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Cuts Bring School Tax Hike to 4.45%: Is It Low Enough?

While the March 2 meeting of the Mamaroneck School Board opened on a sunny note, with good news on the district\’s energy efficiency, it finished somberly as Superintendent Paul Fried presented further budget reductions. “This is the darkest hour in public education we have seen in our lifetimes,” he concluded.

After the current round of cuts, the estimated budget-to-budget increase would be 2.1%, which translates to a 4.45% tax rate increase, down from last month’s proposed 2.82% budget increase and 5.82% tax increase.  Cuts to staffing and programs are significant.

Still unclear are what, if any, concessions the teachers’ union will make, and whether the board thinks the tax increase is low enough for the community to approve.

A contingency budget – imposed if the budget is not approved after two votes – would allow no increase over last year’s budget and would require an additional $2.2 million reduction.   That could mean cutting 22 more staff members, in addition to the 59 already proposed, 17.4 of them teaching positions.

What Has Been Added or Cut Since the Last Budget Reduction Session?

There would be more staff cuts but no reductions in teaching positions beyond those Dr. Fried proposed at the February 9 workshop.  “As we looked,” he noted, “we were careful not to have any further effect on teachers.”

The latest plan would restore one special education teacher and a 0.4 portion of an English teacher (equivalent to two periods of English instruction).  The new reductions, would eliminate five clerical positions, one maintenance worker, one technician and the high school’s financial aid advisor (a 0.5 position).

Dr. Fried's recommended cuts to staff, as of March 2.

Dr. Fried recommended restoring half the funding for the Hommocks musical and the MHS Senior Musical ($ 19,200 for the two).  Instead, he suggested cutting two of six PACE extracurricular shows ($13,000), eliminating the elementary Constitution Works program ($11,000) and reducing funding for the Shakespeare Festival by $4,000.  At the high school, he would eliminate the  Science Olympiad and one of two literary magazines.

Dr. Fried said he anticipates reductions to the district’s co-op camps as well.  Last year, cuts to these programs generated an outpouring of community objections – and private money – that resulted in full reinstatement of the co-op camps..

Also on the cutting block in the current round was the remaining $400,000 in capital reserves, leaving no funds for planned summer painting projects.  There was also a loss of guidance department summer salaries ($10,000) and curriculum development salaries ($15,000).

The public relations budget will be decreased by $20,000, which means the four “Know Your Schools” bulletins will not be printed and mailed to households.

The district is continuing to get better information to estimate expenses, allowing the superintendent to project $64,000 less will be needed for contractual retirement incentives.

How Would the New Cuts Impact Taxes?

All told, Dr. Fried’s revised recommendations would still have the district spending $2.5 million or 2.10% more than last year.  A greater share, however, will be coming from tax payers, as a result of decreases in state aid and other revenues.

In a typical year, state aid exceeds early projections, but this year Assistant Superintendent for Business Operations Meryl Rubinstein is assuming the district may lose another 10%.

To reduce the tax levy, or the amount that the community must kick in for the budget, Dr. Fried is now proposing to take an additional $614,000 from the fund balance and reserves. This would yield an increase in the tax levy of 3.03%.  However because of reductions in assessed property valuations – which is not under district control – the projected tax rate increase would be 4.45%.

Where Are the Teachers?

For several community members who addressed the board, the focus was on the teachers and their union, the Mamaroneck Teachers Association (MTA).  Jonathan Sacks said he had not seen any cost-saving suggestions put forth by the union.

Dr. Fried replied that MTA had given him a list of proposed reductions and he had incorporated many in his proposals. He reiterated his expectation that the union may have additional responses after his formal presentation of the Superintendent’s Recommended Budget on March 16.

Both Dr. Fried and several board members reminded the audience that in a “normal” year, public conversations on the budget begin only after the superintendent presents his budget. There is nothing unusual, they said, in the teachers wanting to wait for the formal proposal before discussing any possible concessions.  This year’s earlier budget sessions are because of the fiscal crisis.

Mr. Sacks said, however, that the teachers’ “silence at this point is being taken as unwillingness to participate.”

Sue Odierna spoke in support of the teachers, noting how hard they work and how they wait 12-14 years before achieving salaries of $100,000 or more.  Dr. Fried suggested tax payers do not begrudge the teachers their salaries.  “It’s the raise,” he said.  “That’s what puts the budget in jeopardy.”

