Keene school budget meets cap

The Keene Central School District Board of Education has unanimously adopted the proposed 2013-14 budget. Voters will have their say on May 21, when they will also pick two new board members.

The total proposed budget is $5,564,347, a spending increase of $217,368, or 4 percent, over the current year. It would increase the tax levy by 3.5 percent, or $156,615, which is below the state’s property tax cap.

“Early on in this budget developmental process the fiscal picture appeared to be bleak for Keene Central School,” interim Superintendent Cynthia Ford-Johnston said in a prepared statement. “Given the Governor’s original proposal for State Aid, the gap faced by the district would have necessitated cuts in programs and staff. Once the State budget and all costs were finalized the spending plan came together well. Student needs will be met, programs will remain intact and the district can remain below the tax cap limits for one more year.”

The biggest increases to the budget are due to pension costs, an increase in the number of students who want to enroll in Champlain Valley Education Services (BOCES) programs, and additional curriculum work brought on by changes to Common Core standards. The budget would save money by not filling an anticipated vacancy due to retirement.

More cuts would have been necessary had KCS not received a 10 percent boost in state aid. This year’s budget includes $618,873 in state aid; the school will receive $681,090 in 2013-14, according to state aid projections.

The tentative budget also includes safety and security improvements as well as maintenance and repairs that are expected to “carry the District through five years,” according to the budget fact sheet.

“The support and infrastructure are sufficient but remain lean,” Ford-Johnston said. “Every expense is scrutinized and compared to others to determine if it is necessary. This budget supports programs consistent with those of prior years. Employee agreements for health insurance changes continue to save the district from increased cost for a second year. No large purchases are planned for the coming year. Under this spending plan our school will operate and provide programs that mirror this year.”

Ford-Johnston said talks are ongoing with other area school districts to determine possible areas for sharing costs or streamlining programs.

“These discussions and the resulting changes will continue,” she said. “The long-term sustainability of our district depends on the success of these efforts. I encourage everyone who cares about the future of KCS and education in our region to become an active participant in these talks.”

Two seats on the school’s Board of Education are up for grabs. Current board President Jim Marlatt won’t seek another term, and Ann Whitney’s term has expired. Three people have filed petitions: Whitney, Heather Odell and John Haverlick.

The Enterprise will profile each before the election.