Despite an increase in spending of more than $800,000 next year, the Katonah-Lewisboro School District’s preliminary budget, unveiled last week, is expected to cut tax rates for most district residents.  

Revenue gains, spending cuts and a healthy infusion in the school system’s reserve cash eased the pressure on property taxes, traditionally the backbone of public education financing. The spending hike of .73 percent is the district’s smallest in recent years, schools Superintendent Andrew Selesnick said last week in presenting his budget to the school board. “And the increase of $803,000,” he said, “is accounted for almost entirely in revenues that are not property taxes.”

Under his proposed $110,972,680 budget, total property taxes—the levy—will increase by only $17,087, or .02 percent. That levy is spread among homeowners of the entire district, which also covers parts of North Salem and Pound Ridge. 

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Lewisboro homeowners can expect a rate increase of $5.16, a 2.5 percent hike, to $211.07 for each $1,000 of assessed value. But the rate would decline in the rest of the district, including in Bedford, which drops by $6.26 (3.31 percent) to $183.04. The biggest reduction, $5.33, or 4.63 percent, brings Pound Ridge’s tax rate to $109.76 and North Salem’s drops by 37 cents, 1.81 percent, to $20.26. Despite the taxing variations, equalization rates seek to distribute the individual dollar burden evenly, town to town.

Growth in some of the district’s revenue streams includes a hike of more than 20 percent in county sales tax money, to $1.2 million, and the use of $750,000 from the budget’s fund balance account, which represents tax money collected by the district but unspent.

State law limits school districts to an unreserved fund balance of no more than 4 percent of the upcoming year’s budget.

At the school board’s Feb. 27 meeting, Selesnick presented what he called a “fiscally responsible” spending plan. It proposes no new big-budget initiatives but includes funding for a number of high school improvements, including added extracurricular activities, auditorium renovation, replacement of the gym’s bleachers and live streaming of sports and arts programming from the high school campus.

The district also plans to add a school psychologist to expand therapeutic support to the elementary level and to implement new state science standards in grades three to five.

With enrollment continuing a decade-long decline, next year’s budget cuts the equivalent of almost three full-time positions (2.95 FTE) but new hires totaling 4.6 FTEs create a net staffing gain of 1.65 positions.

“Things seem to be leveling off,” Selesnick said of the enrollment decline, which has seen a student body of 3,852 in 2010 drop to an anticipated 2,905 next year, a reduction of about 25 percent. Next year’s decline, he said, was expected to be less than half a percent, according to projections. 

Since some numbers for both income and expenditure are necessarily estimates, the final budget is likely to undergo modest changes between now and May 19, when district residents vote on the spending plan.

Whatever final figures emerge, voters will render their verdict on a budget that calls for an increase in the property tax levy that’s more than $2 million under the tax cap, the state-imposed ceiling on levy hikes. This year’s cap would have permitted a rise of 2.13 percent, or $2,083,643, to $100,032,140, Selesnick said. Instead, the budget proposes a levy that’s $2,066,556 lower than the allowable limit.

Two board seats up for grabs

Two veteran school board trustees, Dr. William Rifkin and Scott Posner, announced at Thursday’s meeting that they will not seek reelection in May. Both were elected to three-year terms in 2014 and returned by voters in 2017. 

With two seats open, anyone seeking to fill one of them must file a nominating petition with Kimberly A. Monzon, the district clerk, by 5 p.m. April 20. 

Candidates must be at least 18, U.S. citizens and qualified voters in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District, and able to read and write. Anyone employed by the school board or living with a family member already on the board is not eligible.