Contractual raises, taken together with salary increases for longevity and educational coursework, will result in average raises of 6-7% this year, the last year in a contract negotiated in much better economic times.  “The raise is too much for right now,” Dr. Fried stated.

Alice Tenney agreed.  “It is the raise,” she said, but it’s “also a matter of productivity.”  She said the perception in the community is that the teachers’ contract has lots of provisions about “what  teachers will and will not do, and when they will and will not work.”

Can Professional Development Costs be Cut Further?

Professional development costs remains controversial.  Ms. Odierna wondered if that part of the budget could scaled back beyond the two-thirds it has already been cut.  She reported that teachers with whom she has spoken do not find the instructional coaches as effective as teacher mentors.

One teacher, she said, expressed her wish that “I could just close my door and teach.”

But Dr. Fried reiterated his strong belief that teachers need professional development.  “We all need to work on being more effective,” he said.

Rina Beder agreed.  She said “professional development seems to be a very easy target,” but many teachers appreciate the professional development opportunities, which help them improve and hone their skills.  She told of a personal experience, where her child’s teacher was having trouble providing differentiated math instruction and the math coach stepped in to make a difference.

Is a Financial Aid Advisor Needed at the High School?

Ms. Tenney and Ms. Beder cautioned the board that the cuts of the financial aid advisor and extracurriculars would impact students negatively.  Ms. Tenney wondered what will happen “to the bulk of our students” who need at least some help financing college and turn to the current advisor to learn how to get that help.  Dr. Fried was confident the guidance counselors could take over that function.

What Does the Board Think About the Bottom Line?

Board members declined to take a position on whether the proposed 4.45% tax increase would be acceptable.  However, Robin Nichinsky said she would like to see the number get below 4%.  She hoped this could be done without further cuts (if state aid comes in higher than projected, for example), but felt Dr. Fried should “look for other reductions.”

An additional $600,000 would need to be cut to get below a 4% tax increase.

Anant Nambier also expressed a desire to get below 4%, but wondered if this could be accomplished by using more fund balance.  Ms. Rubinstein said this  would negatively impact the following year’s tax rate.  She is planning a demonstration of this concept for the next budget session.

Harriet Barish expressed concern about further cuts; she wanted to “leave schools and programs intact.”  Others echoed this sentiment, and Rick Marsico said he felt comfortable that they “could make the case” to the community.

There was not much public comment at this session on the proposed increase, but community member Jo Rein wondered “how you get a 4.5% tax increase passed,” especially when many neighboring communities are coming in lower.

What Next?

After Dr. Fried presents his recommended budget on March 16,  there will be multiple opportunities for public comment.  Changes may be made over the next month, but the board must adopt a final budget on April 20.  The community then votes on May 18.

Upcoming School Board Meetings:

Tuesday, March 9, 7:30 pm, MHS Library Classroom, District Assessment Report

Tuesday, March 16,  7:30 pm, MHS Tiered Classroom, Superintendent’s Recommended Budget

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51 comments to Cuts Bring School Tax Hike to 4.45%: Is It Low Enough?

  • bobo

    Let’s start with the fact that many want a 0% increase. Why are there no cuts to the admini staff? I would be happy to take over D Manetta’s job of emailing mostly useless info to the district, free of charge. That should save a good chunk of change, maybe even a TEACHERS position.
    Please publish the next school board election dates so we can possibly put some competent business people on the school board.

  • budget blues

    Thank you Melany for this excellent reporting. Your title captures the essence of the meeting. I believe the answer is no, this budget is not low enough and Joanna Rein hit the nail on the head by asking, “How can we get this passed?” In the 20 years I have lived here, I have never seen the community so set against a budget. The 0.0% contingency has become the target for many, with the idea that we will take a year of pain to have a better budget in the future. I don’t really want to experiment on the district’s kids. Can someone spell out for us what the contingency budget will look like? I wonder if the Gazette could walk us through exactly what a 0.0% budget increase would look like. I know that the BOE (and the community) will lose control of the cuts…but I don’t know what cuts we will face.
    In some ideal world the teachers would now come forward…offer to contribute a more realistic amount to their health care, perhaps take a smaller raise. But if they don’t, the community needs to know exactly what we get for two no votes.

  • Anon E Mous

    Low enough? NO !

    Report card:
    Budgeting – Failure.
    Planning – Failure.
    Financial responsibility – Failure.
    Leadership – Failure.
    Cooperative problem solving – Failure.
    Community development and concern – Failure.

