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Details of Superintendent's Budget; Tax Increase is 2.81%

Mamaroneck Schools Superintendent Paul Fried unveiled his recommended budget on Tuesday, March 16, describing the 1.47% spending increase as “the lowest budget-to-budget increase in the history of the school district.”

The 2010-2011 budget of $122,695,077 is $1,769,317 more than last year and would result in a 2.81% tax increase.  Eighty percent of the budget is for salaries and benefits.

2009-2010 Budget without STAR 2010-2011 Budget without STAR
Budget $120,695,077 $122,464,394
Budget % Change 3.23% 1.47%
Assessed Valuation $147,457,241 $145,457,241
Tax Rate/$1000 $738.71 $759.46
Tax Rate % Change 4.77% 2.81%

For a typical property assessed at $20,000, Dr. Fried’s recommended budget would cost a taxpayer $14,722 (before STAR rebate) .  This represents a tax increase of $414.94 per year, or $34.58 per month.

Superintendent’s Budget Comes After Rounds of Reductions

The recommended budget – which Dr. Fried described as the “first official phase” of budget preparation season — followed three extensive budget reduction workshops in the past six weeks.

During those sessions, a variety of cost-saving initiatives were considered. While many went into the recommended budget, others were rejected, including a half-day kindergarten program at three elementary schools, elimination of a high school reading teacher and a special education teacher, and elimination of all funding for the Hommocks musical and the Mamaroneck High School senior musical (funding was later restored by half).

No new cuts were introduced since the last budget session.

However, the tax rate is now smaller than projected before because the district has been able to get better estimates of revenue and expenses.  (Revenues will be explained more fully at the March 20 line-by-line review of the budget.)

The recommended budget actually restores two positions that had been slated to be cut:  a high school English teacher, and the part-time financial aid advisor at the high school, who assists about 40% of seniors in determining how to pay for college.  Still, the remaining cuts impact virtually every area of the budget.

Cuts Across the Board

Dr. Fried’s budget includes reductions of  56.3 staff positions. Of those 13.8 are teacher positions: 3.5 at the elementary schools; 5.4 at the Hommocks Middle School and 4.9 at the high school. The cuts will have the following impacts:

  • At the Hommocks,  a modified team structure (employing larger “Super Teams”) for grades 6 and 8 will be implemented.
  • Students in kindergarten and grade 1 will have reduced art instruction (from 45 to 30 minutes).

Elementary class size has been protected, however, and raised only slightly at Hommocks (1-2 students for each academic class) and at MHS.

Other significant cuts include:

  • Reduction of 2/3 of the budget for professional development.
  • Elimination of elementary field trips, including Constitution Works, and the Lincoln Center Program.
  • Elimination of practice tests for students in grades 3-5 and the ERB test for grade 5.  (Students will still be prepared for standardized state tests, however.)
  • Elimination of the community liaison at Mamaroneck Avenue School.
  • Cuts to athletic staff and athletic teams.
  • Reduced funding for musicals, PACE shows, and Shakespeare.
  • Elimination of  11 extracurricular clubs at Hommocks and MHS.
  • Elimination of funding for the PEP band.
  • Reduced funding for Teachers’ Institute and the Community Counseling Center.

Teachers Spared, But No Cuts to Administrators

Dr. Fried emphasized that his budget saved staff positions – particularly teachers — whenever possible.  “We have decreased everything else so that we can keep people, he explained.

But Dr. Fried defended his decision to not cut administrators, noting the importance of “putting quality teachers in front of students.”  Administrators and instructional coaches are important for quality in teaching, he explained.

“We’ve seen a great deal of growth and focus in terms of what quality looks like in a classroom,” he said.

Dr. Fried reminded the community that the district had already eliminated an assistant superintendent position last year.  Further, last year’s proposal to cut the assistant principal position at Central School was met with “a great deal” of public outcry.

