Vote yes in Katonah-Lewisboro;
address systemic problems


We wish we had a way to include everything parents and kids in the district want or need in the 2013-14 budget, but we recognize there is little chance for wish lists in a budget that has about as much wiggle room as a wet boot.

The cost for residents is mind boggling (though not too far out of line with the rest of this overburdened county), particularly considering that 10 years ago, the 2003-04 budget was just over $78 million. One recession later, homeowners are being asked to fork over an additional $36 million for this year’s budget, which tops out at a whopping $114,879,543. Because of the difference in town assessments, this year’s budget is a 6.68 percent increase over last year’s in the town of Bedford, which includes the hamlet of Katonah. Lewisboro’s increase is only 0.22 percent, making this budget’s burden slightly less onerous for our neighbors. For Pound Ridge residents in the Katonah-Lewisboro district, the increase will be 6.10 percent.

What is driving this costly juggernaut that even the pressure of the state tax cap, decreased enrollment, a reduced fund balance of almost $2.5 million, staffing cuts and strict auditing measures can’t reverse?

“Our largest expense is our personnel,” says superintendent Paul Kreutzer in a budget video posted on the district’s website. “Our retirement costs, salary costs, make up about 85 percent of our budget. We’re trying to negotiate and find cost efficiencies.”

It’s not as if this news is a surprise; administrators are well aware of the glacier they are up against. “A structural deficit will exist at the onset of the budgetary planning cycle in the foreseeable future,” wrote the Katonah-Lewisboro school board in its preliminary budget document. “Existing labor contract obligations far exceed revenues ... this is simply unsustainable.”

“By the time you look at staffing and benefits and debt service, that represents about 86 percent of the budget,” reported assistant superintendent for business Michael Jumper at a recent board meeting. “So you’re dealing with about 14 percent of the budget.”

In assessing the budget, we can only ask, has the superintendent balanced district needs and made the right cuts to deserve a yes vote? The district can’t remove pensions, alter state mandates, eliminate teacher evaluations or ignore building and safety codes. State aid to the district has decreased proportionately in the district every year since 2001, from 8.23 percent of the budget to 5.99 percent today. Security is a whole new issue, particularly in the wake of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

If the level of agitation demonstrated by the teachers union is any indication, Dr. Kreutzer is succeeding in putting on the kind of pressure to reduce costs that rate payers are seeking.

So far Dr. Kreutzer has successfully balanced district needs and worked with the board to make smart cuts. Staff will be reduced from 589 to 577 to provide about $900,000 in reductions. Decreases in this budget will also come in the form of transportation and special education reductions. The district achieved savings with health and pharmacy benefit claims that exceed $300,000 per year. In the words of Dr. Kreutzer, the budget comes “comfortably below” the state tax cap levy increase allowable of 1.53 percent.

The budget enhances programs, including Response to Intervention, technology, elementary science, common core standards, and safe schools. Nearly all of the district’s programs remain intact for the near term, with the exception of middle school teaming in the eighth grade. Technological upgrades will be implemented over the next several years to integrate kids into the digital landscape.

It’s hard to argue with board member Peter Breslin, who called it a “really good budget,” and trustee Janet Harckham, who touted it as “the most responsible budget that we have ever come up with.”

Perhaps the most innovative campaign in the district in recent years was launched in response to the district’s budget crunch.

An independent group, wary of rising taxes and unsustainable expenditures, comprised of taxpayers and residents of the Katonah-Lewisboro School District, presented a petition to the district on Thursday night.

The group appeals “directly to Superintendent Kreutzer, the Katonah-Lewisboro Association of Administrators and Supervisors, the Katonah-Lewisboro District Teacher’s Association, the Katonah-Lewisboro Support Staff Association and the Katonah-Lewisboro Board of Education to find immediate solutions to the budget crisis facing our district ... We are expecting that all stakeholders work together as partners to demonstrate a shared commitment to providing an effective, meaningful and competitive education for our students and a professional, rewarding and respectful environment for employees within a fiscally responsible budget.”

You won’t get any argument from us. Such a discussion is long overdue, a result of years of systemic problems in Albany and the nature of school funding in New York State. Future discussion could include sharing services with other districts, closing an elementary school, combining classes, fundamental changes in the salary, pension and benefit system, and greater use of digital technology as a teaching tool.

We commend the district for maintaining as much educational integrity in this budget as it has, given the torrent of outside mandates. The budget goes to public vote on May 21. If it’s defeated twice, then the tax levy is automatically set at 0 percent. A yes vote shows a commitment to education and our children, representing the core of our community and its well-being. We urge a yes vote in Katonah-Lewisboro for this responsible budget.


Katonah-Lewisboro voters will also be asked to vote for the purchase of a dozen 78-person buses and one wheelchair-accessible van, at a cost of $1,724,300, to replace buses damaged by rust. Each bus will be inspected twice a year. We recommend a yes vote for Proposition #2.


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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The official newspaper of the towns of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

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NEWSSTAND LOCATIONS

Pound Ridge/Scotts Corners

  1. Scotts Corner Market – Trinity Corners Shopping Center;  55 Westchester Avenue

  2. Pound Ridge Sunoco — 66 Westchester Avenue    

  3. Sam Parker Country Market — 257 Westchester Avenue    


Bedford Village

  1. Bedford Rexall Pharmacy — Hunting Ridge Mall; 424 Old Post Road  

  2. Village Green Deli — Village Green; Routes 22 and 172    

  3. Bedford Shell — Routes 22 and 172 (at blinking light); 848 So. Bedford Road

  4. Village Service Center —193 Pound Ridge Road (at Long Ridge Road intersection)    


Bedford Hills

  1. Bedford Hills Deli – 7 Babbitt Road    

  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


Katonah

  1. NoKA Joe’s – 25 Katonah Avenue    

  2. Steger’s Paper Mill – 89 Katonah Avenue    

  3. Katonah Pharmacy – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  4. Bagel Shoppe – Katonah Shopping Center; 280 Katonah Avenue    

  5. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road


Mount Kisco

  1. Teamo/Mt. Kisco News – 239 Main Street    


Cross River

  1. Bagel Boys Café – Cross River Shopping Center; Routes 121 and 35    

  2. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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