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With Budget Tight, Schools Consider Facility Fee

Although the evening opened with recognition of student and staff honors, the economy and the school budget loomed large at the December 15 meeting of the Mamaroneck School Board.

“There isn’t a moment when something isn’t coming our way regarding the budget,” declared Superintendent Paul Fried. Even the presentation scheduled for the evening’s working session – use of facilities — was impacted by budgetary concerns.

State Aid, STAR Payments Withheld

Dr. Fried and Meryl Rubinstein, assistant superintendent for business operations, explained that Governor Patterson’s delays in state aid payments are resulting in $50,310 being withheld from the Mamaroneck School District. Other districts that receive more aid, like Mt. Vernon, are being hit harder.

In addition, the district learned late Tuesday afternoon that January STAR payments from the state also would be frozen or withheld. This means that the district will not receive $1.6 million expected in January. Assuming that these payments are merely frozen and are, in fact, actually made later in the year, there will not be an impact on the school district’s cash flow.

Also in play is the monies promised by the state to reimburse the school district for the new Metropolitan Transit Authority tax.

Students honored for musical achievements provided a break from somber budget considerations at the Mamaroneck School Board

Chatsworth musicians provided a break from somber budget considerations at the Mamaroneck School Board

Two Extra Sessions on Budget Preparation

By law, Dr. Fried must provide a recommended budget to the school board by March 16. “Because of the sensitive times we are in,” he has scheduled two special working sessions on February 2 and February 9, where he and other members of central staff will be presenting various budget initiatives to the board. Some of these ideas will become part of the recommended budget.

Dr. Fried previously explained to the community that a “rollover” budget – with no additions or cuts – would result in a 9% budget-to-budget increase, an increase that he feels is unreasonable. As a result, the district is reaching out to the community for suggestions and guidance as to what to cut. A new Budget Communications page has been opened on the district website.

Facilities Use: Policy Changing with the Times?

Dr. Fried explained his philosophy that “the school district is the hub of the community” and, as a result, facilities should be open for taxpayer use. In light of the current financial circumstances, however, “the time has probably ended when we can truly allow our facilities to be used for no cost at all,” he said.

Board member Nancy Pierson reviewed the history and current policy governing the use of facilities, reminding the board that during budget discussions last year, the issue of charging for facilities use came up “from the community and at the board table.”

“Our practice had always been to welcome community groups,” Ms. Pierson explained. User fees for nonprofit organizations have not been imposed in the past.

Chatsworth trumpet players performed at the board meeting.

Chatsworth trumpet players performed at the board meeting.

Last year, however, the district determined that all users should pay for custodial overtime costs incurred when a building would not otherwise be open (weekends, weekdays after 8:30 pm for the elementary schools, or after 11:30 pm for the secondary schools). Otherwise, the district would be making a “gift” to the user, which is prohibited by state law. These overtime charges are being collected this year. There has been no charge for maintenance or use of district fields by nonprofit community groups.

The next question, though, is whether the district should begin charging a fee for use of its facilities, recognizing that costs are incurred for utilities, wear and tear, and disruption in the work schedule of the on-duty custodians who sometimes must stop their cleaning duties to supervise an outside event.

Assuming that such fees would be charged, should they be based on recovering costs or on generating additional revenue? Should the district charge some users more than others? Should “premier” facilities be rented out at premier rates?

Ms Pierson explored these and similar questions with the board. In an attempt to determine who uses the building and how often, Ms. Pierson researched last year’s building use forms, which continue to be multi-part paper documents that must be reviewed and approved by several district employees. The current approval process is very labor intensive, and Ms. Pierson recommended that the district should move to an automated system to cut labor costs.

Ms. Pierson modeled two scenarios to illustrate how different criteria could result in vastly different revenues for the year.

Under both hypothetical scenarios, all non-school groups would pay a nominal administration fee with each facility request to help defray the annual expense for an automated system. In addition, fees based on specific criteria would be imposed on some or all groups for use of buildings and fields.

Under one scenario, only for-profit organizations would be charged the additional usage fee.

In the other scenario, there would be a sliding scale for user fees in which most groups would pay something. At one end of the spectrum, groups serving the school or the school community most directly – like the PTAs, Student Aid Fund and Mamaroneck Schools Foundation, for example – would pay nothing. For-profit users would pay a set fee. Others would pay a percentage, depending on how closely they are aligned with the district and whether they primarily serve students or adults.

The second scenario could potentially raise several hundred thousand dollars more in fees than the first. However, Ms Pierson emphasized, that the scenarios were merely illustrative, and that all criteria were up for discussion.

Ultimately, the board determined that Ms. Pierson and the subcommittee should continue to explore the issue, with a view towards making recommendations for a revised facilities use policy that could be adopted in time to be part of the budget process. The subcommittee will be reaching out to various user groups to get their input.

