The Croton-Harmon Union Free School District commenced its budget process, as it always does, before the school year even began. While the early start to budgeting is typical, what is not typical are the many unanswered questions districts face this year.

At this time, Assistant Superintendent for Business Denise Harrington-Cohen and fellow administrators are waiting to learn details regarding federal stimulus funds and how the money will be allocated to school districts. In addition, the district needs to know about critical funding decisions at the state level. Yet the district must proceed with gathering information and formulating an initial budget for the 2021-22 school year.

The district’s mission that guides the budget development process and related decision making is as follows: Develop, challenge and prepare students for their future while fostering a climate of mutual respect where teachers and community play a strategic role in our education system.

The district is committed to maintaining the high quality education Croton-Harmon is known for while remaining fiscally responsible. “These are very challenging economic times for public school districts in New York State and across the country,” said Ms. Harrington-Cohen.

She added, “At the same time, our district remains committed to preserving the integrity of our quality education programs and will work in partnership with the Board of Education, building principals and our community to do so.”

In any year there are uncertainties in the budgeting process. However, one area that is generally predictable is the 12-13% of state aid on which the Croton-Harmon Schools rely. This year, however, the state is considering a different approach to the aid formula which would affect the districts ability to recover additional costs related to COVID-19, among other impacts.

Another critical factor is that, at this time, there will be no increases in Foundation Aid from the State. Created in 2006, Foundation Aid is meant to ensure that the state is funding schools at a level that supports students access to a “sound basic education,” as required by the state constitution. It is also the district’s largest and only unrestricted allocation of aid funds and has remained flat for three years. This amidst rising benefit costs, enhanced technology requirements and the need for costly health and safety protocols.

The ongoing impact of the pandemic remains to be seen. As of this writing, COVID-19 has resulted in close to $600,000 in increased operating expenses for the district, including new purchases of PPE, or personal protective equipment, used for mitigation as the district prepares to bring more students back for in-person learning. COVID-19 has also resulted in lost revenue from county sales tax, investment income, and rental fees from outside organizations utilizing district facilities. Looking ahead, it is unclear what protocols will be instituted next year and, therefore, how the pandemic will affect the 2021-22 budget.

“Budget development is unusually complex this year and we encourage all in the community to stay apprised of the process, share your thoughts and advocate for our district” said Ms. Harrington-Cohen.

The school budget vote is scheduled for Tuesday, May 18. Community members can learn more about the 2021-22 budget during regularly scheduled Board of Education Meetings beginning this month and during special budget presentations scheduled in February.

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