Milkman’s Matinee News Filed 2/7/02 2:15 AM EST UPDATED 1:30 PM EST:The Annual Budget Committee learned Wednesday night the School District is looking at an 8.8% increase in the 2002-2003 school budget, pending anticipated trimming by the citizens committee.
The 02-03 projected budget is now sitting on $129,184,227 up $10,597,541 from the 2001-2002 expenditures of $118,686,686.
Salaries make up 60% ($78MM) of the new $129MM “Cabinet Budget.” Salaries for proposed new staff and scheduled step increases for present staff, make up $5.8MM, of the $10.6MM year-to-year increase.
Transportation (buses) is seen increasing at least $1.454MM or 13% of the increase. Benefits, pegged to increase $3.18MM, constitute 30%.
Yanofsky identifies the vulnerabilities
Situations driving the budget are the negotiation of a whopping new bus transportation contract yet to be determined. There is a sharp increase in fringe benefits, and need for sustained upgrading of curriculum and specialized staff. Staff growth is necessary to upgrade state assessment test performances and enable students to pass new Regents requirements for graduation at the high school, Yanofsky said.
YANOFSKY WRAPS IT UP FOR THE ANNUAL BUDGET COMMITTEE WEDNESDAY NIGHT as the Board of Education, in background watches him introduce a budget to the community for the final time. Yanofsky was optimistic more cuts could trim the projected increase. He said “Response to the state mandates has been extremely costly for us,” and that “There’s not an adequate safety net for kids who turned out to be in the middle of this.” (the institution of Regents exams).
Photo by WPCNR
Yanofsky and Lasselle make their case
Dr. Saul Yanofsky, Superintendent of Schools and Richard Lasselle, Assistant Superintendent for Business, took turns unveiling the new preliminary budget to the 30-member Annual Budget Committee of White Plains residents. The distinguished gallery is drawn from the PTA, Rotary, League of Women Voters, city organizations and concerned citizens.
LIKE SUMMERALL AND MADDEN, Richard Lasselle teamed with Dr. Yanofsky to present a $129MM school budget for 2002-03. Lasselle listens to a question from a Board of Education member.
Photo by WPCNR
The lucid two hour and 10 minute presentation, identified the money pressures dictating the increase which is 1.9% more than the 7.9% increase overwhelmingly approved by voters last year by a 4 to 1 margin.
ABC given a challenge
The Superintendent expressed hope that the committee would give the District ideas on where they could cut the budget to bring the budget down to last year’s level of increase. Yanofsky urged Committee members to give feedback on what areas they wanted more information and understanding on before next Tuesday, and to bring questions to the next session of the ABC on Tuesday evening, February 12 at 7:30 PM.
Increased staff to raise performance makes up half the increase.
Yanofsky said that before the ABC convened, there had already been three go-rounds by the Superintendent’s Cabinet of Assistant Superintendents on December 5, January 7 and January 9. The superintendent and the Board and the school leaders were able to bring down the budget increase from an original 11.3% hike, down to the 8.8% level. They eliminated 17.85 new Certified teaching positions and 10 new Classified positions to bring the budget down $812,155 as of Wednesday evening. Now it was the ABC’s turn to guide them where to prune and shape the budget next.
Enrollment swells at high school.
The new budget is designed to deal with natural enrollment increases at White Plains High School as the school population bulge, now in the Middle School, works its way into the high school. Because part of that population came in before the new state regents standards were instituted, the school district is having to provide increased special services to bring that population up to standard to pass the Regents examinations in Math, Science, English, American and World History required by the State Education Department for a high school diploma in “2 to 3 years.”
Addressing the Regents Challenge for Students Not Ready for Regents Time
Yanofsky said the district fears many high school students may not pass the Regents the first time they take them, raising the spectre of the student population swelling with fifth year high school students staying in school to get their Regents diploma. The new budget now adds 5 new high school teachers in Science, and a combination of Social Studies, Reading,ESOL/Psychologist, Special Education and Foreign Language to work with at-risk students to them Regents-ready.