Student, Staff Honors

The board recognized 27 students accepted into New York State band, orchestra or choral ensembles. Other students were honored for achievement in science, sports, business leadership and other endeavors. Karen Cofino received the 2009 Excellence in School Nursing Award, and four aides were commending for demonstrating “sound and efficient judgment in calling attention to an unidentified camera crew” filming at Murray Avenue School without permission.

First Name Last Name Honor
  1. David
Cruikshank Band
  1. Jacob
Forsyth Band
  1. Evan
Garwood Band
  1. Catherine
Gerkis Band
  1. Samuel
Kupferberg Band
  1. Christina
De Barros Chorus
  1. Natalie
Diacovo Chorus
  1. Avriel
Diaz Chorus
  1. Allison
Grossman Chorus
  1. Adam
Katz Chorus
  1. Megan
McEvily Chorus
  1. Addie
Merians Chorus
  1. Anthony
Otiniano Chorus
  1. Vineeth
Panicker Chorus
  1. Robert
Roth Chorus
  1. Ethan
Bernstein Orchestra
  1. Matt
Bialo Orchestra
  1. Sarah
Blunt Orchestra
  1. Juan
Galan Orchestra
  1. Isabel
Genecin Orchestra
  1. Lyra
Harada Orchestra
  1. Daniel
Rodriguez Orchestra
  1. Abigail
Rohman Orchestra
  1. Eleonora
Ruggeri Orchestra
  1. William
Seife Orchestra
  1. Hannah
Stephanz Orchestra
  1. Joseph
Vanderpool Orchestra
  1. Rory
O’Connor FBLA
  1. Giancarlo
  1. Benjamin
Silverstein FBLA
  1. Jack
Miller Science
  1. Siri
Nadler NYS Archives Award
  1. Kelly
Johanson Swimming
  1. David
Marsico All League Championship Team
  1. George
Sheehan Track
  1. Thad
Sheehan First Overall Turkey Trot – Track
  1. Gina
Talt First Overall – Turkey Trot
  1. Hugh
Troeger Track
  1. Thomas
Vendenberg Track – All League, All County
  1. Joseph
Vanderpool All League Championship Team
  1. Benjamin
Wach First Overall in the 15-19

Division of the Turkey Trot Men’s Race

  1. Derek
Ward Kemper Park Preservation Fund
  1. Cofino
Karen 2009 Excellence in School Nursing Award
  1. Dickerson
Donna Aide
  1. Waring
Nia Aide
  1. Kushner
Sheila Aide
  1. Verinini
Allison Aide
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9 comments to With Budget Tight, Schools Consider Facility Fee

  • budgetarious

    I am not sure if the relative size of developments in the article fully reflect the time spent on each topic, but it it does, then it looks like, as usual, a lot of time was spent on peripheral issues (charging for use of the facilities, impact, at most , a few thousand dollars) and not enough on the critical matter at hand (how to bring the natural increase of the budget from 9.9% to a negative number, like New Rochelle and Rye have done).

    • Anon E Mous

      They’re out to prove wrong, ‘… you get what you pay for’, (Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle). It’s so simple a child could understand it :-)

  • Anon E Mous

    School Daze – Some lesson plans for the Superintendent and the Board.

    In school some of us, probably ‘the others’ :-) were sometimes told we weren’t paying attention. Let’s return the favor on behalf of those so told – you’ve asked for public comment, but it doesn’t appear that you’re paying attention.

    The simple answer – the maximum school budget that can be tolerated is one that contains NO increase in school taxes. The real answer may be that the school taxes must be decreased. Now write that 100 times as there will be a test.

    Math lesson. School taxes have already reached 60 percent of the real estate taxes for the District residents. Add insult to injury, those residents must pay again if they want to use the school pool for which they’ve already paid. Plus you’re considering charging taxpayers another time for the use of district facilities. Simple arithmetic, many families who do not have multiple students in the schools will not come to the District. Therefore, fewer ‘non-users’ will be ‘subsidizing’ the school tax so it would approach 100 percent of the real estate tax. And then how many would come? Wanna draw that graph? And, for perspective, how many great companies thought they could not fail, but did?

    Behavioral finance lesson. Please don’t bother saying that you can’t cut costs. Or, that education would suffer it you did. You can cut real costs; use staff and facilities better to deliver quality education. Other schools do it. If you can’t find them look harder. Maybe you need to conduct the search for that in the same nationwide manner as you’re doing for a new superintendent. But please, don’t hire another consultant to do it; just look beyond your own backyard with open eyes.

    It is time for all of us to do some learning. It’s so simple, a child could understand it. Because, as Bernard Berenson said, ‘Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.

  • There already have been so many recommendations that either they are not reading them or they don’t understand how to control costs. The best way to develop a plan is to start with the assumption that there is no additional demand for an increase in the education budget. One more time, if fixed costs such as salaries, health costs, and pensions for teachers are approximately 80% to 85% of the budget, only make cuts to the other 15% to 20% of the budget. So if there is an increase of costs of 4% for the teachers and if they make up 80% of the budget then they will make up tp 83.2% of the budget for 2010. { 80% times 4% equals 3.2} Which means that all the other costs outside of teachers should be cut by 12%. If this is done then you will have a balanced budget without an increase in taxes.

