Mam’k Schools Community Meeting

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Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Shaps presented the outlook for 2011-2012 — outlining “’10-’11 Programs at ’11-’12 Prices” — followed by small group discussions facilitated by members of the District’s newly-formed Citizens Budget Advisory Committee.   This took place Tuesday night. Both community members and the Administration expressed similar goals of maintaining the District’s framework for academic excellence while further implementing efficiencies, looking for multi-year solutions and keeping the tax rate increase as low as possible.

In the student forum, Board members discuss budget cuts with students. photo: Bryce Loebel

The group of about 130 parents and community members discussed this year’s unique challenges, including the impact the Governor’s proposed two percent property tax cap  would have on our school district.  To give the community an idea of what the budget would look like under a two percent tax cap scenario, the District made projections for this year (although the tax cap would not take effect until the 2012-2013 school year).    Without any changes to current programs or staffing commitments, a two percent property tax cap would require the district to reduce expenditures or increase revenues by an additional $4 million beyond the $2.2 million permitted under the tax cap.

“The idea of presenting figures based on next year’s budget is to help the community understand what our budget would look like within the context of a two percent tax cap,” Dr. Shaps said.  He explained that under a two percent tax cap nearly all of the permitted tax levy ($1.9 million of the $2.2 million) would be taken up by the state-mandated pension contributions increase.   On top of the pension contributions increase of 28% from this year to next year, the District must still fund other contractual and/or mandated increases such as  employee salary increases, a 14% increase in contractual healthcare expenses and debt service increases.

The proposed two percent property tax cap was passed by the Senate last week.  Assemblyman George Latimer, who was on hand to hear community feedback and participate in discussion, indicated that an Assembly vote will most likely take place by mid-spring and that there will likely be a public hearing and full discussion prior to the vote.

“We’re very happy to have members of our Citizens Budget Advisory Committee here tonight to help guide discussions,” Dr. Shaps said.  “This is a highly invested group of community representatives that has taken the time to learn about our budget.  They’ve gained full knowledge of the challenges we face, including further state aid reductions and the potential of working under a capped property tax formula, and are actively involved in trying to seek multi-year budgetary strategies and solutions.  I thank them for being here.”

Dr. Shaps provided a 5-year history of budget-to-budget increases and reminded the community that the budget voters approved last May reflected the lowest tax rate increase in more than 40 years (2.08%).  He noted that the District has eliminated 86 positions over the past two years.

“As a new superintendent, I have the opportunity to introduce some new ideas and do some things differently,” Dr. Shaps said.  “This year, in addition to establishing a Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, I have initiated discussions with the unions to understand the collective bargaining agreement challenges.  I am working with the Board and the CBAC to develop multi-year financial models and implement a sound, consistent model for evaluating the effectiveness of programs to determine potential areas of efficiency in delivery of services across the board.”

Dr. Shaps has met multiple times to discuss budgetary issues with each of the principals of the six Mamaroneck Schools (four elementary, middle school and high school) and the directors of every department within the district. “In the end, it’s going to be about making tough choices,” Dr. Shaps said.

Attendees at last night’s meeting broke into small groups to simultaneously explore  three  guiding questions and consider various budget options.  During their discussions, they were encouraged to come to a consensus if possible and then report out to the bigger group afterwards.

The groups unanimously reported that maintaining the schools’ academic excellence was a top priority.  Many of the groups reported the opinion that both short-term temporary budget reductions were necessary until the economy recovers, as well as thinking about long-term structural changes that would result in smaller annual budget increases.

“To be in a position to provide informed input to the planning process, the community should learn the picture of the financial situation over the next several years,” said CBAC member Clarence Schwab.

One of the attendees serving as a spokesperson for his group remarked, “It’s time we turn our attention to Albany.  We need to make our voices heard so meaningful change can happen.”

Dr. Shaps says that the District is committed to keeping the tax rate increase to a level the community is willing to support, despite the immense challenges resulting from double-digit increases in mandated pension costs and healthcare expenses.

“We are committed to focusing our resources on student achievement and continuing to seek efficiencies wherever possible,” Dr Shaps said. “I think community members want to support our schools as long as they see evidence of their tax dollars at work – evidence that we’re providing the highest level of service possible at the most efficient cost.”

Future Budget-Related Meetings

Board Meetings for the general community, focused on the 2011-12 Budget include:

  • Tuesday, March 15, 2011, 7:30 p.m. MHS Tiered Classroom – Superintendent’s Proposed Budget
  • Saturday, March 19, 2011, 9:00 a.m. MHS Tiered Classroom – Line-by-line Budget Review
  • Tuesday, March 29, 2011, 7:30 p.m. MHS Library Classroom – CBAC Discussion with the Board

Submitted by Debbie Manetta, Director of Public Information, Mamaroneck School District

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