New Rochelle School Union President "At A Loss" on Dismal Budget Situation

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- F.U.S.E. President Martin Daly, the union that represents the majority of the employees of the New Rochelle Board of Education put out a newsletter to members today with regard to the preliminary 2013-14 budget.

Daly opened a "Dear Colleagues" on a down note.

"When it comes to the school budget and its impact on our members," said Daly, "and more importantly on our students, I find I am more and more at a loss"

Daly went onto to decry requirements placed on union members that "discourage, dishearten and disillusion the district’s dedicated and skillful staff".

The entire newsletter follows:

News & Updates
March 18, 2013

Dear Colleagues –

Good morning!
Last week was a busy week in the school district – there were two “Budget Review” meetings to examine the preliminary budget for the 2013-2014 school year. It is difficult to find a “bright side” to these discussions.

Despite the fact that the Board is reviewing a budget that actually increases spending next year by more than three million dollars, escalating expenses (particularly the mandated contribution to the Teachers’ Retirement System), reductions in state aid (state aid projections, while stable compared to last year is approximately three million dollars less than in 2009 – 2010 school year), and the limits placed on local districts to raise revenue by the “tax levy cap” law have resulted with the administration presenting a preliminary spending plan which, once again, includes further cuts in spending and reductions in staffing tin order to balance the budget.

These latest rounds of proposed cuts, coming after several years of belt tightening and layoffs, coupled with the anxiety many staff members feel about the new APPR plan, the continued emphasis on high stakes testing and relentless increase on the demands on staff members’ time for the alphabet soup of initiatives such as AIS, RTI, PBIS and more all combine to discourage, dishearten and disillusion the district’s dedicated and skillful staff.

What makes this especially difficult – and frustrating – is that this is not just a New Rochelle problem – school districts across the state are struggling to meet their expenses and provide quality programs to their students but are facing cuts and layoffs due to decisions made by the Governor and the Legislature and mandates put forward by the State Education Department. Our school board – and many others around the state – has their hands tied b state aid cuts, increased regulations and overbearing laws and expensive mandate.

I am usually an optimist, and can almost always find signs of hope or good news in almost any situation – but when it comes to the school budget and its impact on our members, and more importantly on our students, I find I am more and more at a loss.
I have a few suggestions at the end of this update about actions members can take to encourage the state to live up to its commitment to provide increases in order to fully fund schools that are sponsored by our state union, NYSUT.

I am sorry to start off this update on a such a down note – at least Spring comes later this week, and next week is a well deserved – and much needed week off! Those are things to celebrate!

If you’re still reading –here are some of the details of what was happening around the district this week . . . .

Budget Updates

This week there were two “Budget Review” meetings at NRHS. Members of the administration made detailed presentations to the Board and to the community regarding the 2013-2014 spending plan. As I wrote above, the news was not encouraging. The powerpoint presentations are posted on the district’s website and I have included a link to them at the end of this article.

The proposed budget includes a “budget to budget” increase of 1.69%, or almost four million dollars over last year’s budget. The total budget for next year is set at $238,139,629. This increase reflects tax levy increase of 3.15%. The levy increase exceeds the tax cap because certain expenses, including a portion of the TRS contribution increase is exempt from the cap. The tax rate for next year is 4.49%.

However, the increase in the budget is outweighed by the increases in expenses that all school districts across the state are facing.

The dramatic increases in the district’s state mandated contribution to the Teacher’s Retirement Fund of over four million dollars, as well as smaller but significant increases to the Employees’ Retirement System, health insurance premiums, and negotiated increases to staff members’ salaries are all taking their toll on the district’s budget. Compounding the problem, as has been noted before, is the Governor’s “tax levy cap” that severely restricts school districts’ ability to raise funds needed to offset these increased costs.

The tax levy cap prohibits districts from increasing the tax levy – that is the amount of dollars raised – by more than 2% over the previous years, with a few exemptions for certain categories of expenses. Districts may choose to “override” the cap, but that can only be accomplished by a 60% vote. This requirement that a “supermajority” must pass any budget over the 2% tax cap is the root of the union’s (NYSUT) court case against the Governor, claiming that, among other things, the requirement violates the “one person one vote” principle enshrined in the Constitution. I have attached links to two articles about the tax-cap lawsuit at the end of this article.

