Sandwiched between executive sessions to discuss collective bargaining and employment matters, the school board convened for a short public meeting on April 13 to hear Superintendent Paul Fried’s recommendations on a few open budgetary issues, including support for mainstreaming at Central School and for the district business office.
None of the recommendations will change the bottom line, however. After a number of drafts with increasingly refined revenue projections and spending cuts, the budget remains at $122 million, representing a 1.22% increase over last year. The tax increase is 2.08%. If adopted, this would be the smallest budget increase in recent history.
The budget will result in reductions of 52.8 employees, 10.3 of them teachers. Because of retirement and attrition, however, the actual job loss is 43.4 employees, only 5.9 of them teachers. Dr. Fried said the number of jobs lost may be even lower due to employee leaves.
|Have You Voted Yet? Take the Poll:
If the vote were today, how would you vote on Mamaroneck’s school budget? As of April 7, the budget is $122M, up 1.22% from last year; the tax increase is 2.08%.
Teacher Givebacks Appear Unlikely
There was no mention at the meeting of the proposal made by the teachers’ union at least a week ago, and neither Dr. Fried nor Mamaroneck Teachers Association President Ann Borsellino has been willing to comment publicly on the terms of the offer. (UPDATE: the MTA and district issued clashing releases on the topic late Thursday afternoon.)
New Mainstreaming Plan at Central School Adds Staff But No Dollars
Dr. Fried reported that he and the school board had “listened well” to concerns raised by Central parents in the past weeks and at a meeting that morning attended by some 50 Central parents, former Central parents and teachers. In the Central meeting, Dr. Fried and Central Principal Carol Houseknecht encouraged “flexibility and fluidity” in addressing mainstreaming.
Currently at Central, large class sizes result when 4-5 special education students are included in regular classes for activities such as art, music, library and physical education. Class size in a number of grades at Central next year will be at the top of the board’s guidelines, even without the additional students.
Dr. Fried recommended that the board address the situation by employing a model similar to the one currently used at Mamaroneck Avenue School (MAS).
At Central, all the students in a self-contained class currently mainstream at the same time into the art, music or other special classes, which serves both the students’ needs to socialize and the district’s contractual obligation to give the teacher a preparation period.
At MAS, however, students in self-contained classes attend specials together as a class, which gives their teacher the contractual prep period. Socialization needs are met by a more flexible approach, where 1-2 students at a time mainstream into regular classes for activities appropriate for them, whether academic lessons, morning meetings, additional specials or some other activity.
Dr. Fried reported that his recommended approach might require additional staffing to accommodate the additional special education music classes, but the other extra classes could probably be scheduled with current personnel. This plan would not add to the budget because it would use funds freed up when a sharp-eyed parent noticed that Central needs only three teachers – not the four projected by the district – to cover classes for 75 students expected in that grade next year.
Board member Nancy Pierson asked Dr. Fried if he was comfortable with the plan educationally, even if mainstreaming 1-2 students would cause some classes to slightly exceed the guideline. “I am comfortable with that,” Dr. Fried replied.
Ms. Pierson appeared satisfied and characterized the plan as “a great idea,” noting that her own daughter, now graduated, would have benefited from “pre-teaching” in areas like music before mainstreaming.
Specifics of Business Office Support Undetermined, But No Money Added to Budget
Similarly, there was no net effect on the budget from the board’s determination to include a $50,000 line item to support Assistant Superintendent Meryl Rubinstein in the Business Office. Next week, Ms. Rubinstein will present the board with suggested cuts in other areas to make up the difference.
Yet to be determined is what the support should look like: an assistant business manager (which is a civil service position), a business official with administrative certification, or a consultant? Someone to help with budget preparation, or a specialist in strategic thinking and long-term planning?
Although the board members initially disagreed about whether the position should be funded before it was determined exactly what type of person they were looking to hire, they ultimately decided it was appropriate to plan on hiring someone mid-year once the role has been defined. “I don’t want to wait a year,” said Linnet Tse, the board president.
Community member Jon Sacks encouraged the board to move ahead, suggesting that additional assistance in the budget office would be “instrumental in driving savings.” And, he argued, if the position were not implemented before the 2011-2012 budget process, the board would likely have to respond to charges that “you are replacing a teacher with this position.”
Ms. Rubinstein’s research indicated that nine other large Westchester school districts — including Chappaqua, Scarsdale and Katonah — have an assistant business manager. Ms. Tse noted that Mamaroneck is the second-largest non-city school district in Westchester.
Dr. Fried recommended that board members and community members work with the new superintendent and Ms. Rubinstein to determine what the position should entail.
Donations Filling Budget Gaps?
Dr. Fried said parent groups have already begun fund raising to fill gaps left by the recommended budget, which has reduced or eliminated various programs. He noted that a group of PACE parents have raised $10,000 to make up for budget cuts that would have eliminated two of the six extracurricular PACE shows in the 2010-2011 school year.
Dr. Fried said he will be meeting with Athletic Director Bari Suman to bring forth criteria for determining the type of donations the district would accept to reinstate sports teams that have been cut. The district would not allow, for example, that only children of donors be included on a team. The criteria would also address issues of equity between boys and girls teams, said Dr. Fried.
Final Steps on Budget
Dr. Fried and Ms. Suman will present their recommendations at the next board meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, April 20 at 7:30 pm in the Tiered Classroom. At that meeting, the board will also adopt its budget and appoint Dr. Robert Shaps as the new superintendent, effective July 1, 2010.
The community will vote on the school budget on May 18.
Melany Gray volunteers with the PACE Parents Committee; her children attended Central School.