2010 Budget Discussion Meeting for New Rochelle Board of Education; Why I Will Vote “Yes” on the Budget

Written By: Robert Cox

With a proposed budget cut of about $5mm, a headcount reduction of 74 and a relatively (for New Rochelle) modest projected tax increase of 3.8% (a number that will likely be higher given the talk about the State reducing or eliminating the STAR property tax exemption), the passion at the New Rochelle Board of Education budget discussion was largely absent.

As usual the PTAs all announced their support for the budget although SEPTA expressed some concerns about the reduction in headcount among Special Education staff.

The only organized dissent came from the Orthodox Jewish community which was well represented and came to press the issue of the proposed change in transportation services for 6th graders living in New Rochelle.

New Rochelle to Eliminate “Yellow Bus” Transportation for Private and Parochial 6th Graders

New Rochelle’s Assistant Superintendent for Finance John Quinn announced last night that the school district intends to eliminate “yellow bus” transportation for 6th grade students living in New Rochelle but attending private and parochial schools. The cut is part of a broader policy change under which all 6th grade students — public or private — will no longer be entitled to free busing but instead be offered a discounted ten-trip ticket for the Bee Line Bus service.

As we noted back in March:

…the change will have a major impact on private and parochial school students because Bee Line does not offer direct service to schools other than the two public schools. So, while private and parochial school students will be eligible to purchase the discounted Metro-Cards, few, if any, will be able to use them to get to school each day.

Asked about this bus to nowhere issue during the public comment period, Quinn told one parent “You’ve identified a problem”.

The Board of Education has not disputed analysis from Talk of the Sound that the new policy violated New York State law.

Under New York State law, the school district is required to “provide transportation on an equitable basis and within similar mileage limits to children attending both public and nonpublic schools”. The issue may be whether providing discounted ten-trip tickets is “equitable” when public students can use the tickets to take a bus directly to their school while private and parochial school students cannot because Bee Line does not provide direct service to their schools…[in the proposed 2010-11 Budget] $807,180 goes to pay for the Bee Line Buses. Of that about $597,000 is for the subsidized MetroCards. The cards cost $17.89 each; student pays $7.00 and district pays $10.89. The balance is a direct payment to Westchester County.

If it is determined that the district’s direct payment of $210K is made so that Bee Line will run buses to/from the public middle schools back out to the neighborhoods of New Rochelle then private and parochial school parents will have a strong case that it is not equitable that the district pays 25% of the transportation budget to provide direct service to ALMS and IEYMS but pays zero to provide the same service to students in private and parochial schools.

Why I am voting for the school budget

As usual, proponents of the budget, mostly the school board members and administration have made a number of false and misleading claims intended to engender support for the school budget. Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak and Board of Education President Sara Richmond have both repeatedly states that the projected tax increase is a direct result of a decrease in state funding. This is clearly false. The district made a choice in how to deal with decreased in outside funding — a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. That is their choice. They could have chosen to go with no cuts and large tax increases or larger cuts and no tax increases. Their choice is to cut $5mm and increase taxes 3.8% not once required of them by the State government.

The New Rochelle Board of Education voted to support Governor Paterson’s proposal to change New York State law to make the State eligible for a share of $700 million in federal “Race for the Top” funds. Meanwhile, the state organizations — teachers, administrators and school boards — which control the NYS Assembly lobbied against the Governor’s proposal. The proposal failed and New York State did not win. A similar effort is underway now and it is expected that the same scenario will repeat itself. This is another choice — keep things the way they are and forego the millions in aids that would have flowed to New York under Race for the Top.

Emery “Suck it Up” Schweig stated that the budget passes each year by “considerable numbers”. This is entirely false. There are 75,000 residents in New Rochelle and about 30,000 registered voters. Last year about 2,400 people voted for the budget, hardly a “considerable number” — about 1,400 voted against the budget so in a City of 30,000 voters the budget passed by 1,000 votes.

Last year Mary Jane Reddington bemoaned low voter turnout in New Rochelle. Her crocodile tears might have been convincing of the Board of Education did not routinely fail to do the bare minimum to advertise the school elections.

More in a bit…