With a minimum of fuss, the Lakeland school board adopted a no-change budget Thursday and urged voters to approve it next month.
The proposed 2012-13 plan re-creates this school year’s spending of more than $157 million but promises to maintain, among other things, class sizes and academic, interscholastic and co-curricular programs.
School Superintendent George E. Stone, who had to recommend a “zero increase” in spending, said Thursday he was “extremely proud to present this budget to the board.”
The sprawling —which touches six towns in two counties—would increase its overall property-tax levy by 1.97 percent, coming in, as promised, under the state’s new tax-cap restrictions.
Yorktown and most other towns in the district, however, could expect to see widely varying increases in their tax rates, which reflect differences in local equalization-and-assessment practices. But they also dictate the size of each homeowner’s bill. In Yorktown’s case, the rate is expected to rise by 2.1 percent.
Elsewhere, rate changes would range from well under 1 percent to well over 5. The rate fell in Putnam Valley by 0.7 percent. In Cortlandt’s case, the rate is expected to rise by 3.2 percent.
Meeting in a public work session for barely more than a half hour, board members unanimously adopted the $157,235,514 budget with little comment.
What remarks they made focused instead on unfunded mandates, various requirements that Albany imposes but does not pay for. A longstanding irritant, their impact on local budgets has been magnified with the state Legislature’s passage last year of a 2 percent cap on year-over-year increases in the property-tax levy. Lawmakers routinely discuss the need for mandate relief, but the talk thus far has brought more study than action.
“We’ve already cut [the budget] to the bone,” the board’s vice president, Carol Ann Dobson, said, “so hopefully there will be some relief next year. I don’t know how many more innovative ways we can come up with [to save money].”
Still, eliminating a mandate can prove problematic. As Board President Elizabeth Kogler noted, “There’s always going to be a group out there saying, ‘You can’t take that away.’”
One resident, David Greiner of Croton-on-Hudson, urged the board simply to refuse the mandate. He recommended Lakeland ally with a number of other school districts “and just say, ‘You know what? We’re not going to do it.’ What is the state going to do? They have no money. Are they really going to fight you over it?”
The fight, Dobson suggested, could start closer to home. “The problem is, the first thing that you stop doing that some parent thinks is a child’s right because of the mandate, then we have a lawsuit.”
One of the few members of the public attending the meeting, Greiner was the only resident to speak before the board adopted Stone’s proposed budget.
Other than Putnam Valley’s 0.7 percent reduction, rates under the budget increased everywhere in the district: in Carmel, by 5.6 percent; Cortlandt, 3.2; Yorktown, 2.1; Somers, 1.7; and Philipstown, 0.4.
The board will meet again April 24, when it votes on the budget for the Putnam/Northern Westchester Board of Cooperative Educational Services. On May 1, the board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. in the Administration Building’s board meeting room in Shrub Oak.
On May 15, residents will have the last word on the budget when they vote at the in Mohegan Lake.