Given all of these dismal facts, the administration is faced with another year of recommending spending cuts and staff reductions in order to put together a budget for the upcoming school year.

Before going forward and looking at specific numbers for and categories for job cuts, it is worth repeating something that was said at both of the Budget Review meetings last week – the budget is a work in progress. Though the broad outlines of the budget are in place, decisions that are being reviewed at these meetings are based only on the information that is available now. New information – state aid restoration, enrollment figures, additional retirements or resignations – could change some of the previously announced reductions or spending cuts.

The Board was presented with a budget plan that includes approximately 56 staff reductions. Though the general categories for the reductions was noted, the Assistant Superintendents each made clear that they were not prepared to identify specific positions, departments, or buildings where the cuts would fall until later in the process when more information would be available to guide those difficult decisions.

The preliminary budget proposes cutting 8 high school teachers, 9 middle school teachers, 14 elementary school teachers, 3 administrators, 4 “pupil; services” positions, 6 teaching assistants, 3 custodial employees and 8.5 clerical employees.

These cuts would save the district over five million dollars. There is no doubt, however, that cuts on this scale combined with the cuts and reductions made in previous years could only have a negative effect on the educational program offered to children next year. Larger classes, fewer electives, limited ability to counseling, social services or nursing services to students in need, buildings and grounds which are less well maintained, and a less well run, efficient district are all consequences of the continued reductions in staff.

The Board seemed to understand this and their questions and comments seemed focused on finding ways to reduce the budget without the loss of so many positions. Parents at each of the review sessions also stated forcefully that they wanted to see favorable class sizes as a top priority of the Board.

FUSE Vice President Billy Coleman took the opportunity during the “open comment” period of the meeting on Thursday to remind staff of the significant, yet often overlooked, role that our SRP members play in the school district. While acknowledging that the primary function of the school district is educating children in classrooms, Billy detailed the essential contributions nurses, secretaries, General School Aides, cafeteria workers, mechanics, tradesmen and B&G employees make in insuring that our schools are safe, well run and decent places for learning to take place.

Now that the preliminary budget has been presented to the Board and the community, and the Board has reviewed the spending plan and listened to community input, t it is likely that there will be some changes made over the next few weeks in an effort to mitigate some of the more negative consequences of the preliminary budget. It is hoped that there will be some increases in state aid which will be part of the State Budget adopted on or before April 1 by the legislature. It is also likely that the Board will look for some other cost savings measures that will offset the need to eliminate jobs and maintain favorable class sizes.

The next step in the budget calendar will be on April 3 when the Board, by law, must adopt a budget and approve a resolution for the budget vote and Board election to take place on May 21.

Links to the School District’s Budget Presentations: (also available on district’s website)

Budget Overview Presentation
Instruction Overview
Support Overview

Tax Cap Article

Seniority Lists

All FUSE building Reps have received a copy of the draft pedagogic seniority lists. Please remember that the lists are a draft – there have already been several adjustments made, which will be seen in the final draft to be distributed in earlt April.

If you are not on the list, or you believe that your seniority is inaccurately recorded – and this is especially important for the newer members of the faculty -- please notify the Personnel Office by phone or email.

The seniority lists for SRP staff members has been promised to be available by the end of this week.

The following information is from NYSUT and is some information on how seniority is calculated for teachers and teaching assistants:

The courts and the Commissioner of Education have defined seniority in terms of length of actual paid service within a tenure area to a school district. The first criterion for determining seniority is the actual full-time service rendered within the tenure area.

Seniority is calculated from the day of the teacher’s first probationary appointment. When two teachers have equal seniority and the same appointment date, the more senior teacher is the one whose appointment occurred first. If both teachers were appointed in the same resolution, a school district may use any other reasonable method to establish seniority, including factors such as the dates on which an employment agreement was signed or returned, and also may consider the salaries of the employees. These factors are termed “seniority tiebreakers” and must be reasonable and non- discriminatory. I

Layoffs

It is my understanding that the district would like to notify all staff members who may be laid off next year due to staff reductions as a result of budget cuts shortly after we return from to the spring break, once the Board adopts the “proposed budget” which will be put to the voters on May 21.

