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New Rochelle Board of Education Sets First Public Budget Meeting for March 4th

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New Rochelle Board of Education Sets First Public Budget Meeting for March 4th

February 09, 2009 - 15:02

At the School Board Meeting last week Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak announced that the first public budget meeting will take place on March 4th. Details were not announced and no drafts of the upcoming budget have been made available to the public. The school budget vote takes places on May 19th.

UPDATE: The School District released the schedule a short while ago

Wednesday March 4, 2009 8:15 PM
Location: New Rochelle High School Library
Community discussion is invited

Tuesday March 10, 2009 8:00 PM
Location: Carew Room on 2nd Floor at City Hall
Budget Review Session (General Support Areas)
Community discussion is invited

Tuesday March 17, 2009 8:00 PM
Location: Carew Room on 2nd Floor at City Hall
Budget Review Session (Elementary and Secondary Education, Pupil Services, Medical, Guidance and Special Education)
Community discussion is invited

In New York State, if a school budget is defeated, school officials decide whether to make changes or re-submit the rejected budget. If the budget fails a second time, the district is required to adopt a budget based on a state formula which generally results in an increase in spending and taxes anyway. School budget votes then are not a decision on whether or not to fund the public schools but more a confidence vote in the leadership of the district which proposed the original budget.

For school board members and district officials the campaign is already in full swing. Gatherings of parents at New Rochelle schools have been turned into massive get-out-the vote efforts: as students sing and dance on stage, voter registration forms are distributed by school officials, school officials prod parents to tell their friends and neighbors to get out and vote for the budget, parents of young children are promised free, full-day Kindergarten but only if the budget passes "as is".

The New Rochelle School District has been making the same empty promises of full-day Kindergarten for more than a decade and failed to implement such a program even when the District's coffers were overflowing in recent economic boom times. Now, with the State pressing down on the District to implement "Full-Day K" it suddenly turns out that Full-Day K can not only be implemented but implemented to no additional cost. The District is claiming all at once that Full-Day K is soon to be a state mandate and so there is no choice, that it is revenue neutral because transportation costs will go down and that no new teachers need to be hired and telling parents of 4 and 5 year old children that their kids will only get Full-Day K if the budget is passed on May 19th. Which is it? Taken together, obviously, none of this adds up. If it were true that the school could double the amount of services being offered to parents of young children and at a lower cost then why has the district never implemented this supposedly cheaper yet more comprehensive program? If the State is forcing the District to implement Full-Day K then what is there even to discuss - it is another unfunded mandate from the State that must be done. If the State is the one pushing so hard for Full-Day K and the State will take over the budget process if the 5/19 budget does not pass then what possible risk is there that the State will cut a program they are seeking to mandate under a budget prepared by the State. Clearly, New Rochelle will be offering Full-Day K regardless of whether the budget passes in May.

The District claims that it will not need to hire new teachers or add additional space because the current Kindergarten classes already have multiple teachers in the classroom and the rooms can be walled off or otherwise divided so new space is needed. Of course, if this is accurate, that raises a different question - why has the District had all these extra teachers and classrooms laying around for the past few years. By going from half-day to full-day K, the District is, in effect, doubling the amount of students served on a full-time equivalent basis. But will doubling the amount of services result in a 1:1 increase in students showing up in September? Has the District factored in increased demand from two overlapping sources - parents who wish to place their child in a full-day program and would have done so by enrolling their child in a private program had not the District offered free Full-Day K and those parents who would have placed their children in private or parochial school for educational or religious reasons but cannot bear the expense due to the current economic environment.

District officials expect a tough fight on the budget as other school spending initiatives have met with resistance. In December, a bond for sports fields in Irvington was voted down and another sports-related initiative in Mamaroneck is coming down to the wire. A vote will be held in New Rochelle's neighbor to the north this week - on February 13th.

Long-time school budget watchers know that this spring is the 10th anniversary of the infamous school budget blood-bath which took place in the Spring of 1999. The last time the U.S. economy headed into a recession, seven school districts in Westchester saw their budgets rejected by voters - up more than 300% from the previous year. New Rochelle was joined by Katonah-Lewisboro, Mount Vernon, Valhalla, Greenburgh, Tuckahoe and North Salem in seeing their school budgets turned down by voters (out of 27 districts in Westchester that held school budget votes).

The argument for passing the budget from school officials today will sound remarkably familiar to those listening back then - the district claims it needs more money due to mandated school programs, decreasing state aid and growing student populations. In 1999, the New Rochelle school district had surpassed 10,000 students for the first time, Linda Kelly was Superintendent and the school budget was about half what it is today. The New York Times wrote:

In May, the district's $124.4 million budget was turned back. It was resubmitted on June 18 -- "as it was because there was no fat to cut," Ms. Kelly said -- and passed, signaling an 8.8 percent tax increase.

Today, we have a different Superintendent, a far larger budget but the same old District playbook.