Some of the ideas from the public presented at Monday night’s Mamaroneck School District meeting
about the financial crisis the schools face included having volunteer parents replace salaried aides in the classrooms; an energy audit; reusing and re-purposing materials; going paperless; opening the contract negotiations early, and commercial grants/sponsorship of various school programs.
Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried told a capacity crowd that the district has "unprecedented challenges" in this new budget cycle. He asked the community to get involved early in the cycle for the 2010 to 2011 budget.
The first half of the meeting was informational. Assistant
Superintendent of Business Operations Meryl Rubinstein spoke of an unstable economy, an escalating state deficit, a weak stock market, and rising pension costs.
The stimulus funding that replaced state aid cuts in last year’s
budget will be ending and cannot be counted on for next year’s
budget. In our current fiscal year, the lion’s share of the budget,
78%, goes to paying teachers’ salaries and funding pension plans. 7% is for servicing debt on the money that was borrowed for past
projects. For the remaining 15%, nearly half is mandated or contractual.
90% of the revenue the school receives is from property taxes. State
aid is a measly 2%. Then there are the unfunded mandates that the
federal and state government require: No Child Left Behind, special
education, learning standards, graduation requirements, and academic support for students.
Dr. Fried outlined some of the more popular suggestions and why they were not feasible: contractual increases, pension cost increases, health insurance premium increases, unemployment benefit increases– no contractual benefits for five "bargaining partners" can be renegotiated until the following year, in 2011.
There is the potential for a 9% increase over the current budget. That 9% breaks down as follows: health insurance: 2% increase, contract
salary: 3% increase retirement rate: 2% increase debt service: 1%
increase other 1% increase. If the budget is voted down, a
contingency budget would be a 0 to 1% increase, which represents a $10 million cut in expenses.
The impact of this financial crisis is expected to result in less
staff, fewer programs (spread out over academic, athletic and
extracurricular activities), and larger class sizes.
The crowd then broke up into smaller groups to ask questions and offer solutions. A full accounting of the ideas is to be posted on the
Dr. Fried revealed an exercise wherein the elementary schools are reconfigured into grades K- 2 and grades 3 to 5. There are cost savings, but the cost of busing would mitigate a portion of those savings. (Note to elementary parents: this is only a cost exercise.)
The school district fiscal year runs from July 1, 2010 to June 30,
2011. The Schools District and the School Board are encouraging the entire community to stay involved in the budget process.
Key budget dates:
March 16- Superintendent’s recommended budget presented to the board
March 20- Saturday budget meeting
April 6- Budget study session
April 20- Tentative budget adoption
The reality is that teachers do the yoeman job of teaching students the three “r’s” and often become the main source of guidence in a young persons life. It is in a well run classroom that many kids from our area face consequences for their actions for the first time and learn about responsibility and self-worth. The last place that districts should be cutting are teachers salaries. Despite highter wages than in other districts, teachers are amongst the most underpayed professionals. All teachers in this district have Masters degrees and many have more. Just as Wall street complains about losing good talent due to salary caps-so to should Westechester districts be concerned about cutting salaries and losing one of the main draws to working in this area. Additionally, for the amount of proerty tax paid it is unconscionable to cram students into overcrowded classrooms. The loss of quality staff and the increasing teacher student ratio will certainly diminish real estate value as people begin to wonder why come here? It is obvious that the district needs to reevaluate its spending policies. Some possible suggestions for cuts-substantially lower administrative salaries-who is on the front lines with the kids, teachers, who has the greatest impact on whether studetns are meeting standards, teachers, who spends countless hours telling teachers how to do their job (despite decades away from the classroom and lack of experience in the areas they supervise), administration. Another area of discretionary spending is outside curriculum consultants. THe district has hired quality teachers and yet constantly sends the message that they are not knowledgeable enough to use collegial instruction and classroom visitation to better inform their practice. Again the district brings in consultants who are either paid by the prepackaged educational publication they are touting or they are not experts in the areas that they are hired to consult in . For example, it is not appropriate for an expert in guided reading to be hired to work for 8 or more days with special education teachers when the consultant herself does not have special education experience. One size does not fit all in education and good teachers know that. Unfortunately the district has bought into a lock step policy where they buy expensive curriculum and require everyone to use it (despite questionable results) rather than take the more economical route of reusing some curriculum if it has had a proven track record-specifically the expensive and instant use of TERC math in all classes rather than the more affordable and pre-owned Scott Forseman math. As to the cost of special education students, they are often a breaking point for school scoring on the state tests. WHile many spec. ed. students operate far below grade level and are not likely to pass grade level standars, just as many can with proper instruction. The district continues to be pennywise and pound foolish. By taking the neediest kids and craming them toghether to reduce staffing demands as much as possible, the district is setting students up for failure. This in turn sets the schools up for failure. Why not show the trust in the expertise and professionalism in the teaching staff and allow them to make decisions as to method of instruction. Staff all classrooms and spec. ed. rooms in particular with the support so that proper differentiated instruction can go on and give the studetns a real opportunity to succeed. (All the while saving money on additional new curriculum purchases, extra required AIS services, longer amounts of time spent as a classified student and better chances for the school percentage of passing scores to rise). As to tenure, it is a neccessary evil to protect hard working teachers from the whim and caprice of over paid administerators who’s biggest concern is to protect their turf and make sure their building looks its best. However, too many teachers become sloppy or were never good enough in the first place to deserve that kind of unfettered job security. My suggestion a parent- teacher, administrative review board that can observe the teacher, meet with the teacher to discuss the class etc., conduct guiding observations that focus on the positive and guide through the concens and peer review as a formula to grant tenure. This should also be reviwed with objective criteria every five years.
