In their first all-day lreview of SuperintendentPaul Fried’s recommended budget for 2010-2011, members of the Mamaroneck School Board expressed concern over particular cuts, but no one suggested adding money back into the budget. This reticence to add spending comes even though Dr. Fried is proposing the lowest increase in district history: a 1.47% budget hike, which results in a 2.81% tax increase.
A common theme at the March 20 session was the board’s desire to do more with less.
Unlike previous budget sessions which attracted crowds, only a handful of observers were at the Saturday hearing.
The board can make changes until April 20, when it must adopt the final budget to be presented to the community for vote on May 18.
Occupational Education Program: Does It Work?
As in recent past years, board members requested more information about the BOCES occupational education program, which is budgeted at $268K for 2010-2011. This program provides 14 to 15 students with a half-day of regular high school and a half-day of occupational education.
BOCES provides certified teachers for classes in areas such as culinary arts, automotive repair and carpentry. Students receive both training and credit.
Noting the expensive nature of the program, board members wondered if the program could be done cheaper in house and questioned what results the program has yielded.
“These students need a great deal of structure,” explained Mamaroneck High School Principal Mark Orfinger. Internships are not enough. “We’ve tried it,” he said.
It would be more expensive to provide the programs in-house, said administrators..
Dr. Fried noted that in the past, the program was not always carefully monitored. Now student attendance is watched closely, he said. Board members requested data supporting the success of the program.
A member of the audience made a plea that $51K be restored to the budget to preserve the Constitution Works and Lincoln Center programs, noting that cutting three students from the BOCES occupational education program “would get it all back.” Board member Janet Buchbinder rejected the suggestion, describing the BOCES program as a “basic need rather than enrichment.”
Some Funding for Elementary Trips?
The board questioned whether some of the Lincoln Center program could be preserved at some minimal expense, however, and wondered whether Constitution Works could be done more cheaply.
Currently, fifth grade students are bused into New York City for Constitution Works, where they participate in a simulated appellate court argument by serving as attorneys and judges. The experience is the culmination of weeks of work learning and briefing constitutional law, and many parents say their students characterize it as the highlight of elementary school.
Board members suggested that perhaps the program could be implemented at a reduced cost by partnering with local town courts or law students rather than the more expensive program currently in use.
Board member Robin Nichinsky said she didn’t want the budget to increase, but thought these programs might be funded, at least in part, from other line items that had not yet been reduced.
Leadership Costs Questioned
Board members questioned the $15K for MHS student leadership training. This figure does not include stipends for the faculty support for the Caprice Advisors who work with freshmen, or the Peer Leaders who work with Hommocks Middle School students, explained Assistant Superintendent Meryl Rubinstein. Instead, it includes expenses like outside training costs and speakers for Senior Seminar Day.
Several board members requested that this area be examined more carefully.
Summer School Not Required
The board also requested data on the students who enroll in summer school. This program is funded through the Continuing Education program.
Although not required, administrators feel that having a district summer school program is important to keep at-risk students from falling behind and dropping out.
The district cannot charge students for “recovery” classes where students are repeating courses, but can charge for classes students take for advancement.
Board Concerned About Cut of Instructional Coach
School board president Linnet Tse expressed “grave concerns” about the elimination of the instructional coach for technology. Assistant Superintendent Annie Ward agreed: “it’s a significant and painful cut that we’ll feel the affects of.”
Ms. Ward noted that the technology coach had been instrumental in facilitating the increased posting of curriculum material on the district website for sharing among teachers.
Dr. Fried summed up by noting that he will follow up on questions raised by the board.
Ms. Tse said the board will continue its work at the April 6 board meeting and thereafter, until it adopts a final budget on April 20. She invited the community to review the budget materials found on the district website, including the budget book itself, and invited comments and questions to be raised by contacting the school board at firstname.lastname@example.org.