School Budget Trimmed $1.6M; Bond Decision Not Finalized
by Melany Gray & Joan R. Simon
(March 20, 2008) In separate meetings, the Mamaroneck School Board continued deliberations over the size, number and timing of its capital bonds and the size of this year’s operating budget. In both cases, the board is looking at ways to make cuts.
Board Undecided on Bonds
The Mamaroneck School Board met Tuesday, March 18, in an attempt to finalize the scope and amount of a proposed bond originally expected to be put to a community vote in June. (See: Open Questions Delay School Bond Decision.) Instead of determining the particulars of the bond, however, the board is rethinking its prior decision that there would be one bond for all proposed work.
Asking “where do we go from here?” board president Amy Levere noted that in the few weeks since the board reached consensus for presenting one bond to the voters in June, there have been changes in people’s thinking, in the economy, and in the board’s expectation of what the proposed school budget would look like. In addition, research is continuing into appropriate infill to be used in new artificial turf fields and into the details of work to be done at elementary playgrounds. As a result, Ms. Levere said, it appears unlikely that the board will be in a position to include all planned capital and field work in a spring bond proposal.
The district’s director of grounds, George McNally, noted that a crack in one of the Central School boilers has recently been discovered. He also reminded the board that no new heating equipment had been added at the Hommocks Middle School after the addition was built. Boilers and related work totaling more than $19 million are planned at both schools, but this work requires a lengthy period for state approvals. Ordering of specialized equipment cannot be done any earlier than the summer of 2009.
Several board members expressed concern that delaying a vote on the bond until the fall would delay the boiler/HVAC work another year, until the summer of 2010. They wondered whether the boiler should be part of a separate bond to be put to the community in the spring. Other board members reaffirmed their commitment to include all field and capital work in a single bond.
Board member Rick Marsico, who has served as the board’s liaison to the district building committee, noted that he was “really struggling” with how best to serve the community’s interests in doing all the critical work that needs to be done. He and other board members expressed frustration in determining how to balance the urgency of the boiler work against the concern that when multiple bonds are offered to the community, the second bond often suffers as a result of “voter fatigue.”
Mr. Marsico also reminded his colleagues that the district’s building committee had originally recommended more than $60 million in capital projects, an amount that had been pared down to less than $32 million, excluding work for fields and playgrounds. Board members expressed an interest in looking to cut the amount of capital work even further.
Jim Hanley, president of Fields for Kids, urged the board to make the field work “a priority for this year.” He offered to collaborate with the board in scaling back the work, perhaps deferring renovations to the high school’s Manchester Field and other portions of the planned project.
In the end, the board determined that before making a final decision on bond specifics, the assistant superintendent for business operations, Meryl Rubinstein, would research the possibility of speeding up the approval process for the boiler/HVAC work so that installation of new heating systems would not be delayed if the bond vote were put off until the fall.
The board will reconvene on March 25, at which time the trustees will hear the superintendent’s revised budget proposal and try once again to finalize the bond proposal.
At the outset of the budget review session on Saturday, March 16, Assistant Superintendent Rubinstein announced that $1.6 million had been cut from the proposed budget of $120,983,134 presented on March 4th. (See: Prelim School Budget Would Hike Taxes 9.9%; Cuts To Come.)
Reductions came from salaries (based on some retirements); audio visual equipment; special education; and security cameras (current year funding will cover the cost). Other savings were achieved by reduction of contributions to the employee retirement systems after an in-depth review of which employees are members of the system (it is optional for some); lowering the expected teacher retirement system contribution rate from 7.8% to 7.63%; modification of the tax certiorari estimates; and a change in the health insurance budget line for employee contributions.
Ms. Rubinstein explained that property assessments have gone down since last year by about $535,000, but there were some increases in revenues of about $200,000.
The board spent many hours examining the major lines of the budget and asked the administration to reexamine some numbers as well as to reduce some lines. A revised budget based on suggestions from the school board will be presented on Tuesday, March 25 at 7:30 pm.
The board will adopt a final budget on April 8 in time for the community vote on May 20.
Melany Gray is co-president of the Mamaroneck High School PTA.