BUDGET ALERT: An Open Letter from Former Board Member Martin Sanchez the New Rochelle Board Of Education on the 2010-11 Budget

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REMINDER: The 2010-11 New Rochelle School Budget will be released at 7:00 PM on Feb 11th at at the “School Budget Community Input Forum” which will be held at the New Rochelle High School library (enter the building through the teachers parking lot off of 265 Clove Road).

Don’t shout at the waves. If you care, come! If you want to be heard, speak up! If you want accountability, you have to demand it!

OPEN LETTER

—–Original Message—–
From: Martin Sanchez
To: Richard ORGANISCIAK; Sara Richmond; Jeffrey Hastie; Jerome Smith; David Lacher; Deirdre Polow; cindybabcock; Chrisanne Petrone; Quay Watkins; Liz Saraiva
Sent: Wed, Feb 3, 2010 7:04 pm
Subject: school budget

For your consideration – see you all next week

In an ever increasing difficult time, our schools need to work with less without impacting learning. Sounds horrific to think about, but given the times we live in, we must have the courage to take steps that would alleviate tax payer concerns, but more importantly give the community some sense that the Board of Education is really doing something tangible to make a difference. The budget review should not be a monologue that continuously dismisses public input. It should be a democratic process that evolves over time and is meaningful. The bulk of the budget discussion should involve small group discussions amongst community folks seated around tables, responding to specific options perhaps initiated by the Board president. The entire group should have break out sessions, discuss specific issues (Instructional personnel, non-instructional personnel and miscellaneous stuff). They should reconvene and each group should represent summaries of their discussions. From here we should get a better a sense of what the community needs to do and how it can help the Board. To argue in a vacuum and pretend you operate in a silo will not help you. I realize you may think this is too much to ask, but the Board needs help.

The budget is huge. The budget can be more reasonably tolerated, but the way it is presented, it obfuscates how things really work; who does what and how much does it really cost. We have been over the years not been very transparent with our community. I know this to be true and all you know this as well.

I offer some suggestions below because I know your are gripped by a union that refuses to be reasonable and see things as they really are, but more importantly, I offer some suggestions because I know you could live with them. I care about our kids and I care about my community.

Cutting Costs

We have to outline reductions of millions in expenses, both instructional and non-instructional. The largest cuts included salary and health care benefits district wide. Wages and benefits are the district’s single largest expense, and while we don’t have control over retirement costs – those are mandated by the state – we do have the ability to reduce wages and health care benefits.

2010-2011 Budget Reductions

Here’s the complete list of options that can be presented at a community forum.

INSTRUCTIONAL

-Savings? = Reduce K-12 staff by an estimated (x?) (FTEs) by implementing a higher student-to-teacher ratio in targeted classes.
-Savings? = Restructure the media and technology program for our schools (There is tremendous underutilization).
-Savings? = Offer online high school classes (estimated reduction of (x?) FTEs). Other districts do it.
-Savings? = Restructure K-12 English as a Second Language (ESL) program (estimated reduction of (x?) FTEs). You all know how I feel about this.
-Savings? = Reduce K-12 textbook budget.
-Savings? = Reduce substitute teacher costs by cutting some professional development that requires substitutes.
-Savings? = Reduce summer school services and transportation costs.

NON-INSTRUCTIONAL

-Savings? = Reduce custodial and maintenance costs. Options include reducing salary and health care costs, or modifying the level of service. The district can issued a request for proposals (RFP) to seek options for possibly privatizing some or all of this service.
-Savings? = Reduce transportation costs. Our district spends more than $3,000,000 transporting non-NRED students to private and parochial schools. Are we reimbursed? More importantly is this legally required? If not, an end to this must be envisioned. I will ask this question publicly.
-Savings? = Reduce overtime costs. These reductions would be targeted for activities on the weekends or other times outside of the regular school day.
-Savings? = Reduce athletic costs. Options include reducing the number of freshman games, cutting administrative costs at the middle school level, eliminating weekend transportation to sporting events throughout the county, consolidating some sports, and instituting a pay-to-play system that’s augmented by needs-based scholarships.
-Savings? = Seek energy cost savings by implementing an energy education and monitoring program. Turning the lights out was good. Can we do more?
-Savings = Eliminate high school lunch-hour supervisors, with those duties taken over by administrative staff or community assistants. How about teachers?

COMBINED INSTRUCTIONAL/NON-INSTRUCTIONAL

-$5 million potentially saved = Reduce salary and health care benefits.
-Reduce discretionary budgets for supplies and materials.
-Eliminate non-essential staff in central administration, and at the high school level.