The Middle School at Highlands is scheduled to add a third eighth grade team by adding 1 new ELA teacher and 2 Special Support Teachers and a parttime psychologist to upgrade skills in eighth grade students whom teachers identify as not ready for high school level work. Eastview will receive a new ESOL teacher and 2 new teachers in the ELA/Science/Social Studies fields to bring down the average of Eastview classes to the 24-25 student level.
Staffing increased to cut Special Education out-of-district costs;
address achievement skills in grades K to 8
In the elementary schools, the District plans to institute a “Passages” program to keep special education students within the district, saving on BOCES tuition. Hiring one teacher and an aid to conduct the Passages Program across the elementary schools is less expensive than paying BOCES $45,000 per student to educate special education students out of district. Three Instructional Specialists and one occupational therapist are scheduled to be hired to serve in all the Kindergarten to 8th grade schools to provide special services to students needing to strengthen skills to reach appropriate grade level.
In Civil Service Employee Union positions, the District proposes adding full-time security aides at the two middle schools and three teaching assistants for technology support in the elementary schools and three new custodians.
A total of 34.4 new positions are projected in the new budget at a cost of $2,231,817.
It will be the Annual Budget Committee’s unenviable task to pick and choose which newly proposed positions should be kept and which cut as the budget process moves forward. A budget including no staff increases was also submitted. When you keep staff levels as they are now, (adding no staff at all), the 2002-03 budget still increases 7.0% to $126,952,410. This is because the budget is taking hits in other places.
Cost of bus transportation out of control
The cost of Transportation is projected to rise $1,453,899 to $6,592,890, up 28%. This increase is unavoidable because White Plains Bus Company informed the district they could no longer serve the district under their present contracts. The district has put out Requests for Proposals to a number of bus companies and has been shocked by the numbers coming back. Dr. Yanofsky said he would provide more detail on this at next Tuesday’s meeting.
Fringe benefits Rise Sharply.
Dr. Yanofsky, in his patient lucid, “what can we do style,” told the sober audience Fringe Benefits which are the second largest slice of the budget pie were projected to go up $3MM or 17.6% due to increased health care premiums (“It’s killing us,” Yanofsky said).
Another factor driving up the benefits bill is the lowered return on state pension funds. Yanofsky said the state is now billing the district 4% of $45 million, an extra $1.8 Million to pay the cost of district pensions.
Lasselle explains new state pension payments to WPCNR.
WPCNR interviewed Richard Lasselle Thursday afternoon to clarify the matter of the new pension payments required by the state. Mr. Lasselle told us that in recent years, though the School District is required to fund pensions based on the salaries of teachers and district employees, the District did not have to contribute to the state.
Lasselle said in the investment markets of the late 90s, the state was able to sustain its portfolio return on investment so well that it did not require school districts to replenish the pension fund.
Now, Lasselle says the weak investment market has forced New York State to require replenishment from the School District.
“This year is different than that,” Lasselle said. “ Because of the budget shortfall, the state is passing on the costs to organizations. A new expenditure we had not had to budget before.”
Lasselle amplified Yanofsky’s statement on the pension payment of Wednesday night. Lasselle reported the district is obligated to make a payment to the state of 1-1/2%, approximately $705,000 to the Teachers Retirement System, based on the $47 million in White Plains teacher salaries. There is also a 4% payment of $800,000 to the Employees Retirement System, based on the $20 million in White Plains district employee salaries, creating an increase in benefits costs of $1,505,000, about $300,000 less than what was said last night.
Hope for a cut to the 7.6% Level
Wrapping up the evening, Dr. Yanofsky offered encouragement to the Committee, reporting that at the first Budget Committee meeting last year, the budget was looking at a 9.1% increase and it wound up being eased down to 7.9%. He noted at at 8.8% now, the increase is just about where it was last year, and if the same process were to happen it would put the finished budget at 7.6% “which might be where we want to be.”