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Declining Enrollment Impacts Katonah-Lewisboro School Budget

CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – Katonah-Lewisboro School Superintendent Paul Kreutzer formally introduced his proposed 2012-13 budget to the school board and public last week, noting that he was faced with myriad challenges ranging from a declining student enrollment to the 2 percent property tax cap imposed by the state last summer.

At the school board’s meeting Thursday night at John Jay High School, Kreutzer said the $113 million spending package calls for a 2.5 percent increase in the tax levy. It also calls for cutting 24 full-time positions, including nine teachers. He cited the shrinking student body as one of the reasons for the cuts.

Enrollment was around 4,100 in 2003-04. It’s projected to be closer to 3,500 for the coming school year.

“The budget is looking at 3,500 (students), a drop of 14.5 percent since 2003-04,” Kreutzer said. “We will see 3,200 before we ever see 4,100 again.”

Kreutzer said the biggest declines are found at the lower grade levels.

The superintendent also said that the 2 percent tax cap is somewhat misleading because although the state-imposed cap is frequently referred to as being 2 percent, it actually varies and can be higher or lower depending on the district’s local property tax revenues. The calculated state-defined tax levy cap for the district is 3.56 percent due to approximately 1.33 percent inflation caused by one-time expenses.

Major increases in the propose budget include $179,000 for health insurance, $235,000 for staff development, $1.15 million for transportation equipment and $206,000 for utilities.

Reductions and mitigations in cost increases included $1.7 million in personnel, $400,000 in special education, $198,000 for the MTA payroll tax, and $150,000 in legal expenses.

Kreutzer noted that although healthcare was listed as an increase in expenditures, nearly $880,000 of the increase in that area was offset through concessions by the district’s labor associations as well as through the efforts of a health benefits coordinator.

He added that the district is combating a structural deficit.

“If revenues increase by 2 percent and expenses increase by 4 percent this will result in a structural deficit of 2 percent,” Kreutzer said. “We will be in cut environment until revenues meet expenses.”

One way to cope with the deficit, Kreutzer said, is to establish a means to reduce high inflationary expenses such as fuel oil, diesel, electric and health insurance costs.

School Board President Mark Lipton said that in the end, the bottom line for the district is to make sure that educational programs for the students remain intact.

“The goal is always the same – the very best education for our students that the district can pay for,” Lipton said.

The school board will hold budget reviews on Saturday, Thursday, and March 15 before it votes to adopt the budget on March 22. It will then hold a public hearing on May 3 and district residents will vote on the budget on May 15.

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