top of page

Brewster Schools Consider 2.9% Tax Levy Increase

By Holly Crocco

The Brewster School Board is considering a 2024-25 budget that once again stays below the state-mandated property tax cap.

During the March 26 school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent for Finance & Operations Victor Karlsson said the administration is proposing a $119.6 million budget, which represents a 3.35 percent, or about $4 million increase over this year.

Under the proposed budget, the tax levy will increase $2.3 million, or 2.9 percent, which is below the property tax cap of 3.12 percent.

Karlsson noted that this is the eighth year the district has budgeted below the tax cap, saving homeowners a collective $7.4 million in taxes it could have collected but didn’t.

With a total of $82.6 million generated through taxes, the remainder of the district’s revenue will come in the form of state and federal aid, which make up about $31.4 million, as well as miscellaneous revenue from local sources that make up $3 million, and $2.3 million coming from the fund balance.

Karlsson said all the districts in Westchester and Putnam share their budget information, and Brewster is in line with neighboring districts’ spending.

“We just happen to be directly in the middle of all of those ranges of schools throughout Westchester and Putnam, both with regard to budget-to-budget increase as well as our proposed tax levy,” he said.

Karlsson said one of the biggest revenue drivers is interest, thanks to the Federal Reserve increasing the interest rate to 5.25 percent, meaning the district is earning a lot more on money it has in the bank.

In addition, future state aid increases are anticipated. “We are fortunate, where we are seeing a slight increase of about 3 percent,” he explained.

Karlsson also said he is pleased the district is relying less on its reserves.

“For this year’s budget we are actually reducing our reliance on our savings to balance our budget, which is a good thing, because we are able to provide future stability should we need it in a leaner year,” he said.

Outgoing Superintendent of Schools Dr. Laurie Bandlow noted that the budget comes with no staffing cuts. “We are maintaining our staffing level attained in the last five years,” she said.

Karlsson added that this is the sixth year the district has also been able to add to its programing.

“It’s really a restoration of where we were in the early 2000s, and we’re finally at a level where we should have always been during those lean years, when the state was not affording us the Foundation Aid that was due to us,” he said.

In addition, thanks to steadily declining enrollment over the past 20 years – about 1 percent each year – the district is able to maintain smaller class sizes. It is also continuing its pre-kindergarten program.

School board member Jamie Callanan expressed concern over the $4 million budget increase.

“Last year we did a zero tax levy increase, which was great, but we also got a slew of new bodies (staff) because of Foundational Aid ($85 million),” she said.

However, she suggested that, while the district claims certain expenditures are beyond its control – such as rising health insurance premiums for employees and pension contributions for retirees – the district can, in fact, control that spending by not increasing staffing, especially considering enrollment is on the decline.

“We always go back to the fact that the one thing we can control is the one thing we can’t control… Yet, we’re adding bodies,” she said. “I have a big concern on continuing to go back to the community with large expenditures when we have a declining population.”

Karlsson, however, said that maintaining staffing while enrollment declines “has assisted us in getting to a point where we now have desirable class sizes.”

“Our budget is a balanced budget,” he said. “We’re not in a position where we are deficit spending or we’re seeing recuring deficits. We are in sound financial condition and we will continue to be that way until something really big and unforeseen comes. As a matter of planning, I think we would be foolish to short ourselves now in anticipation of future problems that may never come to be.”

Karlsson pointed to nearby Mount Vernon, which is in trouble because it hasn’t raised taxes in five years and is now in “dire straits.”

“We probably levy far less than the tax cap allows more so than any other district, and we’ve done it in a responsible way,” he said. “There is not a school district in New York State that is not increasing property taxes.”

School Board President Kerry Cunningham said she is happy with what the proposed budget provides to students.

“For years and years we weren’t able to meet various mandates that leave a group of our students not receiving the services they are entitled to, and we have finally gotten to the point where we can address some of those and we need to keep doing that,” she said. “Of course people don’t want to spend more money, but there’s a lot going on there for that money.”

For more information on the proposed 2024-25 Brewster Central School District budget, visit


bottom of page