Other Ideas

-Reduce the number of administrators for special education.
-Help the community better understand what the schools do – that might generate more community support for donations. Make clear how people can advocate in New Rochelle on behalf of the schools.
-Reduce the number of security personnel.
-Find ways to collaborate with the New Rochelle Public Library.
-Charge for student parking. Annual parking permits for high school students can vary from $30 to $40.
-Look at how to use the district’s facilities to generate revenues. One example cited was the possibility of renting the use of swimming pools (some community clubs had been using it for free). Other suggestions: Close buildings that are underutilized, and sell land owned by the district that’s not being used.
-Limit conference attendance unless funded through grants. This includes the BOE!
-Reduce summer school costs.
-Change to November elections.
-Reschedule low-enrolled 2nd semester classes at NRHS.

Martin Sanchez

2 thoughts on “BUDGET ALERT: An Open Letter from Former Board Member Martin Sanchez the New Rochelle Board Of Education on the 2010-11 Budget”

  1. Winnowing Down this list to focus energy on winnable points
    The community it at a huge disadvantage. Most people have no idea what is in the budget and will be drawn to focus on things like teacher salaries and benefits and pensions that cannot be changed directly and must be instead reduced by attrition due to union issues, state law, tenure, etc. Unless there is some winnowing down of this very good list, the proponents of ever-increasing budgets will use a divide and conquer strategy to muddy the water and push through more increases.

    I cannot imagine that if asked New Rochelle residents would agree that our public school system should be spending $3,000,000 a year to provide free transportation to children who do not attend the public schools. But, like all government giveaways, the people who get the goodies and fear losing them are far more motivated to protest if they are taken away. I believe support could be generated for a middle ground where the District only provide what is absolutely required under state law and no more.

    The district has got to stop adding new programs with new teachers and staff and space requirements and other costs just because there is some short-term grant or state funding. This is precisely how heroin dealers operate — the first “taste” is always free because they want to get the person hooked so the newly created “junkie” keeps coming back for more. This is precisely what happened with the Full-Day K Program (the state paid the “transition” cost but the district paid for 13 “new” Kindergarten teachers (no one ever explained how the district happened to have 13 teachers sitting around with nothing to do) and in the summer the “transition” money ends so now we are on the hook for the full amount of $1-2 million in new costs (in perpetuity). This is what is happening now with the Mandarin program ($300,000 a year in grants for three years; we pay the difference during those three years and then the full amount after that). I asked about the CILA Italian program at a BoE meeting recently which was started with a grant; Organisciak said that the program was STILL funded by a grant but he is a documented, serial liar so his word ain’t worth spit. If anyone knows for sure what happened with this Italian grant please add a comment or email me.

    As a practical matter the district is not likely to fire any employees because Marty Daly would throw a fit and the board and administration basically work for him. They are also not likely to cut over time because after years of promised, OT has actually gone up under Asst. Supt. Quinn.

    That said, there ought to be some token effort to reduce staffing related costs.

    1. Get rid of the locksmith position once and for all. There is no way on earth that the district could seriously run up $80,000+ in expenses for buying duplicate keys and replacement locks and the carpenters or even janitors or any person with a screw driver can REPLACE a door knob-lock combo.

    2. Get rid of the glazier position. Seriously, how many windows are broken each year so that we need a full-time glazier.

    3. As the high school is supposedly so safe (not!) why do we need to 4-5 dozen security guards up there on top of 210 teachers and 100 other staffers and video surveillance and all the rest?

    4. Fire the person in buildings and grounds who “supervised” Vito Costa, the district’s “no-show” HVAC engineer who was arrested last spring for grand larceny and falsifying records to send a message that supervisors will be held accountable for failing to supervise.

    5. Demand that Domenic Procopio pay back the many thousands in illicit tax benefits he pocketed. After all the money he is not paying back is STAR exemptions which are used to reduce local property taxes and about 65% of that goes to the district. It is “their” money he is refusing to pay back.

    I hope other folks will add some more SPECIFIC items that are realistic so can start making a dent and reverse the trend.

    A final note, crossing guards are not a a district budget issue but provide an example of the mindset that exists. Midday crossing guards for kids who no longer cross streets midday because we spent millions on FULL DAY kindergarten. I raised this to the board and Organisciak washed his hands of it, saying it was up to the police to make a “security assessment”? Funny because the crossing guards are there because the district wanted them there and even though the need no longer exists they are still out there every day from about 11 AM to 1 PM talking on their cell phones or sitting in their cars eating and listening to the radio. The district should aggressively seek to get the City to remove these unneeded guards. If the City can put them to use elsewhere fine but crossing guards who are there to guard imaginary children who no longer cross at midday is a joke.

    1. Vito Costa
      Doesn’t this guy own a business (I think home inspections)? Can’t the DA check to see if he was performing inspections on the days he was supposedly working in the schools’?

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