With the June 3rd budget deadline just days away, the Board got down to business on Wednesday night May 29 for frank discussion with the community at an open budget forum. Filling in for Board President Liz Guggenheimer was V.P. Suzanne Seiden who said, "we got a strong message from the community on May 21," and we "understand we need to do a better job." She thanked the community for their feedback via email, letters and phone calls and said they identified three themes from the communications:
- Lower taxes
- Eliminate the Wellness Center
- Make structural changes to control long-term costs
Before discussion began, the Board signaled their willingness to adopt a budget that critics could embrace by unanimously passing a resolution to eliminate the proposed wellness center and to put forth a revised budget that falls below the tax cap.
Seiden asked the group to be open to looking at the issues from all sides and rally around the second proposed budget. She also raised issues about the development of the budget in the future and the role of the Board of Education in the process, suggesting that the board might play a more proactive role i in governance and mediation between the school administration and the community.
In response to community requests, the Board asked Superintendent McGill to provide options for the new budget to bring it in under the cap.
On his list were the following:
- Take an additional $100,000 from reserves
- Reduce the special education budget by $100,000 as costs are running lower than originally estimated
- Realize a savings of $136,500 due to negotiations on life insurance
- Reduce the proposed full time drama teacher at the high school to a .6 position ($40,000 in savings)
- Save $100,000 by eliminating the new position of District Network Administrator
- Eliminate some or all of the funding for the Center for Innovation – currently budgeted at $90,000
- Eliminate the $25,000 in funds planned to upgrade the district website
- Cancel asbestos tile abatement project at the high school as well as two concrete boiler pads for a total savings of $160,000
- Eliminate $65,000 in funding for the Teen Center
- Eliminate $131,000 for security "greeters" at the high school and the middle school
- Eliminate the full time secretary in the Athletic Office and replace the AV department's secretary with an aide ($60,000 in savings)
- Eliminate additional high school librarian ($100,000 in savings)
- Eliminate unassigned funds in the budget that could be used for an additional teacher if needed ($100,000 in savings)
- Eliminate a District Helping Teacher, reducing the number of District Helping Teachers to only two, math and science ($100,000 in savings)
- Eliminate funding for a Special Ed Psychologist who was formerly funded through a grant ($150,000 in savings)
After Dr. McGill presented these options for cost savings, Board members weighed in the reductions. While many members agreed with Dr. McGill's proposals, several members advocated to maintain funding for security, the Teen Center, the librarian, the District Helping Teacher, and the Special Education Psychologist.
After discussing their own opinions of the proposed cuts that would bring the budget under the tax cap, Board members gave community members the opportunity to speak on the budget. Unlike the first community budget meeting, the first ten contributions were from people who voted for and are in support of the budget.
Here are excerpts from select speakers:
Gail Hutcher, President of the PT Council urged the Board to focus on class size and extracurricular programs. Dorian Glickenhaus agreed with Hutcher saying "People look at class size when considering the reputation of the district, so I urge the Board to consider maintaining class sizes."
Debbie Rapport said, "We should focus on providing the best education to the most children and we should not throw the baby (our reputation) out with the bathwater." She warned the Board "not be penny wise and pound foolish."
Former Mayor Carolyn Stevens said, "Everybody moved here because of the schools. They want the best public education available. That unites everybody who voted yes and everybody who voted no. Most still want the best education for the children in the community regardless. But that said, they want the best value for the best education. They want more security and transparency so that people don't feel that their money is being wasted."
Diane Greenwald spoke in favor of the elementary school "Teachers in Charge," saying that they "provide tremendous support for teaching staff and should really be called Vice Principals. They manage bussing, dismissal and scheduling and back up the Principal."
David Brodsky spoke in support of the faculty, saying, "Teachers have great influence on kids. I supported the first budget even though I had reservations. I urge the elimination of the first six items totaling $700k but want to keep funding for the Teen Center, librarian and the other items that make Scarsdale the special environment it is. "
Phyllis Perkins, an empty nester whose three daughters attended Scarsdale schools from kindergarten through high school said, "their educations were supported throughout by other empty nesters. Today's empty nesters have a responsibility to give back to help support and maintain the level of education that Scarsdale has provided for this past century."
Heather Gilchrist told the group, "During the 1970's in California, Proposition 13 slowly strangled schools for funds. It took about two decades for schools to recover. I fear that we are setting a precedent that we will always have to be under the cap."
Penny Bauersfeld commented that, "Nobody who voted "no" has come forward tonight so I hope people who voted "no" don't just vote "no", but come out and express their opinions."
Nina Ross said, "I support most of the cuts but not the security one. Pension and health insurance costs are getting out of control and we need to lobby Albany for more local control."
Critics did speak up:
Phillip Sanchez told the group to "deal with short term then the long term. The long term issue is that this document stating what could be cut should have been made available earlier before the public backlash. We should be given more options and transparency for the budget and we need to understand where the money is going."
Jim Labick who said he voted no due to the teacher's contract, suggested that we re-examine the length of the contract and Bob Harrison, spoke about teacher's salaries, saying, "Our teachers are very well paid. $131,239 is the median pay per year. Edgemont voted no on their school budget several years ago and continues to be a good school district."
The Board has only a few days to make revisions before the June 3 deadline for the second proposed budget. From the conversation it appeared that both sides were cooperating and narrowing their differences in an effort to agree on a budget that could garner widespread support on June 18.