Letter: Ossining Board Chief Discusses Budget Process

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OSSINING, N.Y. -- The Ossining Daily Voice accepts signed letters to the editor. Send letters to ossining@dailyvoice.com.

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes many people to create a school district budget that meets the needs of all students and is mindful of the financial pressures on the community. For this reason, the Ossining Union Free School District began the budget process months ago and involved school district administrators, principals, parents, teachers, senior citizens, Budget Advisory Committee members and the community at large.

The superintendent's proposed budget for 2014-15 that resulted from this transparent, inclusive and ongoing process seeks to ensure the district's educational solvency, to enhance the safety of our students and to address space needs throughout the district.

The proposed budget preserves electives at the high school, supports the award-winning science research program, maintains after-school programs at Anne M. Dorner Middle School and continues arts and athletics programs. Based on community input, the district has placed special emphasis on addressing class sizes at AMD as well as needs in special education and English as a Second Language classes.

As student safety continues to be a priority, the proposed budget provides for additional cameras and an improved surveillance system. Future space needs at the elementary level are also reflected in the proposed budget, which calls for funding a capital budget line.

The budget process began with meetings of the administrative team to assess the effectiveness of existing educational programs and search for sustainable cost savings. A community forum was held to educate residents about New York state's failure to provide the district with the Foundation Aid it is legally entitled to receive.

From the community forum held in November, the campaign to obtain Ossining's fair share of state aid took on a life of its own, with community members and district officials writing letters, attending meetings and traveling to Albany to lobby legislators. This effort will continue as Foundation Aid plays a critical role in the ability of the district to meet student needs. For example, if Foundation Aid were funded in accordance with the law, Ossining would receive an additional $7.5 million in 2014-15.

While efforts to obtain a fair share of state aid are important, the district also is working to reduce costs wherever possible while maintaining a quality education. To that end, the district has identified $4.6 million in capital improvements that will be made with no impact on the budget through an Energy Performance Contract; received $2.5 million in competitive grants; saved $1.2 million over 12 years by refinancing bonds; and negotiated cost savings in teacher and administrator contracts.

By thinking creatively, restructuring and making some sacrifices, the district has reversed the costs of health care, transportation and district administration back to 2009 levels. These cuts have resulted in $6.3 million in savings this past year alone. It is anticipated that the district will realize a fund balance of 4 percent this year as a result of extremely careful planning, cost savings and deferring projects. This fund balance is important, given the potential for emergencies and unexpected situations.

As we approach the school budget vote on May 20, there are still opportunities to learn more about the proposed 2014-15 budget and provide input. Budget discussions will continue at the Board of Education's meetings on April 9, and a final budget will be adopted on April 22. The district's formal public hearing on the budget will be held on May 13. As always, the members of the Board of Education and the district's administration value your input and support. Together, we have made Ossining a great place to learn.

Sincerely yours,

Bill Kress
Ossining Board of Education President

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