Districts are pargons of waste and pettiness. We need fewer cooks in the kitchen, paid less than they currently recieve. We need fewer outside consultants hawking expensive curriculum products. We need to have flexibility in the teaching/learning styles in every classroom. There also needs to be a clear understanding that no one know the students better that the teacher. This is our future-don’t be short sighted. Cut the fat not the muscle.
People, let’s not be ignorant here. Contracts are legally binding documents. They can’t be renegotiated until 2011. When budget cuts are made, the newest, often most energetic and involved teachers get cut. We need to lobby Albany and the federal gov’t to get more of our share of aid for the taxes we pay, and to start raising the issue of whether teachers should be tenured after only three years. What other profession enjoys such job security these days? Just as big an issue is the unfunded mandates that come from the state and federal gov’t, especially in the area of special education, which eats up a huge amount of money relative to the number of students served.
I agree that we have a lot of administrative staff, especially at the high school, but educate yourselves before you start assuming the teachers are the problem.
At least in NYC, Mayor Bloomberg has the guts to negotiate with the Teacher’s Union, get real concessions (fire inadequate teachers, establish merit pay) and Charter Schools are creating some competition which are fueling these changes. Maybe Dr. Fried’s ridiculously generous pension ought be be re-negotiated in addition to teacher salaries. After all, in this economic climate, where teachers’ positions are being cut right and left, I’d like to see where some of our teachers who have gotten by on tenure, will ultimately land. If there is any time when salaries could be renegotiated, it has to be now.
Thank you for the Loop! Every time I attend one of these “community input” meetings,I am amazed that all of the suggestions put forward by the community, or at least, by the people at my table are negated, while the Board’s agenda is the one that ultimately wins out. The atmosphere of these budget meetings are so stifling, with the President of the teacher’s Union (who must earn, with benefits about $200,000) circling around the room like a piranha, the designer clad PR officer of the district (prob. earning about the same). Then, ultimately, what is offered as a “tentative solution” the plan where the Princeton Plan, where elementary school kids are forced to go to other district schools at an undisclosed cost in extra transportation, is shoved down out throats. That, in addition, to ridiculously large class sizes, larger than any of our neighboring districts. So you’d want to live in Mamaroneck why? Large class sizes, kids bussed to different elementary schools, fewer enrichment classes (which will most certainly be cut), higher taxes? It must be because our teachers make more than most of the surrounding districts and can do whatever they want and we have more administrators (curriculum “coaches”, assistant vice principals, and administrators than any other of our neighboring districts. I think that our Board must be invested in having our shrinking tax base disappear altogether.
Hi – the Larchmont Gazette has a lively thread on the topic at http://www.su.com/news/schools-plead-for-feedback-in-face-of-crisis-budget-session-nov-30/comment-page-1/#comment-1188. Many suggestions quite workable, with an open mind. To add a tidbit that is not on the LG, how about doing away with the position of Pdt of the Teachers’ union, paid by the District so that this presumably conflicted individual can defend the corporatist interests of the teachers ? Source : 2010 budget p75.
[i]You can’t solve you’re problems with the same level of thinking that created the problems.[/i] – Albert Einstein [/quote]
The story portrays the same old thing. When confronted by a tough question those hired to answer it shift it to the public they ignored before and then explain why the public’s answers are not feasible.
Everything can be renegotiated; before or after bankruptcy, hopefully the former. Change is feasible and better education is feasible despite less spending.
If the School District cannot accomplish the necessary changes, then residents can ‘renegotiate’ at the polls, simply, voting NO to increased budgets and taxes.