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School Budget Vote Reflects Stringent Realities

Districts work to meet tax cap, other requirements

Passing school budgets has never been easy.

This year’s has been especially challenging, as districts have confronted the state-imposed tax cap, on-going certioraris from local businesses, unfunded mandates, reduced state aid in many cases, and Race to the Top requirements. As a result, the upcoming school budget vote on Tuesday represents a significant shift that will likely affect district funding choices for the foreseeable future.

“School districts are under more pressure than ever before to do more with less,” said Dr. Ralph Napolitano, superintendent of the Yorktown school district.

Even affluent communities, which would never have questioned class size, curriculum or programming enhancements, had placed those under consideration for discussion during the budget process.

For many districts, squeaking in under the tax cap without raising class size or cutting program has been possible because of teacher retirements or, in districts with enrollment declines, staff cuts.

 “Without retirements, we couldn’t have done it,” said Dr. Edward Fuhrman, superintendent of the Croton-Harmon school district. Even so, during the budget process,  “we’ve talked about the modified sports program and having slightly larger class size than what we’d like.”

The district has made cuts in physical education teaching positions, the number of people who provide security at school events, and frozen spending on technology. . The board of education cut $ 10,000 from its own budget, which represents 50 percent of their total allocation.

“It’s a tough budget,” said Dr. Fuhrman. “My real fear is that we will see major program cuts later.”

In Yorktown, there won’t be replacements for teachers who retire. Declining school enrollment at the elementary level, said Dr. Napolitano, means that the district can “right size” allocation of staff and resources.

Careful planning during the past three years, when White Plains reduced its workforce by 10 percent, meant that for the 2012-2013 budget the district was able to maintain class size and even add three elementary school teachers.

Even so, the district will no longer run the pre-K program, which was reduced by 50 percent last year. Outside providers will offer the program in some district school buildings.

“It’s economics,” said White Plains school superintendent, Dr. Christopher Clouet. “In response to the last several years of economic restriction, we’re supporting it logistically, but not as a district.”

While many districts have managed to avert program cuts this year, there remain concerns about how schools will maintain their distinctive programs in the not-so-distant future.

“Moving forward, if we don’t make changes, how are we going to fund education?”, said Dr. Napolitano. “We can’t continue to support education on the backs of taxpayers. If we’re faced by the same challenges, eventually there’ll be nothing we can cu

Ross Revira May 12, 2012 at 12:42 PM
With the 2% tax levy cap and the 60 % voter approval needed to exceed it in place, school districts will have to side with the taxpayers on employee contracts. Way too long the school board has been the lap dog of the unions. Cutting compensation and increasing class size is the only way to avoid the structural deficit the cap creates. Presently many districts are using their budget surplus to meet the cap. This money will be gone in the not too distant future.
Martin Sanchez May 12, 2012 at 09:39 PM
In New Rochelle, the district touts the fact that it is attempting to save $50K here and $100K there and it calls this miraculous. It is. Meanwhile, the New Ro Teacher's President collects a $100,000 plus salary; teaches one class and does 90% union work on any given day. With 20 years of labor relations experience, I have not seen this anywhere. Wouldn't it be ethical to have the union pay his salary? Another $100K saved for the students and you could save one or oven two jobs.
George Datino May 13, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Ethical? I'd say Mandatory! A teacher collecting a full salary should be teaching a full day of class as defined by the teachers contract. Any teacher doing less, should have their salary and benefits pro-rated down to match the amount of actual teaching work that is done. Any Union work is done is being done so at the behest of the Union and should be compensated by the Union. Of course, if this "sweetheart" deal is in the contract, shame on the powers to be in New Rochelle that agreed to this. These are they types of things that are leading to a new revolution by the taxpayer.
Bertrand de Frondeville May 14, 2012 at 06:17 PM
This should be obvious... In Rye, at least the RTA persident is a full time teacher of Environmental Sciences.. Yet he wrote his students are too busy preparing for tests to take on a project for a team of 2 to 3, which Rye Country Day accepted immediately with a team that went on to the Siemens Science contest... But the real scandal is the contractual max. 183 days of work annually with a maximum 23 hours of class time per week, or an average 4.6 hours a day. Some districts are trying 205 days of 5-5.5h against the usual footdragging of spoiled teachers unions.
Cadeyrn May 14, 2012 at 11:34 PM
These are all correct observations. But the two main sources of real pain is found in the pension obligations and the salary schedule. Pensions are the domain of the state, but not salaries. That's a local issue. Not one district has given more than a wink to this reality. This schedule provides for yearly raises ... beyond the contractual raises ... for most teachers who simply re-appear in the fall. These "steps" are guaranteed raises outside of any evaluation component. Just plain old automatic. And this is each year for several years. Some district has to look at projections and see this wreck in the road. Time to do some serious retooling.

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