    Additional cost savings opportunity: Estimated, approximately $445,000. This amount includes the total compensation and associated costs that would be saved in current budget year by leaving the District Superintendent position unfilled and distributing the functions among the other administrators. Perhaps next year one will have succeeded to the position and leave their position unfilled.

    As said by Jon Kabat Zinn, ‘You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.’

  • Well just like most of us thought when they asked for a 5.6% rate increase, that they had an additional plan. The trick to financing is to list the top twenty salaries in the administration. This looks like cutting from the bottom up, not the top down. Try to put up a budget where there is a 2% increase or no increase at all. Unemployment is climbing, real estate values are falling, and the majority of the community does not want any increase in taxes this year. After all of their meetings that were broadcast they figured out how to decrease their request for an increase in taxes from 5.6 to 4.4. They should reverse course and just put up a budget with a 2% increase and see if that passes, for right now any additional request will not pass .

  • Observer

    Why no cost cutting to Administrator positions?

  • Rick

    No, it is not enough. Teachers are where the money goes both in salary and in the amazing and long lasting pension benefit expenses. We must cut 26.5 more teachers and restore the teacher’s aides and assistant teachers.

    The focus should be on the total school budget, not the % tax increase. The year-to-year budget comparison must go down to 0% or a negative growth NOW!

  • progress

    It is good to see the Admin and Board nibbling at all edges and still coming up short. The longer this rigmarole continues, the clearer it will be for everbody that more sacred cows need to be targeted. We already got clerical and custodial/janitorial as well as wildly-out-of-core curriculum programs as well as reserves sacred cows nibbled at. Let’s carry on with principals, asst-principals and their assistants; automatic tenures for every teacher; getting rid of guidance counselors in the rubber room ( (2 at the last count); psychologists and nurses; ESL students in Special Ed; undocumented residents, and, next year, pay increases for teachers. We shall overcome. As noted, others can do it – Rye Neck SD is coming down on their budget.

    • write to the BOE

      This seems to be the 5th time that I have read a reference to undocumented residents in our schools. I have read the accusation that we have non-residents in special ed. and ESL in special ed. How do all of you know this? Have you written to the BOE? These are all issues that should be addressed, but I have never seen them mentioned anywhere but in community blogs. I have no knowledge of these issues, but I encourage those of you who do to write to the BOE or stand up and speak at a meeting.

      • interested

        Hello – regarding the ESL students mis-categorized in Special Ed, pls refer to this article in the LG from Ed sources confirming suspicions that should be obvious to anybody except vested interests (and, btw, it is not only an ethnic origin issue – many majority special ed students are only there thanks the clout of their parents or their advisors/doctors, in order to benefit from undue privileges including additional time to take exams). Regarding undocumented residents (i.e. , not documented to be classified as district residents, nothing else), it is only common sense to assume that first class education at minimal prices (for renters for instance) must attract cheats. Especially when there is no enforcement, and there is no enforcement when a District proclaims that children come first and prove, day in and day out, that their goal is not financial effectiveness but excellence at all costs for all. So, in a nutshell, writing to the District is not very useful – they have all the tools they need to manage effectively, the Administration needs to put them to good use.

        • write to the BOE

          That was an excellent article. I wonder what savings Dr. Minotti has brought about and if the number of SE children who are wrongly classified has continued to come down?

  • Concerned Citizen

    Per the Board’s Q&A, based upon the cost of keeping the MAS class sizes smaller than the other 3 elementary schools, it appears that bringing the MAS class sizes up to the levels in the other 4 elementary schools would get us to a 0% increase.

  • interested

    I would be interested to know how much has been budgeted for the next superintendent salaries and perks. Once during a budget year, the Board (full of lawyers and accountants) had found it expedient to budget zero for the superintendent salary because the contract was under renegotiation. Until I attracted their attention on the GAAP and suggested that they ought to budget for at least the old amount. So this time, as we will be able to verify in the budget documents when thy are published, they ought to budget at least 260k. In actual fact, given all the heat generated by the community, it is very likely that the new super is already negotiating a higher amount as risk premium (which will generate more heat). If the numbers are on the table, GAAP command that the contemplated number be on the table in the budget. I cannot wait to know how much it is.

    • Anon E Mous

      Thankingly interested-ingly. Filling in the GAAP in our knowledge. Now making some of us want to know about the other GAPS in what we know.

