NEW ROCHELLE, NY — After much weeping and gnashing of teeth last year over alleged failures in communication and transparency that led to an organized effort to defeat the 2018-19 school budget, the New Rochelle Board of Education has failed to schedule any budget input sessions this year let alone held one and has not scheduled any budget presentations or prepared a schedule for a 2019-2020 budget calendar to present a budget nor communicated tentative plans for one. The District’s budget information has not been updated since June 2018.
“We don’t know anything about our budget,” said Board Vice President Amy Moselhi yesterday at City Hall.
Moselhi Co-Chairs the Finance and Facilities Committee with Board President Jeffrey Hastie. Moselhi and Hastie were the two “no” votes on the first budget last year and led efforts to defeat the 2018-19 budget last May.
By this time last year, a budget input session had taken place, on February 8th, a preliminary budget had been completed and three detailed budget presentations had been scheduled for March 8th, March 13th and March 20th. Due to severe weather the start date for those presentations was pushed back 5 days so the presentation on technology, operations & maintenance, transportation occurred on March 13th, the presentation on student support services occurred on March 20th and the presentation on educational programs took place on March 27th.
At those presentations, hundreds of pages of detailed reports were provided in addition to all of the budget documents including a Budget-Demographic Enrollment Analysis, a Budget-Enrollment Long-Range Planning Study, the School Districts Accounting and Reporting Manual and relevant excerpts from documents from the Office of the New York State Comptroller, among many others.
This year? Zilch.
It is no small irony that the committee established by the board to address alleged failures in budget transparency and communications is made up primarily of people who led the successful charge last year to defeat the budget based on their allegations of failures in budget transparency and communications.
The committee has shrunk from the initial group of 12 appointed by the Board in October. The committee has been depleted by resignations and terminations and until yesterday had met just three times since the board resolution creating the current committee was adopted on October 2, 2019 — and just once in the past three months. The committee met on October 24th, November 28th and February 7th and again yesterday.
On August 7, 2018, the Board created the initial committee comprised of just school board members and school officials: Amy Moselhi, Paul Warhit, Brian Osborne, Jeffrey White with Jeffrey Hastie Ex-Officio.
On October 2, 2018 the committee was expanded with some members leaving and more added including community members: Magda Parvey, Jeff White, Paul Warhit, Heidi Hohlfeld (Treasurer), Adam Egelberg, Darin Feldman, Joyce Furfero, Jennifer King, Adrianne Moses, Fay Pinto. Brian Osborne was removed, Jeffrey Hastie went from Ex-Officio to Co-Chairperson and Amy Moselhi went from Chairperson to Co-Chairperson.
On November 13, 2018 Paul Warhit was removed.
There have been no further board resolutions but Heidi Hohlfeld and Jeff White no longer work for the District and community members Adrianne Moses and Fay Pinto quit. Interim Business Official Tom Ryan has been added.
The committee now stands at eight members: Tom Ryan, Magda Parvey, Adam Egelberg, Darin Feldman, Joyce Furfero, Jennifer King, Jeffrey Hastie and Amy Moselhi.
The surviving committee members that gathered at City Hall yesterday once again failed to establish a budget calendar.
There were discussions that Jeffrey Haste and Amy Moselhi would decide on a budget calendar in the coming days and announce the budget calendar at the school board meeting on March 5th.
Tom Ryan noted that there are three state-mandated budget dates: budget adoption (April 23), budget hearing (May 7), budget vote (May 21).
Tom Ryan told the committee he will be home in Florida the week of March 18-22 so budget events will not occur that week. Spring Break is April 15-19 so budget events will not occur that week either.
At this point, whatever events take place, the theoretical 2019-20 budget calendar for the New Rochelle Board of Education will occur between March 6th and March 16th and/or between March 25th and April 12th due to the late start, Ryan’s trip to Florida, Spring Break and the state requirement to adopt a budget by April 23rd.
The committee discussed an idea to eliminate the traditional budget input forum and replace it with a “cafe” format. The idea is to set up tables in a high school cafeteria manned by representatives from different departments so attendees could visit a table for, say, special education or facilities or security and express their budget ideas directly to departmental staff. The committee discussed information previously provided by board member Rachel Relkin that budget input sessions must be televised and considered whether that was true and whether that might rule out the “cafe” concept.
Amy Moselhi expressed her desire for a second budget input session after the budget was presented although no final decision was made on a first budget input session or a budget presentation.
The committee did decide one thing on the three detailed budget presentations that are traditionally held. Get rid of them. Committee members viewed it as a waste of time that no one cares about so there will be no detailed budget presentations at all.
The committee decided to replace those presentations with just one, limited only to describing changes from the previous budget.
Ryan indicated he could have what he called a “status quo” budget ready by mid-March. He described a status quo budget as one that carried forward contractually-obligated expenses like payroll and state pension contributions and used the maximum tax levy cap amount to set revenue. By Ryan’s estimate, that would leave about 4% of the budget available for further discussion. He said the principal’s requests for programming — due December 14th — were not yet in the budget.
Ryan said he began work on the budget in January, after he was hired as Interim Assistant Superintendent for Business Administration to replace Jeff White who left the position in mid-November. Ryan said work on a school budget should have started two months earlier. He also noted he had limited staff and was catching up on two months of day-to-day management of the department.
The issue is not White or Ryan but why the school board thought it a good idea to “blow up” the business office without a Plan B already in place. The delays in the budget rest squarely with Hastie and Moselhi.
Some committee members expressed a desire to cut the budget before considering spending proposals.
“We are starting with an inflated budget”, said Adam Egleberg. He said the budget was “massively overfunded” and suggested it be cut by up to $7 million before any discussions about spending take place.
On a budget of roughly $270 million, Ryan’s 4% is $10.8 mm so Egleberg’s $7 mm cut would have a dramatic impact on the budget.
Ryan told the board that the budget would not break the tax levy cap. Ryan also stated he did not yet have the state tax levy calculations from the State Comptroller. He said he expected to have them by Friday. The Comptroller says he distributed the tax levy cap calculations to school district on February 15th.
Based on the inconclusive discussions by the committee, a rough outline of a budget calendar looks like this:
Presentation of “Budget Highlights” to Board by Business Official (Tom Ryan) – March 5th
Input Session 1 – TBD
Presentation on Changes to Budget – TBD
Input Session 2 – TBD
Budget Adoption by Board April 23, 2019
Budget Hearing May 7, 2019
Budget Referendum May 21, 2019