The Mamaroneck School District was faced with a seemingly impossible task this year: balance the school budget in the wake of rising mandated costs while maintaining the same educational standard and simultaneously reining in costs to stay within the two percent property tax cap law.
Although several cost-cutting options were presented to the community over the past month— to public transportation—indignant reactions from parents and concerns over safety led the board to reconsider what some considered draconian cuts.
The latest budget figures for 2012-13—presented at last night’s board meeting—propose an over $1 million decrease from this year’s budget—from $125,325,971 to $124,295,897, or .82 percent—due, in large part, to a decision to completely outsource transportation for an approximately $844K ($819K minus $25K for unemployment insurance) savings. The increase in the tax levy, however, would be 1.08 percent, an approximate $372 annual increase on an average assessed home at $20K.
The increase in taxpayer contribution has to do with the of homes in the district, which has dropped by $1.9 million from $142.7 million to $140.8 million, as well as individual property tax challenges, which, together, change the “slice” of the aggregate assessment “pie” that each taxpayer is asked to contribute.
This budget is less than presented on March 20, which proposed a 2.07 percent increase in the tax levy.
“The board is faced with difficult choices this year that we know will impact people’s lives. At the same time, we are mindful of our primary mission which is to provide the best possible education for the students at this district consistent with the needs of our taxpayers to keep costs down,” said Board President Robin Nichinsky.
In addition to fully outsourcing all transportation to Ardsley Bus Company—which the school currently uses for 19 of their 44 routes—the district was able to trim $200K from health insurance expenses and $20K on 12 part-time hall monitors who will be outsourced or reassigned.
However, some in the district had that a switch to contracted workers would compromise student safety with employees that were potentially less invested in their jobs and/or not vetted by the district. A group of district parents have also started a group called Citizens Against School Bus Cuts, in opposition to the school's decision.
Responding to these concerns, Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaps said that, as a result of a two year study of transportation, the current request for proposal (RFP) with Ardsley included strict requirements for driver training, continuing safety education, ongoing analysis of driver records, drug testing and fleet inspection on an ongoing maintenance schedule.
He also pointed out that, unlike unionized employees, the district could remove contracted workers for any reason at any time and could also terminate the entire agreement with Ardsley for any reason including safety violations, unsatisfactory service, or unqualified personnel. In contrast to union contracts, annual increases in outsourcing costs are limited by state law and must be competitively bid out when they exceed a certain threshold.
Other major program decisions included maintaining the current team structure until 2013-14 and relocating the District Pre-K Program to in September, for which the district will provide transportation for students from the current location at . Also, the district plans to maintain the current interscholastic athletic program and consider the reinstatement of seven athletic teams through donations; the teams were eliminated in 2010.
Some parents were skeptical of the drastic price differential.
“How is the Ardsley bus company able to provide the same level of service and safety for $850K less than the current system,” asked one parent from the audience.
“They have different cost structures being that they are not a public entity,” said Meryl Rubinstein, the assistant superintendent for business operations.
A total of five staff positions will be eliminated as discussed in the last meeting, and approximately 35 transportation employees will either be outsourced or reassigned. A breakdown of staff changes can be viewed on the school’s website here.
“This has been a pretty solemn evening and I wish it weren’t because I think it’s a solid budget…. we’ve seen comparisons to other districts and we look good. I think what’s so solemn is that we’re losing staff that we care about. It’s why you don’t see us jumping up and down saying ‘good budget’,” said Board Vice-President Nancy Pierson.
If the budget does not get approved, the district will revert back to the 2011-12 tax levy, and will need to identify $1.2 million in additional cuts (equivalent to 11 teaching positions).
The budget will be adopted at an April 17 board meeting; on May 15, the public will vote on the school budget, capital bond and school board members.
Editor's Note: The original number of transportation employees cited being outsourced or reassigned did not include monitors. The actual number is 35; the article has been modified to include this.