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Report: Kat-Lewisboro Schools Spending More Per Student

CROSS RIVER, N.Y. — According to a report issued by the Katonah-Lewisboro School District’s Finance Committee, the district’s per-pupil spending increased nearly 3 percent between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, and its spending continues to be higher than in comparable districts in northern Westchester.

The report was presented to the Board of Education at a meeting Thursday night.

For the past two years, the Finance Committee has compared KLSD spending with that of five other school districts in Westchester of similar size and educational standards: Byram Hills, Scarsdale, Harrison, Chappaqua and Bedford. Each year the report concluded that per-pupil spending in KLSD was the highest of all districts compared.

Salaries and benefits, as well as transportation costs, make up the largest portion of the spending. The committee reported that total spending would be roughly 6.7 percent lower if it were at the average per-pupil spending level of the other five districts used for comparison.

Salary levels also are higher than in all studied districts except for Scarsdale, and are likely contributing to higher instructional and benefit costs.

“The question is what is driving it,” said Dave Mallet, a member of the Finance Committee, who helped present the report. “The terms of the contracts are relatively more generous. But it is also due to demographic considerations. [KLSD has] a more senior population with more tenure. It’s a more experienced staff.”

As another component of its evaluation of district spending, the Finance Committee assessed affordability, again comparing KLSD to the other five districts. The committee found that adjusted gross income per pupil of KLSD residents is significantly less than those of comparable districts, while the True Value Tax Rate (total taxes per $1,000 of total true value) is higher. The total general fund expenditures for every $1,000 earned by residents is highest in KLSD, with residents paying approximately $63 for every $1,000 of income earned. The next highest in the comparable district group are Chappaqua and Bedford, at only $39 per $1,000 of earned income.

Additionally, the average price per square foot for real estate sold in each of the comparable districts was higher than the average price per square foot of real estate sold in KLSD. The report also indicated that growth in real estate values since 2001 has been slowest in KLSD.

School officials said declining enrollment also contributes to the increase in per-pupil spending.

School Board Trustee Janet Harckham said she was “thrilled with the work the committee did on the report, but not the results,” adding that no one was really to blame.

Trustee Mike Gordon, however, disagreed.

“I think the blame lies in Albany,” said Gordon, who is also a member of the Finance Committee. “The Triborough Amendment makes collective bargaining agreements indestructible. If you want to blame someone, look north.” (The 1982 Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law prohibits a public employer from altering any provision of an expired labor agreement until a new agreement is reached.)

Board members stressed that the report was analytical and not political, and was not meant to cast blame on the teaching staff.

“This is just a business discussion,” said board President Mark Lipton. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the teacher in the classroom.”

Gordon agreed.

“It has nothing to do with the value we place on teachers,” he said. “This is a different issue. It’s about the brutal reality of delivering a public education.”

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