Incumbents David Lacher and Chrisanne Petrone are running unopposed for the New Rochelle Board of Education.
The proposed school district budget for the 2012-2013 school year is $234,174,978, an increase of 1.43% on a budget to budget basis with a projected tax rate increase of approximately 4.13%. The actual tax rate is determined in the fall when the city’s tax roll is set.
Incumbents Haina Just-Michael and Bernardo Nunez are running unopposed for the New Rochelle Public Library Board of Trustees.
The proposed library budget is $4,468,996 based on a 2.2% in the tax levy for New Rochelle residents. This translates to an increase of $93,209 in the tax levy. The increase is below the New York State property tax cap.
The 2012 School Budget newsletter was mailed out last week and all residents should have received a copy. The newsletter contains information required to be shared with voters under New York State law. The budget referendum will take place tomorrow, May 15th. The newsletter contains information on polling places in New Rochelle.
If you did not receive a copy you can download a PDF: New Rochelle Board of Education 2012 Budget Newsletter
My personal views on the budget are already known: My Remarks at the New Rochelle School Budget Public Hearing -- Resolving the Conflict Between the CAC Report and Tax Stabilization. I am willing to support this year's budget with the understanding that the work of the Citizen Advisory Committee will continue and that there will be a good-faith effort to implement all feasible ideas recommended by the committee.
What I don't like is habit of the administration, school board and PTA to mislead the public in their pre-school vote communications. It is unnecessary and disrespectful to voters and the larger community. I would take issue with a few claims made by the administration in the newsletter.
1. Cost-Efficient - "Compared to all school districts in Westchester and Putnam Counties, New Rochelle has consistently been recognized as one of the most cost efficient in total expenditures for per pupil spending by ranking 42nd out of 46 districts in the most recent report from 2010-2011."
This is like comparing my in-law's driving to my driving and concluding that because I am a better driver than the two of them I ought to be racing in the Indianapolis 500. Just because I am better than some very bad drivers does not make me "one of the best" drivers.
While it may be the case that New Rochelle is ranked #42 our of 46 in "total expenditures for per pupil spending", this claim is only meaningful if some or all public school districts in Westchester and Putnam Counties are cost efficient. If none of them are cost-efficient than being #42 only means that New Rochelle is the least inefficient. Even that assumes too much because that assumes that "total expenditures for per pupil spending" is a useful measure of cost-efficiency. Talk of the Sound has reported on many examples of waste, fraud and abuse in the New Rochelle school system that would suggest that the district is something other than cost-efficient. If you think that public school systems are efficient than this claim would be a good reason to believe the New Rochelle school district is "most cost efficient". I have met very few people who believe that public school systems in New York are cost-effecient.
2. Contingency - "If the budget is voted down and the district operates under a contingency budget, $3,877,773 would have to be removed from the proposed budget. This would result in the reduction of equipment, community use of buildings and grounds, certain student supplies, and additional staff positions, and reduction in many non-mandated expenses."
This -- "If the budget is voted down and the district operates under a contingency budget…" -- is classic district double-speak, accurate but misleading. If the budget referendum does not pass tomorrow, there is a second vote in June. You are meant to understand that if the budget does not pass tomorrow the contingency budget will come into effect. This is not the case. The board could choose to go to a contingency budget but that is absolutely never going to happen. Instead the board can resubmit the same budget and just work harder to turn out the "yes" vote or make changes to win more support.
You have to wade deeper into the newsletter to get an accurate picture of what is going on here but this statement on the cover is intentionally misleading, in my view. The newsletter repeatedly refers to a budget vote on May 15th and then talks about what happens if the proposed budget does not pass on May 15th and tries to suggest that if the voters reject the budget on May 15th the district will lose over $3.8 million dollars. The head of the Special Education PTA made this exact (false) claim during the budget hearing and Mr. Quinn, the Assistant Superintendent of Business Affairs, has made similar-sounding statements to this effect.
When you look inside the newsletter, on page 3 there is section with the bold, all caps headline "WHAT HAPPENS IF THE BUDGET DOES NOT PASS?" and beneath it several bullet points and a sentence in bold letters The bullet points state that if the budget does not pass there will be a "Loss of programs and further loss of staff", "Jeopardizing cultural, sports and after-school programs as well as community use of school buildings and grounds" and "No purchase of new equipment". The final sentence reads "The difference between the proposed budget and a contingency budget is $3,877,773.
Nested within the regular font, lower case paragraph are the key, accurate facts the budget vote process:
If the budget does not pass on the second vote, the Board must adopt a contingency budget. Under the new state legislation, a contingency budget means that districts must hold their tax levies to the same amount as the current school year - this means a 0% increase in the tax levy for 2012-13.
