New York State Budget Almost Done

The NYS Budget is approaching completion, and ithe State Senate and Assembly have reached agreement on the education portion. Some of the education cuts in the Governor's proposed budget have been restored. An informative post can be found at the EdVantage Blog.

From the new school aid "run" (page 53 of the pdf, aka "page 87") it looks like the Newburgh School district will receive an additional $2.8 million in the form of "gap elimination adjustment".

[Update: June 30]
"Governor Paterson wasted little time last night in following through on a threat to veto spending added by the Legislature. About two hours after the Senate gave final passage to the education budget bills, the Governor vetoed the Legislature’s restoration of School Aid funding." More at EdVantage.

Budget Summary 2010-2011

Here is a handout from the talk at New Windsor School last night. The first page summarizes the expenditures and revenue anticipated in the proposed budget. Page two summarizes the decisions made by the Board of Ed at the various budget meetings. Numbers in parentheses are negative.

The right third of Page Two shows where the reduction of 27 positions will occur. The columns represent (approximately) the four different unions, and the rows correspond to BOE decisions. For example the Total FTE reduction in the Administrative area is 3, NTA: 4, Teaching Assistants: 7, and CSEA: 13.

At the meeting, Assistant Superintendent of Finance Pacella said that the Administrative and Teacher reductions are expected to occur through attrition (retirements), so probably wouldn't involve layoffs. For the CSEA positions, job titles are more specific, so there would not be enough flexibility to accomplish the reductions through attrition.

Upcoming Budget Presentations

There are several presentations of the Newburgh Schools proposed 2010-11 budget coming up in the next couple of weeks. The first is tonight, April 29, at New Windsor School at 7pm and is sponsored by New Windsor Concerned Citizens. Organizer of the event, Diane Newland is quoted in the April 27 Sentinel:

With such an important vote coming up on May 18th, residents in the Newburgh School District need to understand not only this year's budget, but what we can expect in future budgets.

The second presentation is the officially required Budget Hearing, which is Tuesday, May 4, 7pm at the Newburgh Free Library auditorium. There will be a third presentation during the Central Compact Committee meeting Thursday, May 6, 7pm at Fostertown school.

Special Meeting, Tuesday April 20, 2010

There was a special meeting of the Newburgh School District BOE on Tuesday April 20 at 7pm. The main purpose was for the Board to vote on the 2010-2011 budget proposal. A few other items were added. All the resolutions passed unanimously with little discussion.

  • The meeting begain with a one hour executive session to discuss employment history of an individual.
  • School District Budget proposal for 2010-11 in the amount of $226,468,390 was approved.
  • Library Budget proposal of 4,240,343 was approved.
  • Property tax report card data for submission to NYSED was approved.
  • West Street School will house grades K to 5 for the 2010-11 school year.
  • North Junior shall operate as grade 9 to 12 school next year.
  • Boys track team approved to attend an event.

The agenda of the meeting included time for public comments, but there were no speakers. After the executive session, it took less than 15 minutes to approve everything.

The Times Herald-Record summarized things in an article yesterday:

Newburgh school board offering $226M budget
By Doyle Murphy
Published: 2:00 AM - 04/22/10

CITY OF NEWBURGH -- The Newburgh school board will ask voters to approve a budget that is more than $3 million less than the one they approved a year ago.

The board held a special meeting on Tuesday to finalize the proposal that will go to voters on May 18 for final approval.

The $226.4 million budget includes 27 fewer positions but could still increase the tax levy 1.36 percent -- in part because the cost of paying employees' salaries and benefits increases annually.

The district is also short $7.88 million in state aid. If the federal government leans on the state to restore some of that money or the school board decides to spend a portion of the cash it keeps in the district's fund balance, the tax levy could change.

2010-11 Budget Meeting Nine, Monday April 19, 2010

This was the last Budget Meeting of the Newburgh School District BOE, before voting on a budget proposal for the 2010-11 school year.

