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More Questions Answered about the School Budget

A recent district-wide mailing provided new budget details for Mamaroneck residents to absorb as they prepare to vote on the school budget and bond on Tuesday, May 19.  But the mailing also raised some new questions.

The Gazette has been able to assemble answers with help from the budget book and from district officials.  Additional information is available on the website and from a budget hotline at 220-3028.

The $120,695,077 budget, which is the district’s spending plan for the following year,  represents a 3.23% budget-to-budget increase and an estimated tax increase of 3.89%.  The $22.1 million bond is limited to roof repairs and replacement of 40-year old boilers, HVAC systems and windows.  (See: Union Concessions Save Jobs as Schools Adopt $120.7M Budget and Bare Bones $22.1M School Bond Vote Will Be May 19.)

Why are certain program, administrative or capital expenditures going up or down? Here’s what we were able to learn:

Program Component:

What is “district transportation” and why is it going up 11%?    And how does that differ from contract/public transportation, which is going up 53%?

Budget 08-09 Budget 09-10 Percent Change
District Transport 1,676,502 1,855,113 11%
Contract/Public Transport 1,086,000 1,657,500 53%

State law requires that the district transport students in kindergarten through 8th grade who live more than two and less than 15 miles from school – whether they attend public, private or parochial schools.  Similarly, high school students who live more than three and less than 15 miles away must be bused to their schools.

All students with special needs who require transportation and have an Individualized Transport Plan as part of the special education services that they receive are eligible for busing, regardless of how close they live to their schools.  Currently, 104 students who receive special education services are bused to district schools and 54 are bused out of district.  These numbers are expected to remain the same for next year but may change if additional children with special needs are determined to need transportation.

“District transportation” refers to the use of district buses to transport students; “contract transportation” refers to the use of “outside” buses that the district contracts to transport students.   The district works with other school districts to share bus routes in an attempt to keep costs down.

“Public transportation” refers to vouchers that the district provides to students who attend Fordham Prep.  This is the most economical way to meet the district’s legal obligations to transport those students.

The 11% increase in district transportation reflects “the increase is in salary and gas prices primarily,” said Meryl Rubinstein, assistant superintendent for business operations.    “The contract was just settled during this school year so we now have a more accurate picture of the salaries moving forward.”  She expects to have only three additional students bused to district schools because of the distance to their homes (94 students were bused for 2008-2009; 97 are projected for 2009-2010).

The 53% increase in contract/public transportation is the result of the increase in the number of students who are attending private and parochial schools, as well as an increase in the number of schools they will be attending.

Next year, Ms. Rubinstein projects that 516 will be attending private/parochial schools, up from 464 this year.  Projections are based on applications for busing received by the April 1 cut off date, but that number could be lower if not everyone who requested busing for private school actually attends.

How was our district able to achieve a reduction in special education component?

Budget 08-09 Budget 09-10 Percent Change
Instruction- Special Education 13,105,035 12,831,711 -2

Dr. Minotti, assistant superintendent for student support services, explained that the hiring last year of a transition counselor, an assistive technology specialist, and a part-time school psychologist to work with children with autism resulted in significant savings in consultants this year.  Bringing students who had been placed out of district back into the district also resulted in significant savings in tuition.

Additional savings will result from a reduction in special education staff, although those reductions were not motivated by cost-cutting measures, Superintendent Paul Fried noted.  State and federal law requires that staffing for special education must be based on student need, Dr. Fried explained.

Why are psychological services/social services going up 14%?

Budget 08-09 Budget 09-10 Percent Change
Psychological/social services 1,398,992 1,591,171 14%

Dr. Minotti explained that this increase is attributable in large part to the addition of the new part-time psychologist hired to enable the district to educate autistic children in-district and contractual raises.

What is recreation and why has it been reduced 22%?

Budget 08-09 Budget 09-10 Percent Change
Recreation 90,000 69,914 -22%

This item relates solely to the district’s Co-op Camp, explained Ms. Rubinstein.   The camp, which provides academic support in mathematics, literacy skills and computer in addition to music and sports activities, was reduced to save money in the current budget.  Community members have rallied to raise money to make up the shortfall and bring back portions of the camp that were cut.  (See: Grassroots Effort to Save Coop Camp Raises $52K; $13K to Go

Administrative Component:

Why is the line for legal going up 38%?

