Prelim School Budget Would Hike Taxes 9.9%; Cuts To Come
by Melany Gray
(March 6, 2008) Describing his proposed budget as “the first, but not the last bottom line,” Superintendent Paul Fried presented his preliminary budget of $120,983,134 at the Mamaroneck School Board study session on March 4. This represents an increase of $10.6 million or 9.57% over last year’s approved budget and would raise taxes by 9.85%. He expects, however, that this number will be reduced before the budget is put to a community vote on May 20.
Dr. Fried described the budget numbers as “painful,” but said his responsibility as superintendent is to serve the children by bringing the community an “excellent education program.” The proposal maintains existing programs as well as class size guidelines. It also includes several items (security cameras, van-sized buses) that were removed from last year’s initial budget after its defeat in May. (See: Revised School Budget Passes With 73% of the Vote.)
Budget Amounts Over 10 Years
“Maintaining Our Fine Programs - Bringing Excellence to Students”
Mamaroneck, said Dr. Fried, has an outstanding reputation as a “district of excellence.” The proposed budget seeks to keep the district on that same path, while recognizing and treating “complicated” issues of equity. Describing the community as “on the edge of something important,” Dr. Fried recognized the difficult financial times and asserted that a community cannot withstand continued budget defeats, nor can it afford to lose its competitive edge as a district of excellence where good teachers want to be.
In a departure from prior years, Dr. Fried asked his assistant superintendents
to discuss the educational philosophy and the work they were doing before
turning to the budget particulars. He stressed the importance of “the
story behind the numbers.”
Dr. Anthony Minotti, assistant superintendent of student support services, focused on what his team has been doing to reduce the number of costly out-of-district special education placements at the secondary level, which average $60,000 per student per year. In addition, his department has been working to enhance post-high school transition planning for students with disabilities, as required by law, and to improve other support services related to inclusion, assistive technology and nursing.
“Conservative” Budget Approach
Much of the draft budget involves “reallocation of resources,” asserted Dr. Minotti. Although there will be some upfront costs involved, such as hiring staff so more services can be offered in district, the proposed changes should save significant money over time, he said.
Meryl Rubinstein, assistant superintendent for business operations, described the budget approach as “conservative,” noting that “tradeoffs” had been made whereby reductions in some areas allowed for funding of “critical education initiatives” elsewhere. No increases were made for per pupil expenditures, field trips or professional development, but principals have been given greater flexibility in determining how to spend the money allocated to their buildings.
New Staff for Growing Enrollment & New Initiatives
Ms. Rubinstein explained that the budget increase was due in large part to increased salary and benefit costs necessitated by increased enrollment and “critical initiatives.” The proposal includes one new teacher each at Chatsworth and Murray, as well as two at Mamaroneck Avenue School and a 0.8 addition for specialists district-wide. Although Central School’s enrollment is projected to grow, it will require one less teacher because of the grade breakdown. The new staffing will add approximately $379,000.
Staffing for new initiatives would add two teachers for academic intervention services (AIS) in the elementary schools, probably in math, and a literacy coach at the Hommocks, as well as an additional half-time nurse for Mamaroneck Avenue School to help meet additional reporting mandates. A new half-time position for assistive technology would replace support from consultants.
The plan calls for additional personnel at the high school, to allow for the return of some out-of-district placements and to support other students in need. Dr. Fried noted that approximately 15% of this year’s ninth grade failed at least one class in the first quarter.
Proposed additions at the high school include: one additional unallocated teacher, a transition guidance counselor, an additional social worker, an additional psychologist, an additional reading specialist, and two special education teachers, as well as a Learning Center teacher. Describing the Learning Center as a “new concept,” Dr. Fried explained that students could be assigned to the center or could seek additional help in their free periods. In addition to staffing the center with a new hire, the district is working with the teachers’ union in the hope that other teachers will be available there during their professional duty periods.
Also in the plan are two extra campus supervisors for the high school, two clerical positions, a JV wrestling coach, and two new hires for technology (to support new business applications, student information and communication systems and a redesigned website soon to be unveiled). Although all of these systems have been brought on line in the last two and a half years, staffing has decreased during that time.
Together, the additional staff costs for the new initiatives will cost $1,652,500.
Reductions to Fund Critical Initiatives
The costs of the new initiatives will be offset by a variety of reductions, including three teachers at the high school. Dr. Fried believes that these cuts can be made within the current class size guidelines. In addition, 17 teacher aides and five teaching assistants will be cut from special education throughout various schools. There will also be savings in transportation and supplies associated with a reduction in out-of-district placements.
These cuts are projected to save $1,688,100.
Equipment and Other Non-Staffing Costs
The proposed budget includes nearly $142,000 in computer network equipment to prevent failure, as well as $150,000 for three new vans to provide mandated transportation and $60,000 for security cameras at the high school.
Tax certioraris and transfer to debt service together add more than $1.3 million to the budget.
How Mamaroneck Compares
Dr. Fried noted that, compared to other Westchester and Putnam schools, Mamaroneck ranks 31 out of 46. Its per pupil expenditure of $21,956 is below the median of $22,709.
The district is also below the median on per pupil costs for instruction (teachers), superintendent and central staff, and supervision (building level administration).
Dr. Fried concluded the presentation by committing to listen carefully to the board and the community and by affirming that reductions must take place. In a departure from prior years, the board did not comment or question on the budget at the March 4 meeting, but will be reconvening on Saturday, March 15 at 9:00 am to review the budget line by line. That meeting is expected to be recorded by LMC-TV.
After that, central staff will continue to review and revise the budget. A revised proposal will be presented on March 25, and on April 8 the board will adopt its final budget, which will then be voted on by the community on May 20.
If the community does not approve the budget, the board may present a second budget, as was done last year, or to go straight to a contingency budget, which would require cuts of $4.5 million from what the superintendent has proposed.
Amy Levere, president of the school board, invited community members to send e-mail questions and comments to the board at firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, she asked that community members who watched the meeting on LMC-TV e-mail the same address to let the board assess how many people they are reaching.
Melany Gray is co-president of the Mamaroneck High School PTA.