The contrast in font size, formatting and the use of lowercase letters suggests that this is what the district does not want residents to know -- that if the budget does not pass on May 15th there will be a second vote in June. So that it is quite possible. maybe even likely, that if the budget is defeated on May 15th there will still not be a contingency budget. This is important because some supporters of the Citizen Advisory Committee have promoted the idea that voters should reject the budget on the grounds that the administration did not incorporate the cost-savings measures described in the CAC report into the 2012-13 budget. The idea being floated within the community is that residents should vote "no" in May and then offer to vote "yes" in June if the CAC recommendations are incorporated into a revised budget.
What they really don't want voters to know is that if the budget is voted down twice and the district is forced to adopt a contingency budget that under the new tax levy cap law "districts must hold their tax levies to the same amount as the current school year -- this means a 0% increase in the tax levy for 2012-13. The tax levy in the proposed budget is $3,877,773 higher and so the district would be denied these additional funds. This is a radical change from past years where contingency budgets were based on a formula of inflation and past budget increases. In recent years the district has proposed budgets where the taxes would go up less if the district's budget was approved than if it was defeated. That is no longer the case and possible the most worrying aspect of the new law from the administration's perspective.
3. Lowest Increase - "The proposed budget is an increase of 1.43%, the lowest budget increase in 13 years." Yes, but not every year has seen a budget increase. In 2009 the budget was actually decreased by over $4 million. What they are trying to convey is that this is best the district has done in 13 years in keeping the budget under control when in reality this budget is increasing by about $3.3 million instead of dropping by $4 million or more than $7 million worse than the "best" year.
It reminds of a basketball coach who was asked "What does it tell you that your time has one 10 of the last 12 games?" He answered, "it tells me that I lost the 13th game. In other words it is not just what you count but how you count.
4. PTA Support of the Budget - There have been numerous misstatements about PTA support for the budget. It is the policy of the PTA across the state that a PTA cannot claim that the PTA supported a budget unless they held a general canvass of all PTA members. If it is only the executive committee which voted, the PTA can only state that the executive board of the PTA supports the budget not the entire PTA. I am not aware of any school PTAs that held a general canvass of their members yet several PTA presidents made statements at the budget hearing that they entire PTA had voted to approve the budget when it was only the executive committee. Several schools did not make any statement. The PTA Council stated that since a majority of the PTAs support the budget the PTA Council supported the budget when only the executive boards voted to support the budget.
5. An Investment Paying Off - In 2011, "more than 880" students tested in Advanced Placement exams in 26 different AP classes. I asked about this and was told by the district that "more than 880" is 881 and that as some students took multiple AP tests "it is not 881 unique students but rather 881 students took AP tests last year". In other words the district admits that it was not 811 students who took AP exams last but some lower figure -- perhaps 600 to 700 students - because a good number of students took AP exams in more than one subject but the district still insists that even though it is not 881 students it is 881 students.
After going around in circles on this one I proposed considering the question as if it were an AP Math Exam question.
1. The College Boards offers AP exams in 26 subjects and students can take up to four exams in a school year. At Springfield High this year, 500 students took one AP exam, 100 students took two AP exams, 50 students took three AP exams and 10 took four AP exams. How many students took AP exams at Springfield High this year?
D) cannot be determined from the information given.
The correct answer is "B". The district agrees that the correct answer is "B" but asserts that the way to calculate the correct answer is to apply the method which gives answer "C" [500 x 1 + 100 x 2 + 50 x 3 and 10 x 4 = n].
When I explained this and requested a correction I was told that "Anyone who knows or cares is well aware that there are less than 880 students in the class and could reasonably draw the conclusion that there are kids who took multiple tests. You may not like how it is worded or presented but it does not warrant a correction because it is accurate. I wasn't answering a multiple choice exam in the newsletter so my ability to answer your question correct and to present the information in that way are not mutually exclusive."
This is an odd position for the district to take.
First, why should any voter have to "reasonably draw the conclusion"? Why should a voter have to infer or deduce information from this legally required mailer. How about good old plain English? Isn't the best communication the simplest?
Second, what does "anyone who knows or cares" mean? Is that the new standard? How about they just be accurate for the sake of bring accurate? How about being accurate because they are required by New York State law to be accurate? How about being accurate so that when they make other claims such as 96% of the Class of 2011 is continuing on to post-secondary education that figure is also deemed credible?
Third, the district says that since "anyone who knows or cares" knows that in a given class (emphasis added) at the high school there is less than 880 students it is reasonable to expect people to do the math and figure out that there are kids who took multiple tests. Even if we were pretend this made sense, it would only apply if a "given class" meant a senior class. It is true that the senior class this year has less than 880 students but students in other grades takes AP classes at New Rochelle High School, all the way down to 10th grade or three-quarters of the student population of 3,500 students which is far more than 880 students. The district's position on this is entirely inaccurate. No one can make any valid inference from 880 that it is meant to include students who took more than one exam because students in three grades, over 2,000 students, may be taking the tests not just 750 or so in the senior class.
6. Improvements - There are no references to the Newsweek rankings or the school's being national ranked which is good since New Rochelle High School is not ranked by U.S. News & World Report and the board voted to refuse to cooperate with Newsweek in 2009.