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Ossining School Officials Begin Budget Discussions

Elementary class size and after-school programs are among the topics to be discussed tonight.

The annual budget vote is still months away, but the Ossining Union Free School District is getting a head start on the tough process of shaping a figure "that supports the needs of our students, but yet still tries to stay within the tax levy cap."

Interim Superintendent Raymond Sanchez emphasized the balance of these two at the first of the three board of education budget mini lessons on Wednesday.

"We have some very serious challenges that we have to face and discuss together as a community," he shared.

The goals for the 2013-14 budget include, according to Sanchez, are:

  • "To preserve quality programs for our students
  • To provide opportunities for two-way communication: input and output
  • To seek ways to slow expenditure growth."

During the first mini lesson, the board tackled several areas he said the district is considering "reducing or placing for the 2013-14 school year," including substitute teachers, elementary enrichment, transportation mileage limits/before school program transportation, coaches/professional development and use of grant funding.

Assistant Superintendent Alita Zuber emphasized that the district is currently only looking to share information and seek feedback from community members.

"There's still a lot of variables that are unknown, so it's very important that we realize that this is very preliminary information," she said, noting that the district will not know its actual tax levy limit for the school year until the state adopts its budget and determines how much aid will be allotted to the district.

She projected that if the maximum tax levy limit is 2.0 percent, "because pension and health care costs are expected to increase significantly," the district will have to find $4.4 million in cuts in the coming academic year.

Based on district estimates, utilizing grant funds for areas such as professional development and after school and summer school programs could save approximately $243,000 in 2013-14, a move that includes eliminating 1.5. math and literacy coaches.

Another option is to restructure the elementary enrichment program (groups meet one period per week) by adopting a new delivery model, said Dr. Angela White, assistant superintendent for elementary education and administrative services. Under this change, the district projected the elimination of 2.5 enrichment teachers—a $195,000 savings.

A third possibility being explored by the district is reducing the number of substitute teachers hired—a projected $108,000 in savings. Utilizing interns from area colleges like Pace University and giving juniors and seniors at Ossining High School, "a greater level of independence," according to Principal Joshua Mandel, could contribute to significant savings.

Finally, district leaders discussed changing transportation mileage eligibility limits for district students. By increasing by half a mile the eligibility for fifth through eighth graders and 1.5 miles for high schoolers to use district transportation, along with combining and reducing routes and eliminating before school music school transportation, an estimated $949,000 could be eliminated from the 2013-14 budget.

"I know people don't want to talk about it," Zuber admitted, but she went on to explain the change—which would cause 683 students to become transportation ineligible—could "save a significant amount of money" in the coming year.

Coming up at tonight's budget mini lesson at the 7:30 p.m. board of education meeting, budget topics include: electives/teachers/cultural arts; support staff/guidance; elementary class size and summer school/before/after school programs.

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