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School Budget - Important Date Change/Labor Contracts

During Tuesday night’s school budget meeting, our Board of Education decided to change the date for the discussion of the instructional components of this year’s school budget.The instructional components are those that directly impact our children’s programs.The meeting will no longer be held next week on Tuesday, March 5 but instead will be held on Tuesday, March 19. I know many parents had specifically marked their calendars to attend this critical budget meeting.Changing the date at the last minute is unfortunate and goes against the school board’s claims of improved transparency and openness, particularly given the current budget is calling for a reduction of approximately 14 teachers along with several teacher’s aides.The date is now also very close to the spring recess and will leave very little time for public discussion before the April 16 budget adoption date.

This decision was made at the very end of the meeting when the floor was closed to resident comments. As a resident who has closely followed school budget issues for a few years, I took the opportunity – even though I knew the floor was closed to comments – to quickly state my disapproval of such a decision.While I apologize to the Board and my fellow residents for doing so, I ask for their understanding as our children’s programs have been and will continue to be cut if we don’t get the local community more involved and start taking stronger stands on the issues.The community needs to push back on unsustainable increases in benefits and salaries (our primary budget drivers over the past 5 years) as well as state mandates (a secondary budget driver).  We need resident input at these meetings and changing the dates is not conducive to getting that input.

By the way, labor contracts have recently been signed with our central administrators as well as with all other administrators.In another example of a complete lack of transparency, none of the details of these contracts (all include pay raises) appeared in either the GC News or in the minutes to the Board meetings.Central administrators have been given a raise of 2% which, when coupled with their increased pension costs and compared against the 2% property tax cap, will result in a reduction to student programs.When are we as a community going to start asking the tough questions?While I support our teachers and administrators, I feel now is the appropriate time to begin weighing that support against the support for our children’s academic and extracurricular programs.
Ellen Subramaniam February 28, 2013 at 10:38 PM
Bob - we missed you on Tuesday night. You always ask great quesitons and thank you for posting. We will know much more about the personnel and non-personnel numbers once the delayed instructional budget meeting takes place. With respect to the numbers not adding up, I know what you are thinking. You think that with the reduction of 13-14 teachers you should see a much larger cost savings than $91,344. However, you must remember to factor in the cost of contractual salary increases. Unfortunately, the salary increases appear to be netting out the cost savings of the teacher reductions. In order to get more clarity on the numbers, I had asked during Tuesday's meeting what the total cost of contractual salary increases would be for the 2013-14 year but the Board and Admin did not give an answer. A slide had been presented showing "budget drivers for 2013-14" similar to the one presented last year. I was curious why contractual salary increases weren't listed as a budget driver, similar to the way it had been shown last year. These are certainly questions to follow-up on during the next few meetings. I agree with your point about the lack of transparency. I think a lack of transparency is the root cause of the financial difficulties currently facing our district as well as others. As Trish so eloquently stated above, sharing information and being open to dialogue is the only way forward.
Ellen Subramaniam February 28, 2013 at 10:53 PM
Bob - In order to isolate the impact of salary increases, I looked through the budget and saw that the number of total special education teachers at all schools has stayed flat at 53.8. For 2012-13, the total estimated expenses are $5.48 million. For 2013-14, the total budgeted expenses are projected to be $5.66 milion. This is an increase of $178 thousand or 3.3%. We would have to be careful about drawing conclusions without knowing all the details, but presumably most of this increase represents contractual salary increases. If similar increases are occurring across the 260-270 general education teachers, then it would fully explain the netting effect of reduction in teachers versus salary increases and why the total decrease is only $91,344. You asked a great question that really got me thinking about the data.
GCBob March 01, 2013 at 07:53 AM
Ellen, thanks for your insight into this matter. Salary coupled with automatic step increases, whatever they are, is probably the reason behind the low reduction numbers. Another question, who are the so called non- personnel? If you read the papers recently it would seem that the county will again have to provide tax refunds, by court order, meaning that the money allocated in the budget for this purpose may not be necessary. I am looking to see a reduction in budget to budget and levy to levy increases along with their effects on property tax increases.
Ellen Subramaniam March 01, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Bob - From the detailed budget, it looks like there is a propsed reduction of extra curricular stipends totalling $183K. The next largest propsed reduction appears to be in BOCES career and technical education of $102K. It is unclear what cuts will actually happen at this stage in the budget discussions. I also saw the reversal of the tax refund issue, but I think it is still unclear whether the decision might be reversed back again in a higher appeals court. It would be great if the district had the extra $1.4 million. I am not sure the Board would decide to apply this to reduce taxes or reinstate teachers/programs - probably some combination of both.
GCBob March 01, 2013 at 06:07 PM
Ellen- It's going to take sometime for the appeal to be heard by a higher court, if at all. In the mean time I vote for a reduction in taxes.

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