Mamaroneck Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried was at the Larchmont Village Board meeting on Monday, December 14 for a discussion on the challenges in preparing a school budget for next year, in light of the harsh fiscal environment.
The board also took action on meters – for parking and for monitoring water use.
Superintendent Outlines Budget Challenges
Expenses, Revenues: As he has been doing with parent and PTA groups for the past few weeks, Dr. Fried shared details of district financing. He explained that in the 2009-2010 budget, 78% represents salaries and benefits and 7% debt service. And half of the rest is for mandated or contractual costs.
Even with no new programs, no new hires, no new equipment or building, the district nevertheless faces a 9% increase due to rising costs for health insurance, contract salaries, pension contributions, debt service, heating and other items. At the same time, there is a potential reduction in state support – as announced this week by Governor David Paterson. Furthermore, this is the final year for federal stimulus funds, which replaced state aid after earlier cuts.
“As you see,” he added, “we are very labor intensive. The way to achieve the biggest cuts is through eliminating staff, though we’re trying to look first at other areas.” Last year 17 positions were abolished, leading to somewhat larger classes.
“We’re now working with the teachers’ union,” said Dr. Fried. “They have one year left on their current contract which was created in a very different environment.” He added, “We will be examining the total compensation,”
What to Cut: Dr. Fried and the School Board are looking to the community to become informed and suggest ways to reduce the budget. They have been meeting with group and asking: “What do you value? What don’t you want to give up?” He said the answers are interesting.
Elementary schools, parents tell him they want to retain the basic core program and nibble around the edges of the art, music, and gym programs. When he reaches the middle and high school, the answers reverse. “The so called ‘extras’ of art, music and athletics are what keep our students coming to school and remaining academically engaged,” he said parents told him.
Dr. Fried noted that the district had 27 students make area all-state orchestra, band, chorus or mixed chorus ensembles, which they could not achieved without a strong musical foundation in the lower grades. “These are the things that make our school system special,” he added.
“Do we offer more than is mandated for graduation?” was another question he reported hearing. His answer? “Of course we offer more than is required, but our AP courses and our classes in advanced math, history, English and languages are what enable our students to gain access to the top colleges and universities in the country.”
From the Village Board: Trustee Marlene Kolbert commented on what an irony the evening presented. The first item of the agenda had been awarding certificates of achievement to members of the Mamaroneck High School Girls’ Field Hockey Team for having reached the finals of the 2009 NY State Class A Championships. Now athletics, along with all extra-curricular programs, may be in financial jeopardy.
Trustee Richard Ward asked: “Are we looking into ways that on-line teaching, Skype, and chat rooms can aid in advancing our educational goals at a reduced cost?” Dr. Fried said the district was open, but “the NY State Regents need to move ahead on this too. At present they do not easily give credit to courses delivered in this way.”
When Trustee Anne McAndrews asked if there was any movement away from using the property tax to support the schools, Dr. Fried simply replied that revaluation would be helpful to providing stable tax support the schools could count on.
She then asked if the staff had been given benchmarks in examining their costs. “Yes,” said Dr. Fried, “I told the principals to cut 10% from each of their budgets.”
Upcoming Meetings on Cost Cuts & Budget: Dr. Fried ended by announcing he will hold two preliminary discussions on cost cutting before presenting his recommended budget on March 16.
Other key budget dates: Saturday, March 20, all-day review; April 6, budget study session; April 20, tentative budget adoption.