  • Eleanor

    “Redundancy or Freedom of Speech??” I received a very annoyed phone call from Judy of the LarchmontGazette complaining that I was redundant and she didn’t want me to comment more than 3X on the same subject. Judy was supposed to post “Guidance on blogging and commenting” but decided not to do so.

    The question that I have is “if the commentators” do not agree with the local politicians, school board members, or other public officials, or even site owners…should commentators be coerced not to speak? Is social pressure what we want replacing Freedom of Speech? Should blogging and commenting content be “edited” because the content does not agree with the site’s owners, assuming that commentators are polite? Is the School District trying to squelch our commenting by placing pressure in certain places?

    As I explained to Judy, I feel passionately about the need for the district to get on board with the real world technology that our students are required to use in the workforce. I will not be kept quiet. Mariana Boneo did not stay quiet when she saw Hispanic people being harassed, and she accomplished positive change.

    I will continue to speak out; until our district changes some of the same old methods that aren’t working with educating our students for meaningful careers and higher education. I am not alone.

    Today’s NY Times front page article “New Programs Aim to Lure Young into Digital Jobs” discusses the need for AP courses in Advanced Technology;

    And another article “The Virtual Visit May Expand Access to Doctors”

    talks about how patients will in the near future be using computers to have doctor’s office visits.

    When our current published “District Technology Plan” doesn’t include all forms of technology; i.e. higher level calculator instruction, etc.” then I am fretful that our Leadership doesn’t have a clue what they are doing.

    • Anon E Mous

      Again, a provocative post. Eleanor, your post raises many issues — from freedoms, to government, to technology, to education, to the obligations of citizens.

      Passion appropriately describes the importance of the protection of our freedoms. In some recent years it seemed that they were among the endangered species. Today, we have hope.

      The first amendment is among the basis of our democracy. Our freedoms protect us when government strays. But the balancing of those freedoms for the common good have long challenged the judicial branch of our government. We are fortunate for and challenged by the internet as the right to yell fire in a crowded theater is generally considered to be proscribed while the right of freedom of the press is generally considered to be balanced reasonably along with the right of any privately owned newspaper or e-paper to publish what it chooses and the internet can give voice to any and all of us.

      Passion is appropriate to the feelings that our community has failed to advance into the 21st century. Too many of our community leaders cling tightly to the past. Perhaps too many others here do likewise.

      Fortunately, one of the Larchmont Gazette publishers has on a Soundsiders blog inquired of our municipal government’s lack of use of ‘open source’ software to expand the ability of our government to share information with residents. One can only wonder whether our municipalities lack the knowledge or the will. Our School District and and our municipal governments and our communities must change and must adopt new technologies, both for the cost/benefit these provide today and the necessity that our country’s current students be future leaders in advancing the technologies of the future and their related benefits and values.

      Any one technology is of less concern, whether it is being taught or used, as it is the nature of any technology to be short-lived. Of more concern is that we all be continually exposed to the ways technology is changing in our lives, and changing our lives, just as the articles you cite describe. Hopefully you will continue to broadly explore and describe those variety of types and impacts as one might expect you have done on many things throughout your life with vigor. And we can note with pleasure that the Larchmont Gazette keeps trying new technologies that can help us to form a better, and better communicating, community. (A Gazette Google Gadget perhaps? :-) )

      Our communities face many challenges now. Every voice needs to be heard and room made for all those voices to be heard. One suspects that the knowledge exists but the wisdom and the will to meet these challenges head-on still must be found and put to use.

      So, as Robert Brault said, ‘We have a choice every day – to act on yesterday’s good intentions or get an early start on tomorrow’s regrets’ .

  • It is so sadly ironic that musicians from Chatsworth were brought in to add some levity to an otherwise somber budget meeting. I wonder if attendees of the meeting were reminded that cuts made to this year’s school budget included the elimination of general music classes at the Hommocks Middle School.

    • Anon E Mous

      ‘Along with the sunshine there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes’

      Perhaps from the ‘somber budget meeting’ some will learn that as a community we had been spending beyond the means of many, leaving future generations to pay the cost. Perhaps we’ll all remember that education must neither begin nor end at the school door.

      ‘I said oh oh oh oh I beg your pardon
      I never promised you a rose garden.’

      (Quoted lyrics by Joe South; popular recording by Lynn Anderson)

  • Difference of opinion

    I had music in Hommocks. It was much better on the Elementary School Level. Unless one was in the band. I was not. Hence, I found it to be a total waste of time. Never had it offered at MHS though; but wouldn’t have participated in or wanted to take any music classes at that level either.

    I think things like music do need to be cut if there are mandatory budget cuts. What is the first thing you cut in your household when you are on a budget?? The non-essentials.

    Not the academic program but rather the recreational programs such as music and art are cut first. That’s what happens during recessions. Do you want higher taxes instead?? If so, then pay for your children’s private music lessons, it will be cheaper than paying higher taxes for everyone else.