The bullet point version:

  • One hour executive session to discuss employment history of an individual.
  • Maintenance position added to budget, $56k.
  • Violence prevention funding added to budget, $250k.
  • No percentage cut to ahletics budget.

Notes from the meeting are available here.

2010-11 Budget Meeting Eight, Thursday April 15, 2010

Notes from the meeting are available here.

Budget Meeting Eight Summary

Here's the bullet point version of Budget Meeting 8, which was Thursday April 15 at 5pm.

  • Revision of Curriculum and Instruction reorg: eliminate Executive Director of Pupil Personnel Services position, and add a Director of Pupil Personnel Services. [yes]
  • Reduce 4 Elementary Guidance Counselor positions. These were the newly proposed positions. [yes]
  • Keep an Adminstrator/Hearing Officer position at Renwick. [no, may be considered further]
  • Cut Cultural Academic Specialist position at MH. (This decision didn't seem terribly well thought out.) [yes]
  • Athletics, proposed to require a 2.5% cut (of approx 1m budget) [tie, may be considered further]
  • Restore K-2 summer school program. [yes]
  • Add 3 Elementary Guidance Counselors. [no]

Another meeting is scheduled for Monday April 19th at 6pm. The Board intends to approve a budget at the workshop meeting on Tuesday April 20.

2010-11 Budget Meeting Seven, Thursday March 25, 2010

Three Health Aide positions (GAMS, MH, TH) were restored to next year's budget at a cost of $145k. Twenty seven Lunch Monitor positions were restored to the budget at a cost of $217k. These are part-time, hourly employees. Ten Social Worker positions were restored at $1m. Restoring the K-2 summer school literacy program was rejected.

Were these the most effective ways to spend $1.36 million dollars? Does this spending address the district's top priorities? How will the Board measure the result of this spending?

Click through for meeting notes.

2010-11 Budget Meeting Six, Thursday March 18, 2010

A reorganization of the Curriculum and Instruction Department was approved. This will result in the replacement of three Director positions with two.

Two Psychologist (or possibly Guidance Counselor) positions were added at Meadow Hill and Temple Hill.

Despite the very pessimistic mood in Albany, the BOE was considering items to add back in to the budget. Restoring summer school for Pre-K to grade two has some support. Central Administration did not have a recommendation on this issue though, and did not have data about the impact of summer school on young students.

The Board President invited public comment at the regular BOE meeting which is at 7pm, Tuesday, March 23. If there are parents or teachers who feel strongly about the impact and value of summer school for Pre-K to two, it would be an opportunity to be heard on this issue before the next budget meeting on Thursday, March 25.

Click through for meeting notes.

The next budget meeting is scheduled for March 25 at 5pm.

Invitation for Public Comment on the Budget

Notes from the March 18 Budget Workshop will be posted before tomorrow, but I wanted to mention an announcement that Board of Education President Fucheck made at the end of that March 18 meeting. She said that if members of the public wished to comment on budget items, that there is opportunity to do that at the regular BOE meetings during the "public comment on non-agenda items" time. The next regular BOE meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday March 23, at 7:00pm (the public comment time is usually at the end of the meeting).

Contingency Budget Recap

An editorial in the Times Herald-Record yesterday, Legislation guts power of voters on school budget, criticized a bill which passed the NYS Senate recently.

The state Senate this week passed a bill that should be subtitled the "Don't Bother to Vote on Your School Budget" bill. It makes sure that when voters go the polls in May, a vote against the proposed budget will result in a so-called "contingency plan" that will require just about the same amount of taxation if not more.

The editorial doesn't explain so well what the actual change is. The change is that the "contingency cap" will be calculated using an average of the CPI over five years. If the old calculation were used this year, it would have allowed for a 0% increase in the cap, but with this change the contingency cap will increase by 3.5%.

An informative article from the Chappaqua-Mount Kisco Patch cites the actual bills which Senator Oppenheimer sponsored and which were passed by the Senate on March 16, 2010. The bills are expected to pass the assembly by a veto-proof margin.