      For example: the likely out-sized planned salary; the associated benefit costs for the position; those future MANDATES to be paid; various administrative expenses associated with the position, not in the “comp” lines of the budget. We need to know the obviously hidden and the disguisedly hidden.

      Perhaps a laundromat in one of those vacant storefronts, as there may be savings that needs to be washed out of this situation. Perhaps with some digging, we’ll strike the necessary gold.

      As John Welch has said, ‘Our planning system was dynamite when we first put it in. The thinking was fresh; the form mattered little. It was idea oriented. We then hired a head of planning, and he hired two vice presidents, and then he hired a planner; and the books got thicker, and the printing more sophisticated, and the covers got harder, and the drawings got better.

  • budget woes

    MAS is heavily subsidized in terms of extra support staff in addition to smaller class sizes, but raising their class sizes in line with the rest of the elementary schools will NOT lead to a 0 % budget. Based on last year’s budget (pp 66), this action would result in the reduction of 3 teachers. The district uses $115k as the avg rate for the teachers they are eliminating…so the savings is only $345K. There may be some reasonable and helpful reductions at MAS…but going after MAS as the cause of the budget problem is not going to solve the budget issues.

    • 2baccurate

      School Staff Stud Classes Stud/Staff Stud/Class
      Central 83.79 500 25 5.967 20.00
      Chat 80.71 640 29 7.930 22.07
      MAS 127.77 650 31 5.087 20.97
      Murray 78.71 686 33 8.716 20.79

      2008 Actual

    • Observer

      Why does MAS have 127.77 School Staff compared to an average of around 80 School Staff in our other schools? Do you know what kind of positions these are?

      • Taxpayor

        Please refer to the budget information on the District website – the information you are interested in is on p.68.

        • budget woes

          When looking at teacher/student ratios, you have to try to factor out the self-contained special ed classes. For example there are 5 of these classes at Central School serving 48 students.(from page 65 of last years budget) MAS has 2 serving 14 students. These classes are very small and when averaged in with the Gen Ed classes, the ratio does not accurately reflect the true situation. (Keep in mind that Murray and Chatsworth do not have any of these smaller classes to “artificially” reduce their class sizes. Also keep in mind that at Central School the children from the self contained classes mainstream in … Central regularly conducts classes that far exceed the district’s maximum guidelines. )

          Additionally, MAS houses the pre-k program and the Little Treasures program. These classes have a lot of teachers, aides and assistants who are not broken out from the elementary ed. teachers. I believe there are about 6 teachers, 8 aides and 2 assistants. MAS has a great powerpoint on the program. MOST (about 80 or 90%) of the program is funded through state aide, and numerous grants.

          Other numbers that bump up MAS staff: 3 ESL, 2 Social workers. These are essentials for their demographics, however, they also have an incredible amount of teacher aides (38) and teaching assistants (13) … this is probably an area where some cuts might make sense.

  • John Smith

    There’s still fat in this latest budget proposal and the administration seems unwilling to go near it. No administrative cuts? Does the high school really need 3 AP’s? Or each elementary school with its own AP? The district is still full of overpriced consultants running around the buildings. They are a huge pricetag!

    The community is criticizing the teachers for not talking. Yet whenever the teachers make suggestions no one listens, or they are given cheap excuses to why their recommendations don’t fly. There are several out-of-district students illegally providing a Mamaroneck address and the cost of educating a child in the district is $24,000. Find 5 of them and you have saved a teaching position.

    This is a district where no one wants to drive the bus.

  • educated

    As we progress slowly on the road to understanding what we are exactly paying for with our taxes, let’s not be overly influenced by the tactics of teachers who want all consultants and oversight out so they can concentrate on teaching like, apparently, they have been trained one day and excel since. Referring to articles like this one in this week’s NYT mag we will find that not all teachers are alike. They don’t all deserve seniority raises and job-for-life because, let’s face it, like in any occupation, some teachers are better than other, and we only should pay high $ for those. The less good ones can look for positions in Scarsdale and Rye Neck, for all I know, or change occupation. So let’s differentiate, as the Race to the Top program incites us to, and let’s not have the teachers as an undifferentiated mass lead the teaching. Money spent on managing that herd is well spent.

    • Observer

      Does anyone know if teachers and administrators living out of district bring their children to our district to be educated at our expense? What is the district policy for this?

