District administrators presented a first draft of the proposed 2021-22 school budget to the Edgemont Board of Education Tuesday, March 2. Unlike regular board meetings, the budget work session had no formal space for community members to ask questions as the purpose of the meeting was to present the budget and hear feedback from board members. Future budget sessions will provide opportunities for community member commentary.
The proposed budget for the 2021-22 academic year came to a total of $65,251,389, which is a 2.47% budget increase from last year. According to Bryan Paul, assistant to the superintendent in Edgemont, the vast majority of that operating budget will be supported by taxes, with a proposed tax levy of $55,923,374.
Paul said that number reflects a projected tax rate increase of 2.16%.
“This is the maximum allowable tax levy that’s available to us without exceeding the tax cap next year,” Paul clarified. “Although the final actual assessed value of the district will not be determined until later, when you use that tax levy our projected tax rate increase would be 2.16% in this coming year.”
The 2.4% budget increase provides the necessary funding to support all mandatory or contractually obligated federal or state government requirements imposed on the school district on behalf of its employees. This includes salary and health benefits that make up 77.3% of the total school budget.
In addition to increases in salary and benefits expenditures, the budget plan also reflects a 10.2% increase in technology spending when compared to the previous year’s budget, and a 26.3% increase in funding for special education services.
The increase in technology expenditures comes from the replacement and addition of Chromebooks for students and staff with touch screen capabilities and more processing power and memory to support the numerous software licenses that have been brought on board during the last 12 months, as teachers and students shifted toward digital resources. The budget increase also covers outfitting remaining classrooms with new Promethean panels (interactive white boards).
The 26.3% increase in funding to special education services, according to Dr. Joseph Schippa, director of Pupil Personnel Services in Edgemont, mostly comes from the increase in costs related to out-of-district placements, which is somewhat related to the pandemic.
“[There are] students that we have had to place out of district because we don’t have a program that might meet their needs,” Schippa explained. “Generally what we do with students [with special needs] is we look at whether students fit into a cohort, we can create a program for them, or they may fit into an already existing program that we have.” When a cohort cannot be created, or a student cannot be placed within an existing group, arrangements are made for that student to either study individually or go to another school’s program, for which the Edgemont School District incurs most of the costs.
The pandemic has added to the cost of providing for special needs students in that some students, like those in general education classes, have needed more support than the district could provide so they needed to be enrolled in another school’s educational program. Another increase in costs comes from parents opting for home-based instruction, due to fears of potential infection if their student were to attend school in person.
Schippa also pointed to the increase in families moving to Westchester County from Manhattan to escape high coronavirus infection rates in the city.
“[Some students] went into [out-of-district] programs because we didn’t have a cohort for them. Those are students that … moved into the district; we weren’t anticipating them. They came as a surprise to us,” Schippa said.
The next budget session will take place virtually on March 9 at 8 p.m. The link will be available at edgemont.org.