Superintendent 's Budget Calls For Many Cuts, 4.28% Tax Hike
by Melany Gray
(March 18, 2009) Mamaroneck Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried’s recommended budget for 2009-2010 eliminates more than 47 positions and raises spending less than any such budget in recent times. The $120.4 million budget, which was presented to the board and community on March 17, represents a 3.02% increase over the last budget and, because of declining revenue, a 4.28% increase in the tax rate.
Dr. Fried’s recommendations reflect his concerns for both rising expenses and falling revenues, as outlined in his forecast on February 24. (See: School Budget Forecast: Class Size, Taxes UP; Staff Size Down.) Significant cuts are required to hold the tax increase to what Dr. Fried hopes the community will tolerate.
In a “normal” budget year, the district would have hired four additional teachers to maintain class size at guidelines. These and other predictable cost increases and routine maintenance items would have resulted in a “requested budget” of $128.3 million. Instead, given the difficult economic times, Dr. Fried cut almost $8 million from the “requested” level, most notably by reducing staff levels by 47.35 positions to save $4.8 million.
The recommended budget proposes not filling the position of assistant superintendant for personnel when Pete Scordo leaves in June. His responsibilities will be assumed by Dr. Anthony Minotti, assistant superintendent for student support services, who will also continue oversight of special education with help from the two existing directors. Both Dr. Fried and Meryl Rubinstein, assistant superintendent for building operations, have backgrounds in personnel and will be supporting Dr. Minotti.
Also eliminated is the assistant principal position at the district’s smallest elementary school, Central. A plan to support Central’s principal, Carol Houseknecht, is being developed.
The proposed cut of their assistant principal brought immediate response from Central parents. Jennifer Malherbe, PTA co-president, noted that the assistant principal was like a “point person, interacting with every child.”
Superintendent's Proposed Budgets from 2003 through 2009
*In 2008, Superintendent Fried proposed a preliminary budget prior to his final recommendation.
Teacher Cuts Will Hit Hommocks Team Structure and MHS English Classes
Hommocks now has cadres of students assigned to teams of teachers for their four major academic subjects. The assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Annie Ward, is working with the Hommocks principal, Seth Weitzman, on how best to configure teams once seven teachers are cut. Under consideration are a half-team structure, with 3½ teams for seventh and eighth graders, or a “super-team” scenario, with three “super-sized” teams and all students spending some time “off the team” for academic subjects. Under either plan, average class size will rise from 22 to 25. There will be meetings with various groups to determine “which of these options is best for children,” said Dr. Weitzman.
The high school will lose 10 teaching positions, including 3.5 for English. English teachers will teach five classes, up from four, losing the extra period they get to help ensure they meet with each student at least once a semester. Teaching five classes is within the contract and the norm at the high school. The cuts are expected to result in larger class sizes in some areas, but will preserve Advanced Placement and honors classes, as well as electives.
“There was no good place to look for reductions,” said Dr. Fried when asked to explain his recommendation on the English classes. “It was not an easy decision.”
Elementary Staff Cuts – Equitable?
The decision to raise class size guidelines by two students across the board was developed with the four elementary school principals, said Dr. Fried, and the consensus was this was the fairest way to make cuts. Eight classroom teaching positions will be lost, when compared to the current year, along with full or part-time specialists that together amount to an additional four positions. Also lost from the level of the “requested budget” are four more teachers that would have been added under current guidelines to accommodate rising enrollments.
However, no classroom teachers will be cut at Mamaroneck Avenue School (MAS), a point raised at the meeting by one parent and the topic of discussion circulating via email through parts of the community.
Reached after the meeting, Linnet Tse, president of the school board, explained that "some of these reductions were the result of changes in projected enrollment and would have taken place anyway.” Central and Chatsworth are expected to have fewer students next year; MAS and Murray will have more. Each school is losing three classes that it would have had under the old guidelines.
Ms. Tse also explained that class sizes were reduced at Mamaroneck Avenue around 2000 “after much study” and in response “to growing alarm over the achievement gap and significantly lower standardized testing results at that school.“
At that time, Ms. Tse noted, the demographics at MAS were already quite different from those at the other elementary schools, and those differences have since increased. Data from the 2006-2007 New York State “school report card” show 35% of MAS students qualify for free or subsidized lunch (compared to 7% at Central, 2% at Chatsworth and 0% at Murray). Fifteen percent of MAS students are considered "limited English proficient" (compared to 6% at Central; 3% at Chatsworth and 1% at Murray).
“The district and community also recognized that it would be to all students' benefit to ensure that our students enter the Hommocks Middle School equally prepared, “ added Ms. Tse. “With these additional supports, although gaps still exist, strides have been made at MAS.”
Elementary Class Size Limits
*Teachers' contract allows for occasionally exceeding these limits by no more than three.
Other Budget Highlights
Dr. Fried’s proposed budget reflects a $96,000 decrease due to cuts for extracurricular program transportation and the elimination of elementary ice skating.
Included in the budget are $60,000 for repairs at Central and Memorial fields and a $400,000 transfer to the capital fund to replace a broken chiller unit at the high school and to remove asbestos tile at several schools.
The budget also includes 3.5 “contingency” positions to allow hiring more teachers if enrollment exceeds expectations and requires opening additional classes.
More Budget Uncertainties
Dr. Fried’s budget does not reflect impacts of various state proposals that have yet to be approved, such as shifting to school districts more costs of special education pre-kindergarten services and summer handicapped programs. Nor does it factor in recent proposals to have all employers, including school districts, pay a transit authority tax on their payrolls. It also doesn’t consider any monies from the federal stimulus package, since the size and timing of allocations are yet to be determined. Dr. Fried explained that neighboring school districts have also left these items out of their preliminary budgets.
Dr. Fried and Ms. Rubinstein have estimated costs of various health and retirement benefits and possible increases for fuel and utilities. As for a possible rise in enrollments due to students transferring back to the district from private school, Dr. Fried said past studies suggest there is little change due to good or bad economic conditions.
No Word on Possible Union Concessions
In response to questions about the union’s willingness to give up some of their negotiated salary increases or benefits, Dr. Fried said he had met with leaders of all five bargaining units and they “all agreed to think about the issues and the possibilities.” He explained that the contracts were negotiated in good faith during better economic times. He said he was unaware of any case in New York where a union had made major concessions.
To Learn More
Both Dr. Fried's recommended budget and an accompanying PowerPoint presentation are available on the district website.
The board will hold a budget workshop this Saturday, March 21 in the tiered classroom at the high school (N104), beginning at 1pm. Dr. Fried will go through the budget “line by line from beginning to end,” starting with "program expenditures" that cover classroom teaching, special education, student activities and athletics. Community members are encouraged to attend and give their input.
Another budget workshop is scheduled for Tuesday, March 24 at 7:30 pm, also in the tiered classroom. It will be televised live.
The board is scheduled to adopt a budget on Tuesday, April