Then there's enrollment. Unlike most other area districts, Shenendehowa is anticipating an uptick in the student population in the coming years. If the 25-to-1 teacher-to-student ratio is maintained, an estimated 5.8 new teachers would be needed in the next school year alone.
Paterson had warned of mid-year aid reductions in November, but inaction in the legislature made that impractical. The district stood to lose $3.7 million in aid (still resulting in an overall aid increase for the year) under Paterson's mid-year cuts. The governor has since warned that the lack of mid-year cuts will mean extreme measure will be necessary next year.
Shenendehowa has taken action to reduce this year's budget by placing a cap on various non-commitment expenses, such as meals, travel, conferences and supplies. The district hopes to reap over $4 million in savings with the cap, bringing 2008-09 spending to $141.7 million, or 97 percent of the approved budget.
Paterson will be drafting his budget early, and the same is true for Shenendehowa's own budget preparations. Though they won't be able to formulate hard numbers until at least Dec. 16, next year's finances have already been the prominent subject of several meetings.
"We don't usually start the process this early, but we're knee deep in it already," said Board President Janet Grey.
Some board members said that the demands on schools put them between a rock and a hard place, with state mandates accompanied by calls for tax caps and budget reductions.
"They're handing us a double-edged sword, and no matter what side we grab we're going to get cut," said Robinson.
Robinson did praise the board for being proactive amidst the fiscal crisis and considering ways to maintain services rather than taking a "slash and burn" approach. He said that although change is being forced, the district can seize the opportunity to improve itself.
"People have been tremendously responsive to the idea we have to do things differently," said Robinson. "[The next year] will be a challenge, but within the challenge will be some tremendous opportunities.""