As for having two elementary buildings share a principal, Dr. Fried said he determined this would not be feasible because of concern that the “APs,” as they are called, are really needed at arrival time, during lunch, and at dismissal.

In the Hommocks and MHS, which house 1100 and 1500 students, respectively, Dr. Fried said cutting administrators would raise safety concerns.

Compared to the rest of the county, Dr. Fried  asserted, “we are lean administratively.”

Athletic Option Not a Budgetary Option

In response to community requests, Dr. Fried examined whether the high school could cut a physical education teacher by having more students use the so-called athletic option, which gives athletes class credit for engaging in team sports.

Because there would always be at least one quarter of the year when all students would need to be in physical education classes, Dr. Fried said, increased use of the athletic option was “not a viable option” for budget reduction.

Teachers Union Still Silent

Many community members, including Jonathan Sacks, wondered what, if anything, the unions would do now that the recommended budget has been presented.  Concessions on the part of the teachers could allow for further cost savings or the restoration of positions.

In “restating the obvious,” said Mr. Sacks, “salaries and benefits are bankrupting us.”  He encouraged the teachers and other collective bargaining units to “come to the table.”

The Mamaroneck Teachers Association (MTA) is considering next steps.  “Now that we have the Superintendent’s Proposed Budget,”  said MTA President Ann Borsellino after the meeting, “we will continue to have conversations with our membership, central administration, and the board of education.”

What Would a Contingency Budget Look Like?

A contingency budget, which would be imposed if the community did not approve a budget, would require an additional $1,878,273 in cuts over those already recommended by Dr. Fried. Although pending legislation in Albany may change the contingency cap, under current rules, a contingency budget for 2010-2011 would call for spending even below this year’s level ($120,586,121 for possible contingency next year versus $120,695,077 for this year).

Under state law, the district still would still be obligated to honor union contracts and make payments to the state pension funds, unemployment insurance and other mandated programs.  Although the school board would have some discretion over what to cut, Dr. Fried warned there could be a further reduction of 19  staff members.  Potentially, class size at the elementary level would increase and teams at the Hommocks could be disbanded.

Getting from the Superintendent’s Recommendations to the Board’s Proposed Budget

Dr. Fried’s presentation, though detailed, was an overview of his proposal.  Dr. Fried and Assistant Superintendent Meryl Rubinstein will lead the board and community through a line-by-line review of the recommended budget, beginning at 9:00, Saturday, March 20, in the Tiered Classroom at Mamaroneck High School.

Dr. Fried’s March 16 PowerPoint presentation and other budget materials are available on the district website.

Another budget session is planned for Tuesday, April 6 at 7:30 pm in the MHS Library Classroom.

Changes to the budget can be made up until April 20, when the school board must adopt its proposed budget. That proposal is what will be presented to the community for vote on May 18.

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6 comments to Details of Superintendent’s Budget; Tax Increase is 2.81%

  • Anon E Mous

    Are these new estimates a new example of the new math of the new curriculum.

    Before the no-income-verification loans and sub-prime days, the way to balance a budget was not by manipulating both sides of the equation to yield the number you wanted people to believe.

    Yes, as Frug Al said, ‘zero is zero’. And when the budget is spent, spending stops.

    And, Mr. Sacks, you ask important questions. While Unions play important roles, if the District is going to pay Union leaders to run the schools, then we don’t need Administration and a Board. It is time for District leadership with the courage and ability to lead our District to deliver real education within the economic constraints of this new era.

    Memo to School District leadership: Money spent does not necessarily determine the amount of education delivered. Learn to educate with the money the community can afford. Hear us roar, the acceptable tax increase is 0%, or less.

    Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable. – Author Unknown

  • Jonathan Sacks

    Pelham and Scarsdale take a step in the right direction…

    Journal News Article

  • Concerned Community Member

    Isn’t it amazing that the district has managed to whittle down the tax increase from 5.8% to 4.5% to an oh so-palatable 2.8% without making any additional cuts??