      • budget woes

        Observer- I believe there are less than 50 children of district employees (it is detailed somewhere) and the employees pay $500 per year for the education of their children. The FAQs say that this low fee is necessary to attract high quality teachers to our district. (Keep in mind that they won’t add a class to accommodate a district employee’s child. If a grade is at the numbers to trigger an extra teacher the district moves the child to another school (that is for grade school…no idea what happens in the later grades.)

  • Bemused

    Unfortunately the Board seems to be playing the high ball game of scaring everyone with the crisis figures and then hoping to slip a still high budget through with a show of cutting to the bone.
    The bone has not not been reached despite much hand wringing. Even sadder, the Board has offered absolutely no sign of how it will adapt to the new economic reality going forward. Instead there is an implicit assumption that the recession will be over next year and tax increases can resume. The reality may well be that at $24,000 per student we are probably reaching an absolute limit to what the community can bear (same goes for town budgets). Having failed to give any signs of understanding the mess they were budgeting us towards, it is probably too much to hope that the Board would try to engage us in a discussion of how to move forward
    PS John Smith. School budgets don’t work that simply. The per capita cost is based off the infrastructure cost, so cutting 5 kids would simply increase the per capita cost and would make no cash savings. You would have to come up with enough external students to enable a teacher to be cut to make any cash savings.

    • Anon E Mous

      Statins (generic) not steroids must drive the budget! We need to unclog the thinking process that’s been behind it for all too long.

      Prime time now to trim the fat, get rid of loose marbling in some minds, and to switch to more productive “cuts” so that we can have the real meat of education, measurable, and not paying for a hand on the scale – that’s justice, fair.

      Yes, John Smith, we must not only learn to drive the bus, but to take it; heard even the WP Ritz had to trade down its limo. Sorry some, real education teaches eventually reality must be confronted.

      Yes, we can do without the fancy the numbers games, as the District has already limited calculators. The picture is becoming ever more transparent to the residents. Hopefully a Smart Board will soon see what we see, just by looking in front of us.

      And yes, let see the Board’s plan to get out of this mess. So far only the District Superintendent has demonstrated one; but for him alone.

      Major change is required. We’re on a long-term diet and the sugary sweeteners must go. Else, a few will benefit now at the expense of many long-term. And sorry to break the news, but sometimes the few become part of the many; ask Bernie.

      Perhaps the School Board must be re-structured to contain “independent directors” who are not driven by short-term gains. Ask officials in places as far apart as NYC and Hawaii what needs to be done. But please not financial advice from consultants serving the Board but living in Greece.

      Try the untried. The source unknown, but listen to the words, The greatest wastes are unused talents and untried ideas.

  • Jeff

    I would wager that the teacher’s union and hopefully the other unions would be more amenable to negotiations if at least one HS AP were cut, if the AP’s at the elementary schools were replaced by administrative assistants, much of the curriculum supervisory budget was cut, (which has almost no community backing). These moves would also restore teacher positions to the HS and lower class size. Then, our budget increase would be 0%.

  • listening

    It appears that the new style of contractual agreements for teachers (reference articles quoted in incorporates deferred raises (relying on the childish concept that “the economy will turn round”, “the good times will return”, “when the crisis is over”) – raises of about 2.5% per year (with all the in-built consequences on pensions, step-increases and what have you) are computed but not paid in cash until some year(s) later. Let’s just warn the District right now (and put the union and its president-not-for-long-on-the-taxpayer’s roll) that this trick should not be contemplated for the upcoming contract renegotiation. Not before our learned Ed Drs acquire an Econ degree to prove to us that private revenues and taxes will increase by at least as much to cover those costs for the future. Teachers who disagree are welcome to seek employment in Rye Neck and Scarsdale.

  • NYS school budgets

    Does everyone know that with CPE -.04, a contingency budget is -.48% under current law? (not 0.0%)…

    The CPI for 2009 is -0.4% [source], which means there was no inflation in 2009, just a slight touch of deflation. It is my understanding that State Ed has told school districts that the CPI to be used for calculating contingency budgets is 0%, but it has made no public announcement. That’s because it’s not currently the law. In Governor Paterson’s 2010-11 Executive Proposal for Aid to Education [pdf] we read, “The Governor’s proposal would prevent a negative contingency budget cap adjustment, even if the average change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a negative number. When the CPI change is negative the allowable adjustment to the contingent budget cap would be zero.”

    That might not sound too unfair to you now, but there could be years when deflation runs above 5%. To allow school districts to keep everything they have during deflationary periods is the same as giving them big raises when everyone else is getting less.

