New Rochelle Board of Education Citizen Budget Committee Recommends Millions in Cost Savings Measures and Presentation Improvements

Written By: Robert Cox

CAC NRBOE 2012 0327 126A special committee created by the New Rochelle Board of Education on a pilot basis made its report last night on a series of recommendations to reduce costs, reallocate money in the budget and improve transparency in the budget document.

The Citizen Advisory Committee delivered a detailed 24-page report and summarized their findings in a Powerpoint presentation to the board which was recorded for later broadcast on local cable access channels and the district web site.

Citizens Budget Committee Final Report

The report included a rather startling finding that the school district is paying hourly workers such as lunchroom monitors and general school aides well above the prevailing wage in Westchester County. Hourly security workers, for example, are paid $20.48 in New Rochelle. Their counterparts in Mount Vernon are paid $10.00 per hour. Monitors are paid $19.45 in New Rochelle. Monitors in Mamaroneck are paid $16.48.

Compounding this is the massive amount of hours accrued by these hourly workers — over 300,000 hours, according to the committee which had access to data from the school district. Using simple math, the committee found that bringing the New Rochelle pay scale inline with surrounding districts would save millions of dollars a year.

The report identified a number of areas where the school budget document presented to voters each May could more transparently identify funds tucked away in various line items in the budget.

In one example from the report, the budget document does not include a line item for tax certiorari payments despite the large amounts of money involved. Between the 2005-06 and 2010-11 school year, the district has paid out $15 million in tax certiorari claims, refunds on property taxes, none of which has been reflected in the budget. As the money was paid by the district, this indicates that, on average, more than $2.5 million a year has been set aside for tax certiorari payments but hidden elsewhere in the budget.

One recommendation will surely interest every parent in the district — adding a section on class size to the budget. The report cited a section of the Mamaroneck school budget which presents a highly detailed breakdown of class size in every school at every grade level.

One of the key recommendations coming out of the report is a shift to actual-to-budget budgeting. In the current system, the district bases the current year budget on the previous year’s budget not what is actually spent. When money is not spent on a particular line item in the budget, the next year’s budget ignores that and pretends that it has been spent. The cumulative effect over time is to dramatically inflate various line items in the budget regardless of whether the money is being spent, causing distortions in how spending plans are being reported, the report says.

The Citizen Advisory Committee was compromised for four “citizen” members — Adam Egelberg, Ed Ackerman, Mary Monzon and Suyen Taylor — and chaired by board member David Lacher. New Rochelle schools treasurer Carol Amorello served as District Liason and New Rochelle Board of Education Vice President Jeffrey Hastie served on the committee on an ex-officio basis.

Adam Egelberg, Ed Ackerman and Suyen Taylor presented the Committee’s findings to the board.

Egelberg spoke about cost savings ideas. Ackerman spoke about presentation issues with the budget and ideas for greater transparency.

In her remarks to the board, Taylor proposed a series of next steps including graduating from pilot program to permanent standing committee, expanding committee membership to include one person from each of the six elementary school districts and creating opportunities for community input including town hall meetings.

The Committee was put together on short notice after New Rochelle Board of Education President Chrisanne Petrone, who called the creation of the committee a “labor of love”, brought the idea forward at a board meeting six weeks ago. The Committee met for four weeks and completed their work last night.

EDITOR’S NOTE: we will post the video and the PPT presentation here when they become available.

4 thoughts on “New Rochelle Board of Education Citizen Budget Committee Recommends Millions in Cost Savings Measures and Presentation Improvements”

  1. Thank you committee members
    I just want to thank the committee for all their hard work. For the first time, I feel the citizens of New Rochelle have been represented.

    Also, thanks to Bob Cox for TOTS.

  2. Did anyone suggest using fixed assessment numbers?
    Did anyone suggest using fixed assessment numbers?

    That’s the simplest solution to eliminate some of the guess work because when BOE presents a budget to the voters in mid-May they don’t know the final assessment # which is determined by August 1st.

    I would suggest using the final fixed tally from the previous year. Remember this costs NOTHING to do and even saves money the 1st year as the district would be using the same assessment #s 2 years in a row at a time when New Rochelle’s assessments have been going in 1 direction; down (so much for all that development!).

    I think anyone out there would be hard pressed to find any taxing authority that uses the system the New Rochelle Schools with regard to presenting a budget & not knowing what the actually tax amount is.

  3. My thanks as well
    It is incomprehensible to think that the school board accepted such basic flaws as part of their oversight function. It is to the credit of Ms Petrone that she reached out and to the committee for their findings and recommendations.

    I am literally stunned at the seemingly misuse of full year forecast, budget vs forecast, what is actually used as a comparative base for a new budget, etc.

    I am even more stunned to sense that the vast discrepancy in hourly pay between New Rochelle and neighboring communities is what it seems to be.

    “Even assuming that the Distrct needed the number of hourly staff as shown, it still confounds the mind that a six figure Superinendent, a six figure budget director and a six figure human resource director had such a lack of prescience, of basic skill that that they neither did a external comparative analysis against other local districts and possibly not even an organizational assessment to determine the job tasks and whether so many hourly folks were needed especially at the rates they commanded.

    I will venture a guess that these people were not even union employees. If they were it adds to the multiple issues in labor relations, especially at bargaining time, between FUSE and the District.

    There seems to be a reasonable assumption to make that staff were kept at unneceaary inflated levels and well above community pay norms because they equated to votes during school board elections and perhaps even council elections.

    I look forward to seeing the report.

    If nothing else it makes the case that the City continues to demonstrate negligence by not equating findings such as these to taxpayer equity.

    This is why I am so ready to leave. My wife is unhappy, the cost to live here as unnecessarily high, most residens dont give a rats butt about demanding change and the Council fails in their fiduciary responsibilities by not recognizing the simple relationship between commerical and residential growth and successful and well managed school districts and so many other reasons.

    I hope the authros of this presentation make it available for the community.

    I further hope the new arrangement looks at questions implicit in what I say above and so much more.

    Ms Petrone, clean house now and start with the Superintendent who is a flaming incompetent but even more firghtening is management’s face in union negotiations. I want the oppostition guy Martin Daly. He, at least is competent.

    And yes, why the hell am I reading only 480 reads on this. It makes the earlier case made by Kurt Colucci. Too many important blogs are hard to find because they do not make the “most important” or most read today list based on this.

    Bob, I know you played a role in this and so, thank you for getting Adam and his team together. I am sure they experienced an embarrassment of riches on this topic.

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