After a rollercoaster year of remote and hybrid schooling, intensive cleaning protocols and ever-changing state and federal guidelines due to the coronavirus pandemic, members of the Scarsdale School Board voted unanimously April 12 to adopt the district’s $166,862,755 budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, a 2.56% increase from last year’s budget.
The board will hold a statutory budget hearing on May 10 and the public will vote on it May 18, the same date as the school board election.
“The budget increases the tax levy by 2.15%, which is .01% below the tax levy cap. Scarsdale residents can expect a 1.94% tax rate increase and the Mamaroneck strip will receive a 6.28% increase.
Board President Pam Fuehrer said it was important the budget developed organically with a focus on students and the district’s strategic plan.
“I’m grateful that to accommodate the many unknowns there is a continuance of the pandemic deficit reduction and if this is unused it will help rebuild the depleted fund balances,” she said.
Due to the pandemic, expenditures were expected to exceed revenues by $3.7 million, causing the district’s total fund balance to decrease to $22.9 million. Because of the impact, the district’s undesignated fund balance will drop to $4.7 million, which is $2.3 million less than the prior year.
To directly offset the 2021-22 tax levy, the assigned fund balance is estimated to be $1.15 million above the district’s long-term planning goal of $1.1 million at $2.25 million.
The district is expected to receive its full allotment of state aid, estimated to be $6.3 million, a 6.49% increase, which was unanticipated. As much as $920,488 of that aid will be used to reduce the pandemic deficit reduction. “The recently enacted state budget results in increased aid compared to what we budgeted,” schools’ public information officer Michelle Verna told the Inquirer. “This will help us restore the fund balance closer to the levels we maintained before the pandemic.”
According to Verna, the district has also been designated to receive $465,242 through the federal government’s American Rescue Plan, but because the government hasn’t provided guidance on how the funds can be spent, they are not included in the 2021-22 budget.
Approximately 80% of the school budget expenditures are earmarked to cover staff salaries and benefits. Employee benefits alone are set to increase 2.42% or $881,082 to $37.2 million. Salaries for the district’s educational program alone are set to increase 2.48% or $1.4 million to $58.9 million.
The budget increases staffing across the district by 10 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers, above the budgeted 2020-21 base of 479.2. Due to the pandemic though, which added teachers for remote instruction, a special education teacher and an English as a New Language teacher, the actual budget-to-budget increase is 2.4 FTE. The budget also includes a 5.2 FTE increase in civil service staffing for additional cleaners in each elementary school building and a secretary for school psychologists.
The elementary schools are also adding 1.0 FTE for integrated co-teaching classes and 4.0 FTE, depending on whether continued virtual-only instruction is necessary for some students in the fall.
While the number of middle school staffing and district personnel remains flat, the high school will add 1.0 FTE special education teacher and increase speech services from 0.6 to 1.0 FTE.
Enrollment numbers are also projected to increase in K-5 by 88 students and in the high school by three students. The middle school is projecting a decrease of four students.
The budget also maintains all current special education services and adds funding to two integrated co-teaching sections in kindergarten with a contingent position for a third. The total special education budget increased by 3.45% or $546,967 to $16.4 million. Salaries for special education also rose by 5.99% to $10.8 million.
Board Vice President Alison Singer said she was “particularly pleased” that the budget expanded special education offerings by increasing co-taught and special classes, adding sections as students age up, and adding staff.
“I’m glad, though, that this budget also recognizes the economic realities that our residents are facing and reflects our efforts to keep taxes down.”
The budget’s transfer to capital projects fund has been slashed by 44% to $485,000. The district plans to begin the second phase of the high school’s auditorium renovation; $100,000 is being used to install LED lighting in the Edgewood and Fox Meadow schools; And $165,000 is earmarked for door replacement, exterior lighting improvements and handicap accessibility at Heathcote school. In addition, $365,000 is being used for roofing and brick repointing, carbon monoxide detector installation across the district as well as renovations at the district’s bus compound.
To support the district’s strategic plan, an additional $50,344 has been added to the program improvement line item, now totaling $487,101, an 11.53% budget-to-budget increase. Further investments are also being made in professional development (increasing by $12,200 to $369,200) and sustainability initiatives (increasing by $47,500 to $140,000).
In addition, $43,850 is allocated for curriculum research and assessment to meet the district’s strategic goal to improve instruction; $12,000 will be spent to bring in committees of college professors to work with teachers to develop and assess the high school’s curricular offerings and $31,850 will be spent to assess the district’s strategic initiatives and evaluate the impact of hybrid and remote learning.
General instruction is also getting a boost in expenditures. Instructional support is increasing 5.08% to $2.1 million, with the budget for personnel for guidance, psychological services, health services and interscholastic athletics increasing 4.26% to $8 million and administration and program improvements set to increase 3.66% to $6.8 million.
The budget for interscholastic athletics is set to increase by $187,054 to $2.1 million. The psychological services budget will also increase by $54,862 to $1.6 million while maintaining all support services due to plans to increase clerical support for the psychologists at the middle school.
“The fact that the budget is now completed … with an increase that is within the so-called tax cap — and relatively, I think, modest — speaks to not only the effort in preparing the budget, but the careful watch on funds during the past year,” said board member Carl Finger. “It really has avoided what most of us were deeply worried about last spring.”