Budget 08-09 Budget 09-10 Percent Change
Legal 255,980 354,158 38%

The bulk of this item relates to legal fees for ongoing disciplinary hearings (an increase of $113,235). Cases involving two guidance counselors at the Hommocks from 2007 are ongoing. (See: Details Revealed in Charges Against HMX Counselor.)

Explain the combined Office of Personnel/Student Support Services item going down by 17%.

Budget 08-09 Budget 09-10 Percent Change
Office of Personnel/Student Support Services 645,477 535,729 -17%

By not filling the vacancy created by the departure of the interim assistant superintendent for personnel, the district will save approximately $250,000, including benefits.  To provide support for Dr. Minotti, who will take on the combined title of assistant superintendent for personnel and student support services, part of a clerical person was restored from a position originally cut in the budget.  This restored positions costs $16,394, resulting in a net savings of around $233,606.

Where do we see the savings from the central administrators’ pay freeze?

The line items for the salaries of the superintendent and each of the assistant superintendents reflect the freeze.  Salaries for each of the central administrators for 2009-2010 will be exactly what they are for the current year.  This freeze resulted in a savings of $34,000, according to Ms. Rubinstein.

What are the savings from the bargaining units’ concessions?

The givebacks amount to $10,221 from the administrators’ unit and $220,000 from the Mamaroneck Teacher’s Union, for a combined savings of approximately $230,221.

Capital Component:

What is represented by judgments & claims, and why has that item gone up 50,000%?

Budget 08-09 Budget 09-10 Percent Change
Judgments & Claims 1,000 501,000 50,000%

All but $1,000 of the $501,000 budgeted for this area relates to court-ordered certioraris or “tax certs.”  A tax cert is a challenge to the town’s assessed value of a particular property.  If the assessment is reduced by the court, the challenger is entitled to a refund for the amount of tax that has been “overpaid.”

Ms. Rubinstein explained that the process is complicated and can result in refunds for taxes paid years before, so tax certs are very difficult to predict.  To date, the district has refunded more than $2 million in 2008-2009, which has come from reserves.  Nothing was budgeted for tax certioraris in the current year.

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5 comments to More Questions Answered about the School Budget

  • Rodman Reef

    These comparisons are very good. However, they don’t tell us what was spent (not budgeted) in the current year and how next year’s budget compares to this spending. Comparing next year’s budget to this year’s actuals is standard practice for any organization, especially organizations that spend over $100 million. It is important for real transparency and it is the only way to understand the real growth in spending and the use of our tax dollars. I suggest the community request this type of accountability for 2008-2009 and all future years.

  • This makes me upset:
    The 53% increase in contract/public transportation is the result of the increase in the number of students who are attending private and parochial schools, as well as an increase in the number of schools they will be attending

    If they are attending schools other than public, why is there a state law that we have to transport them? I am emailing Senator Oppenheimer and ask her to look into this. I suggest you do the same. oppenhei@senate.state.ny.us

  • This makes me upset:
    The 53% increase in contract/public transportation is the result of the increase in the number of students who are attending private and parochial schools, as well as an increase in the number of schools they will be attending

    If they are attending schools other than public, why is there a state law that says we have to transport them? I am emailing Senator Oppenheimer and ask her to look into this. I suggest you do the same. oppenhei@senate.state.ny.us

  • J

    Catherine,
    Keep in mind that the families who are sending their children to parochial or private school are still paying $25,000-$40,000 or more in property taxes that go to educate all the public school children, not their own. This may be why the state decided they are at least entitled to be reimbursed for transportation and textbooks for their tax dollars.

  • I see. Still, $2,762,502 for buses is an outrageous sum, although I understand there are some efficiencies. What about passes on public buses? Couldn’t there be discussions with BeeLine that would benefit all? Our community is saying, think outside the box.

    I read Scarsdale has a 1.95% increase (admittedly smaller) but still, some fresh ideas are needed.

    Regarding transport, perhaps county/Mam’k partnerships, car pools, bike lanes and a public campaign to encourage walking/biking/pooling can be promoted more than 1x a year.

    When I was in school, they closed the closest one. I walked 2.5 miles (uphill both ways : ). I still have great memories of that route.