    You’ll recall that when fuel and utility prices were soaring, school districts constantly publicized their pain. But with fuel and utility prices lower than budgeted this school year, do you think school districts will say, “We can handle a 0% increase because of our unexpected savings”? Not on your life. In fact, I’m sure the superintendent, school board and teacher associations are telling legislators that a 0% contingency budget cap would be disastrous for education. I’m sure they want a minimum of 2%, and they would tell the people what a great sacrifice they’re making if they get it.

    In this post, Bob Lowry of the New York State Council of School Superintendents implicitly noted that sometimes the contingency budget cap gives schools a bigger boost than justified by current inflationary pressures. You don’t see school districts running to the governor and the legislature to scale back the size of the cap to make it fair when it’s too high. They quietly keep their advantage and tell voters, “It’s what the law requires.”

    But now that the formula has swung in favor of taxpayers, they aren’t saying, “You win some, you lose some.” They’re doing what the powerful always do–ensuring that anyone except them suffers. They want you to believe they play by the rules–rules they helped write to benefit themselves. But when the rules work against them, they demand that the rules be changed. What should we call people and organizations that do this?

    Even if the contingency budget CPI isn’t amended, you can bet that public schools will get the equivalent benefit through some other means, because they really can’t live with a 0% budget increase if their budgets fail. They have to pay staff their raises, which are averaging above 4% for this year and topping out as high as 7 to 9%, based on averages from 2007-08. Staff salaries, FICA and Medicare taxes amount to nearly 60% of school budgets. The other parts of the budget aren’t falling nearly as fast as employee costs are rising.

    Somebody in the “professional” press needs to be writing a story about this.

  • Concerned tax payer

    FYI listening, it was the School Board and the soon to be departed Dr. Fried that suggested that the biggest raises be in the last year of the contract, not the unions. The union wanted the exact opposite. They wanted the biggest raises at the beginning. They wanted the money up front. If they had gotten it back then when times were good, the raises would be behind us and we would not be looking at these huge increases raising our taxes. Don’t blame the union. Blame Dr. Fried. Maybe that is why he is running away. He sees the mess he made and he is going to “git while the gitin’ is good.”

  • managing

    Dear concerned : whichever way you look at it, the unions have trained negotiators and their sole purpose is the welfare of their members. Salaries and perks make up 70%+ of the budget. You might think that the job of the District CEO would be to manage that bit.

    But to manage (lead) the District, the Board seeks Ed Drs who put children first and have no need to be qualified in tough negotiations, financial matters, organizational leadership. The success of the Supers will be defined exclusively in terms of academic achievements of the district, where more of everything means higher rankings. Hence, we get the likes of Dr Fried, and the union just walks over him and then some. As long as Supers are not Managers, the Unions will run the place. The next Super is already slated to be a children first Ed Dr with big views on curriculum and excellence for all at all costs. Financial savvy and negotiation skills will not be high on his (most likely his) scorecard.

    • Observer

      Please let’s not forget the School Board wants the new Superintendent to have “a good sense of humor.” :-( I think the “joke is on us.”

    • Rick

      Dear Managing,

      I must disagree about our superintendents putting students first.

      Education is a business that is not run for the customers (the children) or for the shareholders (the taxpayers). It is, like most corporations, run for the almost exclusive benefit of the highly paid managers (administrators) and staff (teachers).


      • Observer

        You can observe that the Administration made no cuts to their Administrative staff. I agree that it appears the higher their pay, the lower the proposed cost cutting affecting them.

        • Rick

          Throw the rascals out!

          • Anon E Mous

            Intriguing, this is getting quite interesting. I’ll bite, who would you think would be left ? :-)

            I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself. (Marlene Dietrich)

  • See attached article from The New York Times

    School Costs Fuel a Revolt Over Taxes
    Published: March 10, 2010

    In a village with a shot glass past and an increasingly white wine present, Vanessa Merton speaks both languages. She grew up in this river town back in the days when the streets were packed each morning with workers heading down to the Anaconda Wire and Cable plant. She’s now a lawyer of a liberal bent and a law school professor in a town increasingly populated by artists, investment types, writers and others for whom Hastings has become Westchester’s hip, artsy un-suburb.

    So it made sense that in the torrent of agitated comments about the proposed school budget — one letter to the local paper accused antitax activists of “emotional terrorism” — she felt obligated to remind school board members of the class divide churning just beneath the competing narratives of catering to the needs of the schools and catering to the needs of the people who pay for them.

