Milkman’s Matinee News, Filed 2/13/02, 2:30 AM EST: The second meeting of the White Plains Annual Budget Committee Tuesday evening revealed the Superintendent’s Cabinet has cut $911,979 out of the proposed School Budget in a week thanks to retirements and BOCES cuts. A case was made for accelerating remedial efforts in the Middle School.
The year to year proposed 2002-03 increase stands at a plus 8.1%, down from 8.8% last week. The Superintendent of Schools made a case for a strong Middle School effort to address underachievement on the assessment tests before they reach high school.
ABC IN ACTION: Dr. Saul Yanofsky, Superintendent of Schools, passionately uses revealing overheads and realities of test scores to make the case for more money to bring Middle School’s underachievers up to speed by high school.
Photo by WPCNR
Good news first.
According to Richard Lasselle, Assistant Superintendent for Business, the fifteen teacher retirements and reduced fringe benefits announced Monday evening lower projected salary outlays by $526,000.
He said BOCES cuts from retaining children within the district next year by instituting the “Passages” program in the elementary schools will save another $231,000, lowering the overall tentative budget-in-process to $128,272,248.
LASSELLE DELIVERS THE GOOD NEWS: Richard Lasselle, Assistant Superintendent for Business making figures crystal clear to the Annual Budget Committee meeting Tuesday night.
Photo by WPCNR
Yanofsky: Increase Middle School Staff to Upgrade Bottom 7%
The 30-member Annual Budget Committee watched soberly as the Superintendent detailed the costs of addressing the new state standards at the middle school level.
Yanofsky said that $845,000 was being allocated to address the consistently lower scoring students in the sixth and seventh grades.
The money is being targeted as follows: To provide 1 new ELA teacher($70,000), 1 new math teacher ($70,000), 3 Special Support Teachers ($210,000) and 2 and ½ Remedial Teachers at the K through 5 levels ($175,000) at the Middle School level to bring up the achievement levels of what he called the “bottom 7%” who are consistently scoring low on the eighth grade assessments.
A total of $129,000 is being earmarked for new textbooks, and $128,000 for Summer School remedial programs. The $845,000 represents 0.73% of the new budget increase.
Another $205,000 is being assigned to hire 3 technical support teachers and to facilitate teachers’ ability to understand and work with students needing help in learning computers in the schools. This represent another 0.7% increase in the budget.
“You see where the money is,” Yanofsky said as he presented the case for the Middle School remediation effort. “The next big challenge is in what it costs to respond to new state mandates.”
Three years of 4th and 8th grade test score comparisons drive strong Middle School Effort.
The Superintendent put up “overheads” of the Achievement Test Scores that figure in the district assigning priority to more academic aid in the Middle School. Though test scores have improved steadily in three years at the White Plains elementary level based on the 4th grade Math and English Language Arts assessments, performance faltered in the Middle School 8th grade achievement tests, Yanofsky’s figures showed.
In the elementary school 4th grade Math tests, which are graded on a 1,2,3,4 basis the last three years, (above “3” is acceptable), the five White Plains elementary schools Math Tests had 74% passing the Acceptable levels(above 3) in 2001, up from 69% in 2000, and 71% in 1999.
In 2001, 26% scored below acceptable, 31% unacceptable in 2000, and 29% in 1999. However, in all three years of the fourth grades tests the level of students scoring at the 1 level pegged consistently at 7% (8% at 1 in 1999, 6% at 1 in 2000, and 7% at the 1 level in 2001.
Looking at the 4th grade English Language Arts Tests, a similar pattern develops: In 2001, 66% scored 3 or better; Up fropm 63% in 2000, and 53% in 1999. The percentage of students in White Plains 4th grades not scoring 3 or better, were 34%, 37% and 47% respectively.
”You can predict test scores by the prices of cars in the parking lot.”
Yanofsky said, “With a heavy dose of remediation, (of incoming students), we have made a tremendous difference. Lower and middle class kids come into the district with issues, and the challenge to help them catch up is staggering. We caanot make up for the time from 2, 3, and 4 years old when we (the school district) didn’t have them.”
Yanofsky said it was not ethnicity that prevented the children from keeping pace, but poverty. “You see the same results in West Virginia which is predominately white. Performance (by income levels) is replicated place after place throughout the nation. One prominent critic of tests said you can predict test scores by the prices of cars in the parking lot (of the school).”
83% of students qualifying for “Free or Reduced Lunch” are English Language Learners.
The combination of poverty combined with a non-English speaking background is a problem the district is moving to address across the grades, and particularly the Middle School.
The only measurement of income levels that the district has, Yanofsky said, is the qualifying standard for free or reduced lunch. Based on the numbers of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, the district has determined that the following percentages of ethnic groups are on low or moderate incomes: Asian, 19%; Black,65%;Hispanic,79%; White, 9%. A total of 83% of the all those qualifying for free or reduced lunch are English Language Learners, and 35% are English-speaking.
Yanofsky said, “We need to keep talking about this, (the poverty-non-English-speaking population).”
