A special committee created by the New Rochelle Board of Education on a pilot basis made its report last night on a series of recommendations to reduce costs, reallocate money in the budget and improve transparency in the budget document.
The Citizen Advisory Committee delivered a detailed 24-page report and summarized their findings in a Powerpoint presentation to the board which was recorded for later broadcast on local cable access channels and the district web site.
The report included a rather startling finding that the school district is paying hourly workers such as lunchroom monitors and general school aides well above the prevailing wage in Westchester County. Hourly security workers, for example, are paid $20.48 in New Rochelle. Their counterparts in Mount Vernon are paid $10.00 per hour. Monitors are paid $19.45 in New Rochelle. Monitors in Mamaroneck are paid $16.48.
Compounding this is the massive amount of hours accrued by these hourly workers -- over 300,000 hours, according to the committee which had access to data from the school district. Using simple math, the committee found that bringing the New Rochelle pay scale inline with surrounding districts would save millions of dollars a year.
The report identified a number of areas where the school budget document presented to voters each May could more transparently identify funds tucked away in various line items in the budget.
In one example from the report, the budget document does not include a line item for tax certiorari payments despite the large amounts of money involved. Between the 2005-06 and 2010-11 school year, the district has paid out $15 million in tax certiorari claims, refunds on property taxes, none of which has been reflected in the budget. As the money was paid by the district, this indicates that, on average, more than $2.5 million a year has been set aside for tax certiorari payments but hidden elsewhere in the budget.
One recommendation will surely interest every parent in the district -- adding a section on class size to the budget. The report cited a section of the Mamaroneck school budget which presents a highly detailed breakdown of class size in every school at every grade level.
One of the key recommendations coming out of the report is a shift to actual-to-budget budgeting. In the current system, the district bases the current year budget on the previous year's budget not what is actually spent. When money is not spent on a particular line item in the budget, the next year's budget ignores that and pretends that it has been spent. The cumulative effect over time is to dramatically inflate various line items in the budget regardless of whether the money is being spent, causing distortions in how spending plans are being reported, the report says.
The Citizen Advisory Committee was compromised for four "citizen" members -- Adam Egelberg, Ed Ackerman, Mary Monzon and Suyen Taylor -- and chaired by board member David Lacher. New Rochelle schools treasurer Carol Amorello served as District Liason and New Rochelle Board of Education Vice President Jeffrey Hastie served on the committee on an ex-officio basis.
Adam Egelberg, Ed Ackerman and Suyen Taylor presented the Committee's findings to the board.
Egelberg spoke about cost savings ideas. Ackerman spoke about presentation issues with the budget and ideas for greater transparency.
In her remarks to the board, Taylor proposed a series of next steps including graduating from pilot program to permanent standing committee, expanding committee membership to include one person from each of the six elementary school districts and creating opportunities for community input including town hall meetings.
The Committee was put together on short notice after New Rochelle Board of Education President Chrisanne Petrone, who called the creation of the committee a "labor of love", brought the idea forward at a board meeting six weeks ago. The Committee met for four weeks and completed their work last night.
EDITOR'S NOTE: we will post the video and the PPT presentation here when they become available.