    How did we get from Armageddon (no full day kindergarten) to 2.8% with no additional cuts?? Isn’t it amazing?

    They’ve played us (the tax payers) like a fiddle.

    And now the District and the Unions are counting on us to bail them all out again. After voting “yes” to 65% increase in school tax over 6 years, they’re counting on us to do it one more time. If we just trot off to the polls and vote “yes” they can carry on in the same dysfunctional way for another year.

    Who knew there was $400,000 set aside for painting in our school budget?? And how lucky Meryl was to turn up another $507,000 of “other” last week! Seems like the hysteria created by threatening to eliminate full day kindergarten (unless a child could prove he/she needed it) was just a way to make us numb to the waste and perversity of this budgeting process. “Whew! Kindergarten is back…I’ll pay the tax increase so they don’t bring that back again….”

    If you were a Union member, would you EVER offer concessions (or even negotiate a new contract in good faith) when you’ve seen the fat and absurdities in the current budget?

    But then our union contracts are horrible too. They are far more lucrative than any neighboring district’s (not salary, but raises and virtually free benefits). And, they are choc-a-bloc full of inefficient and blue collar-esque work rules that create mass inefficiencies and drive up the cost of running the district. The teachers need to be treated like professionals (who work more than 65% of their 7.5 hour day). They also need to contribute reasonably to their benefits. And they cannot expect 7-10% raises in a deflationary environment. This is 2010. It stinks to take away entitlements. But take it away we must. These contracts need to reflect the local market, at a minimum. Now they’re from mars.

    The union “problem” is driven by a statewide compensation package that is broken (won’t we all enjoy paying Dr. Fried’s retirement salary of $250+ (that he didn’t contribute to) while he’s off collecting a new salary in Montvale??) We need to get Suzy Oppenheimer focused on real, meaningful education reform (not lousy bills that stick the tax payer with ridiculous tax increases after a “no” vote).

    I’ve watched this process closely for too long. It’s disheartening and broken from every angle. I will vote “no” on May 20 just to signal that from this household’s perspective, at least, the gig is up.

  • Jonathan Sacks

    The following is testimony given before the NYS Senate – Westchester Delegation on the Budget chaired by Senator Suzi Oppenheimer on March 19th regarding the Mamaroneck Schools Budget issue.

    Testimony

  • reader

    Thank you Jon for sharing your testimony. Quite convincing, except the bit about “Albany” not having in their wisdom expected the cap to produce negative figures. Do you mean to infer that Albany in their wisdom have banned deflation ? do you believe households have experience of their resources being lower from one year to the next or is it just an illusion ? are you aware that the USA GDP decreased last year ? what would be wrong with applying the same mathematical reality to school budgets ?

  • Jonathan Sacks

    GDP was not the benchmark set for determining increase/decrease (2.4% decrease in GDP), the benchmark was the CPI. CPI is a measure of the cost of living increase. The unadjusted 12 trailing months ending Feb 2010 was 2.1%, mostly driven by energy prices (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cpi.nr0.htm). This index determines what it costs for commodities and services, thereby indicating what the costs to the school excluding extraordinary items should be.

    This protective measure mandated in the instance of a budget failure was to make sure that if energy and other costs rose, the school system would not need to cut funding for its essential services, but that the cost of living would be passed on to the community. The percentage applied for the decrease was to make sure that the community was protected from extraordinary events on the upside. So if it costs more to heat the school, the community would have to pay for that cost regardless of whether or not they wanted to. So the community through taxes is exposed to an increase.

    If the measure was GDP, then your argument would hold true, but GDP has no direct effect on the cost of running the school system. BTW, it was not my argument that the school system should not turn in a budget that is less than 0 since that is what is wanted and needed by the tax payers, just that the mandate of a decrease based on a failed budget is not justified when there is an increase in the cost of living.

    Let’s hope our unions recognize this and pull back on their contracted 6%+ increase (3.8% contracted plus step increase that will actually be paid) so we don’t cut more services for our children.