Superintendent's First Budget Unveiled: 7.9% Increase
by Joan R. Simon
(March 9, 2006)
The School Board’s March 7 study session was long on both detail and congeniality as Superintendent Paul Fried unveiled the first recommended budget of his administration: the 2006-2007 Mamaroneck Schools budget of $103,922,940. The prospective budget is 7.91% higher than last year, with an expected tax increase of 7.97%. This is close to last year’s tax increase of 7.5% and, according to Dr. Fried, “below the mean” of neighboring school districts, which he expected to be in the low 8% range. (See: Board Approves School Budget With 7.52% Tax Rate Hike)
It wasn’t easy to keep the budget at this level. Dr. Fried explained that if the budget had included only those increases due to state and federal mandates, contractual obligations (such as salaries, pensions, and health insurance) and debt service, it would have gone up by 8.21%. (See: First Look at 2006-07 Budget Under New School Leaders.) Only by squeezing out additional savings (-1.7%) was it possible to add any new items (+1.4%) and reduce the overall increase to the 7.91% level.
Despite the tight budget, there will be a number of enhancements next year:
An additional $189,000 is being allocated to hire nine security aides who will welcome (and vet) visitors to each of the schools. One security aide each will be assigned to the elementary schools and the Hommocks during school hours. Four aides will be employed at the high school, one at each of the entrances (Post and Palmer) that stay open during the school day and two to monitor the corridors after school until approximately 8:00 pm in order to prevent vandalism.
“I wonder at the elementary schools if this is the best use of money,” queried school board trustee Linnet Tse. Currently, some of the elementary schools use parent volunteers for this position and others use teacher aides. “If it has significance, we should fund it and make it consistent,” Dr. Fried responded. “We don’t think it’s a be-all and end-all of security,” he said, adding, “almost anything you do provides a level of deterrence.” If only high school personnel were hired, the cost would be reduced to $84,000.
Other additions to the budget include approximately $1.4 million for building maintenance and improvements district-wide; renovation of the girls’ softball field at Central School; and three contingency teaching positions (one more than last year). “We’re on the edge,” remarked Dr. Fried, referring to the possibility that classes might exceed the size limit at some grade levels, requiring additional teachers. “We’re close enough in some of our schools,” to warrant an extra contingency position next year, he said.
Where are the Savings?
There will be a decrease of $130,000 in consultants and staff development, spread over several lines in the budget. Other areas of savings include technology, advertising, support staff and new (lower-salaried) teachers replacing retirees.
No Money for Kemper
The proposed budget does not include additional funds for work relating to the Kemper Park. Richard Cantor, a granson of the park's donor, filed a motion this week requesting leave to appeal the decision that was recently handed down in favor of the district. "The board will not take any action until the legal action is resolved,” said Celia Felsher, president of the School Board. The $500,000 that was included in the budget two years ago will remain in the capital fund until the legal issues are resolved. “At that time, if a decision is made to go forward with work at the high school campus, then the Board will review its options regarding funding for the project,” Ms. Felsher explained. “If all or a portion of the $500,000 is not used for the project then it will be transferred back to the general fund.”
Well-Received Budget Process
As part of the budget process, Dr. Fried said he has tried to speak to as many groups within the school community as possible. “I’ve been told I’ve been everywhere, which I think is good,” he said. Questions from the audience following the presentation included many “thank yous” to the administration for listening to constituents before formulating the budget. It’s “a breath of fresh air,” commented one high school teacher.
Preliminary budgets will be available at the March 18 budget review (see box) and after that date in the superintendent’s office. The newly-appointed Citizens’ Financial Advisory Committee will meet for the first time on March 16 and will review the current budget. (See: New Citizens' Group to Advise School Board on Finance)