KEENE VALLEY - The long budget process for the 2011-12 school year has only just begun for the Keene Central School District, but Superintendent Cynthia Ford-Johnson said she's "optimistic, for the most part."
"There's nothing that I'm panicked about," she said Jan. 24. "The budget has been an all-year-long process, and it's going as well as expected."
Most of her concerns are at the state level and out of the district's hands.
"I think we'll know a lot more when the governor comes out with his budget," Ford-Johnston said. "I'm anxious to hear what he has to say. ... The state keeps talking about putting an end to unfunded mandates, but it seems like they just keep coming."
She said she's concerned over the possibility of cap on school property tax increases that would prevent districts statewide from raising taxes more than 2 percent.
"We're not quite as reliant on state aid as some other districts in the area," she said. "But the tax cap, depending on how it's worded, could have a big effect on us."
New York state is also considering charging school districts for students to take the Regents exams, Ford-Johnston said. Under one proposal, districts would be charged $6 per student.
"They're also requiring that we have the exams scanned, and we have to pay for that," she added. "It becomes a district expense rather than a state one."
Enrollment at Keene Central School has been dropping steadily in the past several years, more sharply than other districts in the area. During the 2010-11 school year the district dropped by eight students, or -4.6 percent.
Ford-Johnston said in October that losing students is "not significant enough to notice it on a day-to-day basis," but "long-term, this is not a trend that anyone wants to see."
Keene, as a townwide community, has tried a number of things to increase enrollment, including making broadband Internet available to draw in young families in hopes that they will telecommute to work and have their children attend the school. The initiative has had limited success, Ford-Johnston said. "This is still a big concern for us," she said.
Over the last two years the district has managed to avoid any cuts in staffing due to well-timed retirements, "but this year we don't really have that to work with," Ford-Johnston said. "At this point it's hard to tell what we'll be able to do, but, like everywhere else, we're trying to do more with less. You can't whine about that; it's just a fact of life."
Ford-Johnston said that in the past, the community has been active and supportive throughout the budget process.
"It's never been a big controversial issue here," she added. "But when you start talking about cutbacks, that's when people start coming out."
The first budget workshop will take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 15, an hour before the regularly scheduled school board meeting at 7 p.m. in the library at Keene Central School, 33 Market Street, Keene Valley.
More information can be found on the district website at www.kcs.neric.org.