Increased Revenue Holds Line on North Salem School Budget

North Salem School Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Freeston outlines details of his proposed 2017-2018 school budget. Credits: Sue Guzman

(North Salem, N.Y) --North Salem School Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Freeston took the wraps off his proposed 2017-18 school budget last week and revealed it would increase the tax levy (amount to be collected by taxes) by 1.43 percent, thus staying under the state-mandated tax cap.

Freeston noted that how the new budget will impact each property owner’s tax bill is not yet known because the school district is comprised of four towns in two counties. One of them, Southeast, reassesses every year, while North Salem, Somers and Carmel do not.  Final assessment rolls are not known until summer, at which point the state applies a special equalization rate. As a result, tax rates are different in all four towns and are not known at this time. 

The nearly $42 million spending plan calls for an additional $816,000 in spending over this year’s budget and contains no major cuts in personnel or curriculum initiatives. Projected non-tax revenue for the 2017-18 budget is  a little more than $4.6 million.

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“Our priorities for 2017-18  are within the constraints of the state levy cap,” the superintendent said. 
The proposed budget calls for an additional $415,376 in salaries over the 2016-2017 adopted budget and benefits are up by nearly $322,000 from last year’s budget. Those costs, Freeston said, account for the more than the $816,000 in overall increased costs.

“Remember, last year we were in teacher [contract] negotiations,” Freeston said. “We had no monies in the budget last year for that. So what we’re seeing in the budget now is two years’ worth of salary growth.”
Payroll accounts for about 55 percent of expenditures in the 2017-2018 spending plan. Nearly 24 percent is allocated for benefits.

When discussing the issue of student enrollment and class size projections for the upcoming school year, Freeston said that the projections are mainly flat.  However, some changes are expected in the fourth and fifth grades. Enrollment in the fourth grade is expected to increase from 58 to 77, resulting in an increase in the number of sections and an additional teacher, while class sizes will remain the same, between 19 and 20. 

In the fifth grade, enrollment is expected to decrease from 96 to 61. As a result, the five current sections of between 19 and 20 students is expected to drop to three sections of classes of 20, 20 and 21 students. Freeston said the total number of teacher reductions is 1.8, 1.0 at PQ, and 0.8 at the high school. 
Freeston credited reduced pension costs, multi-year budget planning and increased program revenue for the district’s ability to keep spending below the state-imposed tax levy cap.

During a presentation last week on school district revenues, Barbara Briganti, assistant superintendent of business, credited an increase in non-resident tuition and special education tuition from students coming in from other school districts for the increase in revenues. 

The district saw a 300 percent increase in tuition revenues that totaled $216,000. Westchester County sales tax revenue was up slightly at nearly 3 percent or $10,000. 

The special services aid, along with revenues from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), totaled $442,868, an additional $37,000 over last year. Briganti bemoaned the fact that the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap levy is unlikely to be changed anytime soon, saying that many local state lawmakers have indicated there are no plans to change that formula, which was described as a “crowning jewel” of the Cuomo administration. 

During his curriculum presentation last week, Dr. Michael Hibbard, assistant superintendent for instruction and human services, unveiled his proposed $652,390 curriculum budget, which is a 6.8 percent increase, or roughly $41,000 over 2016-17. 

He touted curriculum development goals for the upcoming school year that include a focus on world language fluency, exploring the benefits teaching in extended time format and focusing on the district’s mission.  

The Board of Education will continue discussions and presentations in the next few weeks. Meetings are slated for March 15 and 29 (if needed). Public comment periods are permitted at each meeting.
The board will hold it’s “scorecard” meeting April 5 when it will finalize budget changes following debate. A final vote by the school board will be held on the budget April 18.

The 2017-18 budget vote and trustee election will be held at Pequenaconck Elementary School Tuesday, May 16, from 7-9 p.m.

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