    “There are a lot of people who move into this community,” she said at a noisy board meeting. “I hate to use the dirty word ‘money,’ but who have a lot more money and a lot more privilege and a lot better jobs, and you simply aren’t thinking about the reality that for some people, you’re making it impossible for them to remain in their homes.”

    She added, “We’re not talking about desecrating the sacred Hastings schools.” But she argued that in the midst of the economic carnage, maybe the old rules of education finance no longer apply.

    This seems an odd place for Round 6,753 of the tax wars. The Hastings district is one of the big draws for the refugees from Brooklyn and the Upper West Side who move here. Taxes are high, but 20 districts in Westchester have higher tax rates.

    But another appeal of Hastings has been that it’s not an upscale monoculture but a diverse village, with working-class families who’ve been here for generations and newcomers staking their claim. It’s mostly the long-term residents, born here or not, who say the financial demands of the school are outstripping people’s ability to pay.

    When you drive around town you see the antitax signs (Quality Education? Yes! $27,500 per student? No!). More than 800 people have signed a petition circulated by the Hastings Alliance for Affordable Taxes calling for lower taxes — a 5 percent decrease is a figure cited by speakers at public meetings.

    Particularly among longtime residents, the unemployed and the elderly, there’s a feeling that they’re not getting any kind of annual raises — so teachers, administrators and the schools shouldn’t either.

    Read the rest of the article…

  • Outside the box

    I see many school buses driving around town that are mostly empty. I would ask the district to analyze just how many children are riding the buses and determine what is the actual cost per ride for each child.
    Measured against the cost of buying buses and maintaining a fleet of buses, operating a bus facility with mechanics and staff and the associated salary and benefits, I wouldn’t be surprised if it would cost the district much less just to pay for cabs to take these kids to school.

  • Bemused

    The real issue here is that the Board (and we voters) have failed to question the basic trend of education and costs.
    Is the Board’s role to provide the best education competing with private schools or to provide a solid education but acknowledging that the focus has to be on core. Should sports be semi-professional, should there be so many APs, should class size be larger while still manageable, etc. Should school districts merge to save costs and create bigger negotiating blocks with State and suppliers? Should school boards become part of town/county govt? Should there be a medium term goal to change the nature of teacher contracts and compensation; why should tenure exist (these days employment laws provide adequate protection), why should salaries automatically increase based on years of experience, why should health and pension benefits be substantially different from typical private employees in the area, etc?
    Unless there is a serious review of how and why we provide public education we are going to stumble along with budget impasse most years and an increasingly haphazard way of meeting the gap. The Board’s failure to highlight this ahead of time is as serious as its miserable response to this years budget woes.

  • summary

    Just for “fun” I printed out and read all of the community comments in the Gazette and the Loop since early November. It sounds like the community would like a 0% budget (2.66% eral estate tax increase) Contingency is -.48%, 2.0 % tax increase). Much has been written about the teacher’s contracts…but that will have to wait until next year (although the community would really like the teachers to come to the table NOW) leaving that aside, here are the concrete suggestions that have been made. These are all ideas that the community prefers OVER the elimination of teacher’s positions:

    REDUCE ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS: 1. Eliminate one AP from the HS, 2. Eliminate 2 Principals from the grade schools and make the remaining 2 be responsible for 2 schools each. 3. (Or) eliminate to APs from the grade schools, again sharing responsibility. 4. Change the AP position at the grade school level to an admin asst position. 5. Freeze Admin salaries 6. Reduce Admin salaries 7. Take a year off of having a superintendent 8. Reduce, eliminate or lower the salary for the $125K job of district PR person. 9. Lower admin salaries across the board. (it was pointed out the Timothy Geithner earns $191,300 as Treasury Secretary!!) 10. Eliminate the “highly paid and ineffectual curriculum design team.” 11. Suspend ERB testing for one year. 12. Reduce the subsidy of MAS school….staffing out of line with rest of district.

    SPECIAL EDUCATION COSTS: 1. Reduce (greatly) the 2x per month the co-teach educators are pulled out of their classrooms by an outside consultant requiring a. 2 substitutes, and b. high consultant fees…replace with teacher mentors. No numbers have been attached to this idea…but if there are 12 co-teach classes in the district (5 at Central) …that would equate to 480 sub hours per year! 2. Recertification…assure that all SE children are actually SE and not ESL. 3. Assure that our SE children are district residents. (people would like the district to confirm residency of ALL children, but since SE is most expensive, that would be a good place to start.)

