The 2021-22 budget process began in earnest on Dec. 21 with a preliminary report by Scarsdale Schools Assistant Superintendent Stuart Mattey highlighting year-end and long-term financial projections and 2021-22 budget assumptions.
The process will continue at a board meeting slated for Monday, Jan. 11, with a discussion of staffing recommendations, programmatic budget drivers and other items that would require approval by the school board. On Monday, the budget office will share input received from school principals regarding their budgetary needs and facility-related requests, and key stakeholders or community members can weigh in on budget priorities during the public comment period.
The preliminary budget will be issued by Monday, Feb. 1, in time for the first of three budget study sessions.
A virtual public forum Nov. 18 provided an early opportunity for the administration and board to hear from community members about their budget priorities.
“Opportunities for such input exist throughout the budget development process, and we look forward to hearing from members of our community either via email, or during public comment periods at our business meetings, budget study sessions, and at the end-of-process public forum in March,” board president Pam Fuehrer wrote in an email to the Inquirer following the November meeting.
At that meeting, Suzie Hahn, school budget portfolio chair for the Scarsdale League of Women Voters, asked whether the district was budgeting for next year to be “another COVID year” or a normal one and asked how the budgets would look different from one another.
Hahn also asked how the school district expects state aid and other revenue from taxes and earned interest to be affected given the economy.
The school closure during the pandemic last year created substantial savings — expenditures were lower by more than $5 million — and the unassigned fund balance at year-end was more than 4% of the budget, much of which was transferred to cover COVID-related and other expenses prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year, bringing the fund balance to about 2.7%.
Hahn asked how the district plans to allocate the savings and where the reserves and fund balances would go in the 2021-22 budget.
Hahn also asked about class size and enrollment expectations, staffing for mental health as the need has grown during the pandemic, and staffing or funding for special education and security, health insurance budget expectations and the plans for renegotiating the teachers contract, which was set with a one-year placeholder last year.
Questions about facilities and operations remain, including the fate of the postponed SHS auditorium and art studio renovations, COVID testing capacity and costs, costs related to air filtration system upgrades, and budget changes related to remote technology and transportation given the ongoing hybrid education model.
According to Mattey, the district expects to end the 2020-21 year with revenues higher than the prior year by about $1 million, or 0.6%. He said state aid and interest earnings have decreased by more than $2 million but were offset by $2.5 million from tax levy revenues.
Mattey shared some good news, that the district’s employer pension contribution rates for its retirement programs for 2020-21 are projected to remain close to the projected 9.5%-10% for TRS and 13%-14% for ERS, pensions for teachers and other employees, respectively.
He also said that due to the pandemic, the district should see COVID-related savings of about $1.2 million in reduced spending for instructional programs, teachers’ salaries, interscholastic athletics, and reductions in security, fuel and utility costs.
Meanwhile, Mattey projected COVID-related fund balance spending at $4.6 million, which reflects the purchase of PPE ($800,000), technology and instructional supplies ($263,000), faculty and custodial salaries and benefits ($1.5 million) plus costs for additional hours worked by teacher aides (about $900,000) as students in K-2 returned full time. COVID-19 testing could add $350,000 to the district’s health-related expenditures.
In addition, the school lunch fund had a $220,000 deficit in 2019-20 as the schools closed last spring, but the district was required to provide lunches for those in need during the pandemic. The lunch fund is facing an overall loss in 2020-21 of about $500,000 due to decreased sales to students in the hybrid schedule.
By the end of the 2020-21 fiscal year, the district anticipates a fund balance of $22.9 million, lower by almost $3.8 million over the previous year. The unassigned fund balance is projected to be $5 million, or 3% of the projected annual budget, which is below the 4% limit allowed by state law.
In-depth budget study sessions are scheduled on Feb. 1, Feb. 8 and March 8. Following a budget forum on March 22, the board plans to adopt the 2021-22 budget on April 12 and the budget vote is anticipated on May 18.