Here is information from the NYS Senate about S5523A, which is the bill which includes the actual ammendment to the contingency calculation:

45 a. The contingency budget shall not result in a percentage increase in
46 total spending over the district's total spending under the school
47 district budget for the prior school year that exceeds the lesser of:
48 (i) THE AVERAGE OF THE PREVIOUS FIVE YEARS OF the result obtained when
49 one hundred twenty percent is multiplied by the percentage increase in
50 the consumer price index, with the result rounded to two decimal places;
51 or (ii) four percent.

Some sharp commentary on this issue comes from Jerry Moore:

Why doesn't the legislature just take away our right to vote on school budgets? This gives schools a 3.5% increase above the current contingency rules. But you only think there are rules. The only rule is that no rule will keep public schools from increasing spending faster than the rate of inflation. And while the 5-year average sounds fair, public schools will be the first ones calling it unfair when they face inflation of 4, 5 or 6% with a 5-year average of less than 3%. Do you think the legislature and schools will leave the rules in place?

I'll tell you how this works. Schools want the power to increase spending faster than current rules allow. But, they don't want to appear blatant about it. They want to make it appear as though the proposed change is an improvement over the current method. It's fairer. So, the 5-year average is born. It is fully supported by public schools and administrators. But this isn't a change based on principle. It's a change based on expediency. And as soon as the rule works against them, then they'll come up with a new fairness doctrine.

Make no mistake about this change. It's an unfunded mandate when it comes to YOUR POCKETBOOK. It's a mandatory tax increase and a disenfranchisement of your right to vote under the rules of the game that have served public school interests for more than a decade. Now that the rule is about to give you a break, the rule is being changed...

I've omitted Moore's more incendiary comments. Do visit his website for more. You may not agree with his positions, but he has been following school budget issues in NYS for many years, and shares many keen observations.

Some historical information about contingency caps (including a nice graph of the caps leading up to 2009-10) is available at this NYSUT web page. (Note that it is a news release from over a year ago.)

The Newburgh School District operated on a contingency budget for the 2008-2009 school year.

2010-11 Budget Meeting Five, Thursday March 11, 2010

The Newburgh School District Board of Education decided to dismiss 10 of the 11 Social Workers employed by the district, and replace them with four Guidance Counselors and four Psychologists.

Click through for meeting notes.

Future Budget Meetings meeetings are scheduled for March 18 and 25 at 5pm.

2010-11 Budget Meeting Four, Tuesday March 2, 2010

The most significant change discussed was in a dental/vision insurance expense. Initially thought to require a $600K increase to the budget, it transformed into a $549K cut. Most other items concerned changes which the BOE did not seem well equipped to evaluate in terms of their impact on education achievement. One Board member characterized what the BOE has been doing as "micro-managing the budget."

The utility tax was mentioned. The current budget does not include utility tax revenue (but if you reside within the Newburgh School District you are paying a utility tax to the School District right now, whether you know it or not). Click through for voluminous meeting notes.

Future meeetings are scheduled for March 11, 18, and 25 at 5pm.

2010-11 Budget Meeting Three, Thursday Feb 18, 2010

The third budget meeting was on February 18. There were two significant decisions. Summer school offerings were reduced. There is to be no elementary program; only programs targeted to students needing specific requirements in order to be admitted to ninth grade or to graduate. Secondly, full day Pre-K was eliminated for next year. These decisions are contingent upon the budget being finalized and approved by the Board. Click through for meeting notes.

Valley Central Parents Prioritize

The Times Herald-Record reports that in the Valley Central School District parents and community members received printed information about proposed cuts, and parents and eductors were asked to help prioritize them.

Valley Central parents asked to prioritize
By Meghan E. Murphy
Times Herald-Record
Posted: March 02, 2010 - 2:00 AM

MONTGOMERY -- Parents and community members got a list they've been waiting for Monday that detailed possible cuts to Valley Central schools.

