South Orangetown Central School District

As Executive Director of Finance & Management Services, Alicia Koster oversees various aspects of the District’s daily operations, including business, staff relations, facilities and capital projects, food service, transportation, safety, security and compliance. She is also responsible for implementation of the District’s mission-driven Strategic Plan.

Koster presented the District’s Preliminary 2020-21 Budget to the Board of Education last week and led a follow-up Budget Workshop last night. For this “3 Questions” interview, Koster spoke to this year’s budget development process. (Click here to to view detailed information on the Budget Vote webpage.)

Q. What has this year’s budget development process looked like?

A. The budget development process takes a parallel approach to our strategic planning, using financial analyses; data-informed decision-making related to enrollment projections; review of programmatic needs and school schedules; and, a close eye on how the economic and political landscape impacts our school community. We synchronize our administrative efforts to ensure effective and efficient resource allocation for meeting near- and long-term goals.

SOCSD has been forward-thinking in terms of positioning itself to reimagine and plan for adjustments to our instructional program and student support services. Our Board of Education and Administrative Team recognized the need for flexibility in the use of existing resources to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Looking ahead, we are prepared to repurpose resources to best meet evolving needs of our students and staff.

Q. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the District’s financial outlook?

A. In developing the 2020-2021 school budget, we took a conservative approach to budgeting our revenues given the uncertainty of State funding to public schools. The preliminary budget also maintains our total fund balance strategy in terms of our reserves and unassigned fund balance. We know our fund equity position is critical to maintaining long-term financial stability and avoiding year-to-year volatility. However, we are very cognizant of the economic landscape and the pressures on our community. The proposed budget represents a 2.2% spending increase, reflecting a deliberate approach to stepping down our year-to-year increase in annual spending (last year, the increase was 3.2%).

In order to arrive at the $96.8 million total, the Administrative Team was directed to “sharpen their pencils” and critically scrutinize the resources required for next year. No new requests for additional funding above 2019-2020 levels were honored; instead, our team individually and collectively repurposed existing funding in alignment with our strategic goals.

Given the possibility that school districts may bear financial responsibility for implementing reopening plans that include social distancing, precautionary measures to prevent COVID-19 transmission, and other adjustments to a “new normal” for instruction and daily operations, we will:

  • Continue food services for South Orangetown children ages 18 and under during the mandated closure period;
  • Implement a 1:1 technology program at the elementary and middle schools to support the continued deployment of devices issued to K-8 students during the school closure;
  • Continue master planning efforts in order to review our school buildings’ short- and long-term infrastructure and critical system needs, with consideration of physical space constraints associated with social distancing in classrooms and common areas of our school buildings;
  • Continue the expansion of our Comprehensive District-Wide Safety Plan to include a pandemic plan and update Board policies pertaining to school safety in preparation for reopening;
  • Review our current compliance plans and protocols associated with cleaning and sanitizing our schools, school health services, and facilities use;
  • Update staff training programs related to proper hygiene protocols and CDC guidelines for avoiding an outbreak such as COVID-19;
  • Review contractual obligations to ensure a smooth transition from mandated school closure to reopening; and,
  • Continue to seek federal and/or state grants to offset expenses.

Q. When is the budget vote and how has COVID-19 pandemic impacted the budget approval process?

A. (UPDATED 5/6/20) The Board of Education is scheduled to adopt the 2020-2021 Proposed Budget at its May 7 Board of Education meeting. A public hearing is scheduled for June 1, 2020, leading up to the Uniform Statewide Vote and Election on June 9, 2020, by absentee ballot only. Due to the Governor’s Order, the vote and election will strictly follow an absentee ballot process.

Alicia Koster