Middle School 8th Grade Tests a Concern.
The 8th grade assessment tests in the same areas have lead the district to concentrate on the lower performing students in Middle School.
In three years of Middle School Assessments in Math and English Language Arts, the progress seen in the elementary tests has not been as steady. In Spring, 2001, 48% scored at passing levels (above 3) in 2001, with 52% below 3, (below level), and of those scoring below passing, 20% performed at the “1” level. In 2000 the figures were at 53% below 3, 47% performing acceptably, and 22% performing at the “1” level. The first year of the achievements, 1999, the levels were 59% below passing,41% above, and 27% at the “1” level.
Yanofsky related the disappointing math scores to poor reading skills, because the eighth grade math assessment demands the ability to read and comprehend problems, as well as computation skills.
A drop in 8th Grade ELA results.
In the 8th grade ELA tests, remediation results showed strong improvements in 2000. However, in 2001, 49% scored above the Acceptable Level (in the 3,4 range), with 51% scoring below, and 7% at the “1” level. This was down from the year before, with 56% in the 3,4 categories and 44% in the “below standard” 1,2 levels with 9% at the “1” level in 2000. In the benchmark year of 1999, 55% scored at acceptable levels (above 3), with 45% below the state standard.
Remedial strategies at High School bring students back.
Yanofsky put it to the audience bluntly, “We know that in White Plains, the Middle School curriculum needs a tremendous amount of help. But, we know the results from high school jump way up, from the 50% level to the 80’s and 90’s. What we have to do is focus on quality of instruction at middle school.”
Yanofsky said that the high school efforts at remediation had been responsible for bring student performance up, and indicated this experience would now be applied in the Middle School. The new personnel requested is an effort to implement this approach, “We seem to be more successful in remediation programs in the high school. We have reason to believe the level of success will continue.”
The superintendent said, “Retention (in Middle School) is not a good solution. Moving up is not a good idea. A self-contained program for students, using a ½ time person (working with the student) is what we suggest.”
He said the Middle School is working on a model of this remedial program.
Yanofsky presents data refuting that bright students’ ability to achieve is compromised.
Two realtors among the Budget Committee expressed concern that potential residents were leary of coming to White Plains because they felt their children who they felt were good students would not be challenged.
The Superintendent took strong issue with that statement, saying, “We have the data to refute that.”
Yanofsky said that in the last three years, the district has awarded 38%, 44% and 45% regents diplomas at the high school, getting the district ready for the time within the next 2 to 3 years when students have to pass 5 Regents examinations to graduate.
He said it was unfair for the media, most notably “Spotlight” magazine to present “aggregate test scores” to rank districts. He also said the County Board of School Superintendents was adapting a policy not to provide data to media insisting on ranking school districts.
White Plains SAT scores for top 20% of students compare with all communities in the county.
A Yanofsky overhead showed that for the top 10% of White Plains students, they averaged 713 on the Verbal and 727 on the Math. The Top 20%, 675 and 693, respectively. These figures, Yanofsky said “compete with all communities in the county.”
The performance of White Plains students on Advanced Placement Tests is outstanding, Yanofsky, said, saying that 69 to 75% of the 240 students taking advanced placement tests succeeded in qualifying for advanced placement in 3 or more subjects. Yanofsky said there is “absolutely no evidence” that the brightest students are held back in performance in White Plains.
Transportation Increase Due to White Plains Bus Company no longer able to afford to serve White Plains.
Richard Lasselle shed light on the transportation increase calculated at about 28% was due to the White Plains Bus Company saying it could not afford to keep its new contract at the Consumer Price Index level, as had their previous contracts been structured. Lasselle said the City School District contract had for a long time been $5,000 to $7,000 less per bus than neighboring districts, and that White Plains Bus had refused to renew their contract.
Debt Service to be retired by 2014.
Lasselle presented an overhead noting that the School District debt was now at $33 million, including the $28 million debt for the high school expansion. It requires $2.5MM in principle and 1.8MM in interest payments in 2002-03. He said they were non-callable bonds, and that the district had looked at restructuring their debt four years ago, and found “no advantage to it.”
City calculates tax assessments to be the same as last year.
The final piece of news delivered by Mr. Lasselle was that the City of White Plains is reported to have told the district that assessments are at the same level as last year. Lasselle added that at the next Annual Budget Committee meeting, he and Dr. Yanofsky said they would be “taking a look” at how the PILOTS of new city projects would affect the budget in the next few years.
Dr. Yanofsky, on cue, rose to ask the committee members to deliver their thoughts on what the community could accept in terms of a tax increase.
Yanofsky showed an overhead of tax chart indicating that at the present level of 8.1%, a tax rate adjustment of 10.20% could be expected. If the budget was lowered to 7.5%, the tax rate would drop to 9.59%, and if cuts were made to 7% this would reduce the Tax Rate to 8.9%. He asked the Committee members for their opinions on whether the public could live with a 10.8% tax rate. Two realtors in the audience could not comment on exactly what that would mean in terms of actual dollars to the average home owner.