As I mentioned above, the “preliminary budget” is a work in progress. It is strongly hoped that there will be fewer than the 56 layoffs predicted by the time the budget is adopted by the Board in April. Nonetheless, though the number of positions being eliminated may be reduced, there still will be, unfortunately, positions abolished and the need to lay off some members.

Please not that this is different from administrators notifying probationary staff that their probationary appointment will be discontinued next year. A “lay off” brings with it placement on the “preferred eligible list” and the potential of being recalled to service in New Rochelle.

Discontinuing a person’s probationary appointment ends a person’s employment in the district. There is no “preferred eligible list” placement. Probationary staff should be notified of the decision to grant tenure, continue the probationary appointment, or discontinue their probationary appointment no later than May 1, or April 15 if this is the member’s “tenure year.”

Process for Selecting a New Principal

As most members are aware four principals in the school district will be retiring at the end of the school year. Even before we say good bye to our colleagues, the process to select their successors has already begun. The positions have been posted on the On Line Application System for Educators (OLAS) and advertised in the New York Times since last week, and the district has already received applications for each vacancy. The deadline for submitting an application is April 5.

Once the application deadline has passed the applications, resumes, certifications and references will be reviewed by the Superintendent, the Director of Human Resources and the Assistant Superintendents. This review will result in 10 - 12 applicants for each position being selected to move on to an interview with the School Based Screening Committee.

The School Based Screening committee is composed of teachers and staff members, PTA representatives along with a representative of the FUSE as well as the Administrative & Supervisory Association, (A & S). Members of the committee are chosen by the Director of Human Resources based on recommendations form the FUSE, the PTA and the A&S. Each committee will consist of about 10 people.

The School Based Screening committee will send approximately four candidates to the next round of interviews with the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendents at City Hall. From these interviews, two or maybe three candidates will be interviewed by the Board of Education who will make the final decision on which candidates will be hired by the school district.

It is hoped to have the process complete for all four buildings by the close of the school year.

Take Action . . .

Tell Legislators to make sure schools are fully funded and to encourage them to adopt responsible “pension smoothing” legislation that will provide relief for school districts.

Go to the NYSUT Member Action Center and send a fax or letter (electronically) to your state legislators. https://mac.nysut.org/

NYSUT Tell It Like It Is Campaign
Stop the obsession with standardized testing!
Invest in student learning, not testing!
Devote time and resources to getting evaluations and common core right!
At every opportunity, NYSUT reiterates this message to education policymakers. Now you can add your individual voice about your students, school, district or campus.

Use the NYSUT-developed email form to speak up and speak out to the State Education Commissioner and Board of Regents. Tell them:

How current teaching and learning conditions and obsession with testing impacts your students' success.
What needs to be done to get student assessment and teacher evaluation right.
Share your solutions from the front lines of education!

Go to the link at http://salsa.democracyinaction.org

Upcoming Events :
March 20 – Meet NYSUT Officers
There are still some tickets available for the meeting with NYSUT officers at Westchester Community College at 5:00. Please call or email me if you are interested in attending.

May 2 – FUSE Party at the Beckwith

May 18 – 5K Solidarity Race for Hurricane Sandy Relief
Call or email me if you would like information or want to be part of this event sponsored by NYSUT locals from the Westchester-Rockland Region

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Burzum (not verified) on Wed, 04/03/2013 - 19:10

With the amount of money I pay in school taxes there should be a surplus of funds.

Let's start by getting rid of all of the out of area students, then downsizing the staff to meet the needs of the newer, smaller student body.

Tom Jeferstahl on Tue, 03/19/2013 - 23:17

are due to Employee benefits. The health insurance increases are due to Obamacare which the teachers unions backed. Contributions to retirement plans and contractual raises and benefits. I fail to see how any of this has to do with education. Vouchers are the only solution to this cancer.

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