At the “budget workshop” otherwise known as the school board meeting under another name, there was some confused looks around the room when John Quinn told board members that the money indicated in the 2009-10 column of the budget is not what the district is planning to spend in 2009-10 but rather what the district was in the midst of spending this year. Quinn said this approach was standard accounting. I cannot imagine that even the New Rochelle School District would not follow standard accounting practice.
To try to understand this, I called the folks at NYSED to get clarification and they pointed me to this page
I am not an accountant and this sort of stuff makes my head hurt so maybe some bright, motivated reader will take a look and see if they help the rest of us understand why the school district presents its budget this way.
In either case, how do we find out what we thought we were learning by reading the budget — how much is the district going to be spending during 2009-10 on salaries and benefits (and everything else)? In my day of learning about school budgets — reading, interviews with government officials in New Rochelle and Albany, etc. — I came away with two initial conclusions.
(1) There is absolutely no justification for the -1.42 assumption for assessments in the preliminary budget and that is going to need to change if the budget is going to be taken seriously. The district is going to be foolish to keep this assumption and I can assure you that it is drum we will pound all day long to great effect until a more realistic assumption is plugged in there. This was already evident at the recent budget meeting when twice as many people showed up including a good number of our readers. After the meeting several City Council members expressed support for the point I was making and agreed that the revenue assumptions were totally unrealistic. In fact, one made the point that the numbers are going to be even worse due to some technical issues that I do not understand having to do with commercial assessments. What makes the revenue assumption even more bizarre is Quinn calling the number “conservative” and absolving himself from its absurdity by saying he got it from the city. We do not need this sort of finger-pointing we need a reality-check on the school board.
2) That due to the Triboro provision under the Taylor law, salaries are going to go up even if there is a freeze due to steps which will, as I understand New Rochelle, cause 1/3 of union employees to get a raise even if regular salaries increases are frozen. The budget document does not actually indicate anything about next year’s salaries (or anything else) because what appears to the layperson to describe spending next year is actually describing the expected spending this year. The only reasonable conclusion is that there is money hidden in codes in the budget. The is actually a good thing in that it would address some of the anger that is starting to building about the school budget since it is a smart negotiating strategy with the unions.
What Quinn appears to be doing with stashing money away in the codes is actually better than David Lacher said about not spending all the money they get approved by the voters because if Mr. Quinn is discreet about how much money is hidden in the budget (and not betrayed by people with access to that information) then the union does not have a sense of how much the district has in its pocket. I get some comfort from talks with people in Albany earlier today that the push back on teachers salaries is statewide and that unions know they are going to have deal with a very different environment. At the same time, New Rochelle is really the Rorschach test for dim-witted, out-of-touch leadership in New York State and no stupid thing is too stupid in the City School District of New Rochelle.