North Salem Central School District's budget talks continue

North Salem Central School District (NSCSD) administrators concluded their presentations on the proposed budget plans for the 2022-2023 school year. The NSCSD proposes a 4.24% spending increase in the annual budget for 2022-2023 school year. In a meeting on March 23 that lasted over two hours, administrators presented overviews of current and proposed spending across special education and personnel services, buildings & grounds, transportation, athletics and technology. Budget increases were requested in every area except athletics.

Special Education and Pupil Personnel Services

Dr. Adam VanDerStuyf, assistant superintendent of pupil personnel services, requested increases in two budgets: special education and pupil personnel services.

  • Special Education (11.23% increase) - $8,101,053 - Most of the increase includes salary increases, including increases in paraprofessional support to meet student needs, new classified learners, tuition increases for out-of-district placement, and changes to out-of-district placements.
  • Pupil Personnel Services (4.06% increase) and Related Services - $1,570,223. Most of the increases here were salary as well, but this budget includes services for English Language Learners, which VanDerStuyf said represented a growing population in the district, occupational education, school library equipment, school counseling, health Services, and BOCES psychological services.

VanDerStuyf spoke at length about the increasing needs to support the mental health of children in North Salem schools. He painted an alarming picture of mental health concerns, including 19 suicide assessments (or 2% of the total population) over the past year, all of whom were referred for outside treatment.

In a follow up email to the North Salem Post, VanDerStuyf explained that mental health interventions thus far include: “intensive counseling support is provided to assist the student(s) in developing strategies and skills toward a targeted goal area, in addition to continuous communication with the student(s) family and outside clinical team.” VanDerStuyf emphasized the need to continue the focus on mental health, equity, and wellness, Mindful Lab, as well as supporting children to maximize their opportunities to learn in the least restrictive environment.

VanDerStuyf cited three major response initiatives for North Salem to rebuild after COVID: reestablishing routines, rebuilding stamina, and recovering lost opportunity.

Athletics

Denise Kiernan, director of athletics and physical education, reported on the strength of her department by highlighting various sporting successes, including girls hockey and boys track and field. She mentioned four graduates who will be playing sports at the collegiate level, the fact that 74% of students participate in athletics and that 120 athletes are multi-sport as all testaments to the program. Kiernan also remarked that North Salem was awarded a School of Excellence for over 13 teams because over 75% of the athletes on those teams had a GPA of 90% or higher.

Unlike other budgets, the proposed Athletics budget is a decrease of the current year. The Athletics budget supports six teachers across both schools as well as other sport-related items.

  • 2021-2022 is decreasing to $743,957.23 from $774,445.00

Kiernan describes the “drastic drop” in budget due to decreases in the need for chaperones and scorekeepers and an equipment drop. Kiernan also mentioned that North Salem schools are no longer a home school in skiing and ice hockey and therefore the district is not responsible for paying coaching salaries out of the budget. Kiernan also mentioned that the district might not offer JV boys and girls lacrosse, JV softball, and middle school softball, varsity boys tennis” which is impacting budget needs. Kiernan did indicate that the district wants to move in a direction to “build the programs back.” *In a follow up email to the North Salem Post, Kiernan expressed that "In the event that we do have the numbers of athletes and interest to offer these levels of sports," they will figure out a way to make them possible. ***

Buildings, Grounds, and Transportation

Like many of the other reports, Dr. Joannes Sieverding, director of facilities and transportation, remarked on a good deal of progress for his department. He included pictures of updates to the water filtration project at the MSHS and other successful ventures to date. Sieverding’s budget calls for the following increases:

  • Transportation (4.83% increase) - $449, 394.00 
  • Buildings and Grounds (.59% increase) $3,322,437.00   

Technology

Peter Gilhooly, director of technology for North Salem CSD, also requested a significant budget increase due to computer hardware and BOCES services

  • 2021-2022 (9.04% increase) - $1,030,638

Scorecard night’s abrupt departure from the traditional budget process

Following the budget presentations, Board of Ed president Deb D'Agostino initiated a vote on eliminating Scorecard Night.

The removal of it would change a longstanding tradition in which the Board traditionally voices concerns on a spreadsheet publicly displayed on the screen. This elimination would not prevent the Board from discussing the budget in public, but there would be no adjustments to the proposed budget publicly.

Board President Deb D'Agostino initiated the vote and Board trustee Paul Giamundo strongly disagreed, claiming that it has worked well for us for 16 years: “We have an obligation to express our opinion,” Giamundo said. “I think we have a right to express our opinion and to discuss it in public and that’s why I think the scorecard is better transparency.”

The roll call vote ended with 4-3, in favor of eliminating scorecard night for this year. Lange, Giamundo, and Binnette voted to maintain the tradition, while D’Agostino, Guldan, Brown, and Keenan voted no. Arguments varied, but D’Agostino and Brown cited complexities with a variety of different sources of funds that aren't easily adjusted while Binnette expressed that scorecard night is one of their “true duties.” Keenan suggested that the district pilot a different type of meeting where BOE members have an open conversation rather than Scorecard Night.

The next budget meeting will take place on Wednesday, April 6. At this meeting, trustees will vote on whether or not to adopt the proposed 2022-2023 budget. That budget will then be turned over to voters in May. Despite relinquishing the transparency that scorecard night provides, Superintendent Freeston told the Trustees that they still had an “obligation” to have a discussion before voting. That discussion, however, will not be in the form of scorecard night.

For more information, please view the budget documents or listen to the recording of the meeting.

*Information added after publishing the article after Ms. Kiernan's response to questions

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