The district needs to find about $5.2 million in savings to compensate for state aid reductions and contractual budget increases. The district already held meetings in Maybrook to inform parents about the possibility of closing the community school or restructuring elementary schools, which could save about $1.6 million.
The six-page list included more cuts than the district needs to make but Hooley asked parents to prioritize. In a roundtable, educators and parents listed things they want to keep: full-day kindergarten, small class sizes, middle school teachers and a balance of extra-curricular activities such as music.

2010-2011 Contingency Budget Cap

The Watertown Daily Times reports that New York State Schools will be working with a much more restrictive contingency budget cap this year. It will not allow for 3 or 4 percent growth as it did in recent years...

Contingency budgets face stark limits for 2010-11
By Jamie Munks
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Public school officials warn voters every year that if they vote down the budget, a contingency budget will be adopted that could eliminate or reduce equipment purchases and free community use of buildings.

But the warnings usually are hollow: the state's formula for school budgets --using the U.S. Consumer Price Index -- has in the past allowed contingency budgets to almost mirror defeated budgets because the index has risen most years.

Not this year. The index declined from 3.8 percent in 2008 to minus 0.4 percent in 2009. That means contingency budget constraints will be tighter than usual, and school districts will have to face making reductions in programs, staffing and equipment purchases if budgets are defeated.

"This is the first time in a long time that the CPI has been a negative number or zero; it's always been a little bit of an increase year to year," said Barbara O. Greene, director of finance for the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

"It will become challenging for schools."

For additional details on how the contingency cap is based on the CPI see this post at the EdVANTAGE Blog.

This situation was anticipated by Governor Paterson. The 2010-2011 Executive Budget Briefing Book proposed preventing the cap from being less than the previous year's spending:

Contingency Budget Calculation. This proposal would prevent mandatory negative spending growth for school districts that are operating under a contingency budget by limiting the spending cap calculation to no less than the previous year's spending levels. The current statutory provisions for the calculation of the contingency budget cap does not account for a period of deflation, which may apply to the 2009 calendar year.

2010-11 Budget Meeting Two, Feb 4, 2010

The second budget meeting was on February 4. I missed most of these meeting, so just have a few notes from this one. Click through for meager notes.

2010-11 Budget Meeting One, Jan 21, 2010

The first of several Newburgh School District budget meetings occurred. A big spreadsheet was presented reviewing staffing levels at each school. The changes were not very dramatic except for those at Heritage Junior High.

Click through for the detailed notes.

Governor Paterson Withholding Aid

The New York Times reported yesterday that Governor Paterson is "withholding" some school aid payments. The Newburgh School District can probably weather the immediate effect of this because the utility tax will bring in some income, the general fund has a surplus "fund balance", and the surplus can be spent as the Board wishes because the budget passed. It's unclear what the long term effect of this withholding of aid will be. If the state eventually makes the payments, the current step seems like grandstanding. If this ends up being an true permanent reduction in aid, the effect will be to substantially reduce the Newburgh School District's ability to cope with next year's budget--where "cope" means "minimize layoffs of teachers".

Paterson Trims Aid to Schools and Localities
By Kareem Fahim
Published: December 13, 2009

Gov. David A. Paterson announced on Sunday that he would unilaterally withhold $750 million in scheduled payments to schools and local governments, saying that strong action was necessary to protect New York State from insolvency.

The reductions of 10 to 19 percent in aid will affect schools and social service providers, health insurance payments, cities and counties. Mr. Paterson said the withheld funds were not "a cut" or an "impoundment" -- perhaps drawing a legal distinction because only the Legislature is empowered to make permanent budget cuts.

Some lawmakers called the move illegal, but the governor said "we are well within the bounds of legal authority."

The governor did not indicate when he would restore the funds, except to say, "as sufficient revenues become available."

The EdVANTAGE Blog covers this issue well

Backfill: September 29 Newburgh Board of Education Meeting

State Senator Larkin, and several other visitors were at this meeting. A brief on the district financial audit and a presentation on tax issues were given. Two public comments raised issues at Temple Hill.

See details in the long version.

For additional details, please see, the official minutes of the September 29, 2009 meeting from the Newburgh School District Clerk. The minutes are very good.