    CONSULTANTS and INSTRUCTIONAL COACHES: Reduce the use of high cost outside consultants, travel expenses etc. Reduce the instructional coaches. If they are so crucial and of such a level of excellence that the district doesn’t want to lose them, can they make them 1/2 positions and use them in some other creative way the other 1/2 of the time(as the middle school did with the literacy coach…1/2 time reading support)?

    CLERICAL STAFF: Reduce, combine …20 at the HS, 28 for ADMIN…Outsource and get rid of unionized.

    CUSTODIAL/MAINTENANCE/TECHNICIANS: Reduce or reconfigure their work hours to reduce the 400k in overtime. OR Outsource these jobs and get rid of unionized positions

    TEACHER ASST and TEACHER AIDES: Reduce. Outsource…why are these asst’s unionized with the subsequent increased fees associated with unions?

    TEACHER UNION PRESIDENT: Eliminate…let the corporation she is working for pay her salary and benefits.

    Psychologists: Reduce

    1. Reduce transportation costs…combine more bus routes.
    2. Eliminate the $10K subsidy for departmental chairs
    3. Allow JV athletes to use their sports participation to
    fulfill their gym requirements (reducing PE teacher at HS)
    4. Lobby Albany to get more aid (in line with the taxes we pay)
    6. Generate revenue by renting our spaces to Comm College
    7. Collect the rent on the pool
    8. Why are we paying for ice skating…should be free
    9. PLEASE present a long-term plan…bring back the Financial Planning committee…(volunteer)


    • Anon E Mous

      Maybe this one, written by E.J. McMahon in the WSJ, 3/12/10, ‘New York City’s fiscal crisis in the 1970s established one key precedent Mr. Ravitch has so far ignored: the power of the state to freeze public-sector wages, notwithstanding contracts, in a fiscal emergency.’

      • summary

        “notwithstanding”…same as “in spite of”…? Would imply the STATE has the power to enact a pay freeze….not sure that extends to the municipalities and school districts. In the contingency budget guidelines, contractual obligations must be met. There is no leeway except in the Admin. salaries.

        I don’t think I will be able to be at the meeting tomorrow. Will someone please ask the Board to tell the community what a contingency budget will look like…and why they are using 0.0 % and not -.48% (120% of CPI which is -.40?)

        • Anon E Mous

          Read carefully, or fail to expect what power, in the end, is vested in the people, the governed, the taxed:

          The greatest difference, of course, is that the state is a sovereign entity that cannot go bankrupt under federal law. Municipal officials have limited powers, but the state’s leaders are equipped with all the constitutional tools they need to solve their problems—if they can muster the will to do so. (E.J. McMahon in the WSJ, 3/12/10.)

  • Bob

    The big picture, while very unpleasant, is overwhelmingly obvious: Broad cost cuts are required, starting at the top. This is already an extremely high-tax, high-cost area. Without significant change, people increasingly will vote with their feet, leaving the rest to shoulder an ever-heavier burden.

  • Taxpayor

    News from Pelham (a comparable community, I should think) – Teachers agree to renegotiate contract, lower everything ––change-pay-scale . Yes they can.

  • Anon E Mous

    Yes, but, perhaps Pelham would not think it a comparable community. Appears to shows a better handling of the School District situation and it is attracting new stores in a new central shopping area. Perhaps our community could be its student.

    And for the School District, perhaps Pelham is not yet going far enough. See Bob’s comment above. And see here

    Then note, as Benjamin Disraeli said, ‘The most dangerous strategy is to jump a chasm in two leaps.

  • facts

    In French we say that “facts are stubborn”. At some stage in the not too distant future, judging by the rate of job cutting in the District, the question to answer will be whether school taxes are raised for children’s education or funding the pensions of retired teachers. That is what “children first” means in plain English.

    The question will become very acute as active staff is let go relentlessly and pensioners’ ranks and outgoings grow exponentially.

    Sr Oppenheimer’s smoothing gimmicks will not work then.

    • Judy Silberstein

      Editor’s Note: Teachers’ pensions come from a state-wide fund, not from the individual district.

      • Rick


        Exactly right and exactly the problem. The teacher’s unions (and police, etc.) lobby the state legislature for these outrageous deals. The taxpayers who pay are not involved.

        “We have the best government money can buy.”