Thursday, February 24, 2011

Questions and Follow-Up

I have been asked some questions multiple times. I am posting those questions and the answers here. If I get enough interest and emailed questions ( I will try to make it a regular feature of answering mailbag questions.

(The usual disclaimers are relevant here. I am speaking as an individual board member (with one exception noted below in the first answer); I do not speak for the board. The opinions expressed here are my own. YMMV, etc.)

Did the CCT (teacher's union) know that with the amount of givebacks there would still be job losses? Will they take a pay freeze this year?

The official board response is: "We remain thankful that the CCT was willing to reopen an existing contract and save the District more than 1MM dollars [this year] despite having no obligation to do so. While we offered the idea of a full freeze to save more positions, we were unable to reach such an agreement, and do not want to second-guess the 1MM savings that was achieved."

Why did you vote for the new deal with the teachers that extended the contract a year and "only" had $1.7 million in give backs?

I will give the short answer here. I am writing up the longer detailed analysis to be posted to this blog as soon as I finish. First, the CCT was under NO obligation to give us back anything. Certainly, there was some community pressure and depending on your point of view a moral obligation, but legally there was nothing we could do to compel a giveback. As noted in the question above, we certainly would have preferred to have preserved all jobs by having a salary freeze, but that was not our decision to make beyond our proposing it to the union. Also, even with a salary freeze, the pension benefits obligation for next year are going up by over $3 million. That would take an amendment to the state constitution to change.

Having said that, know that opening an existing contract and giving anything back is virtually without precedent. Second, without leverage of any real substance we got a strong union to voluntarily open the last year of an admittedly generous contract and if you take the two year obligation versus the contract and what they would be entitled to under the Triborough amendment to the Taylor laws, we beat that too in the second extended year. Third, by only going out 1 additional year, we kept the board's flexibility in the event that Triborough is amended, repealed or suspended.

Or, looked at it another way, if we had not come to this agreement and the existing contract was honored we would have had to lay off an additional 10-12 teachers beyond what is currently proposed. That would have certainly effected the program for the worse. Then, even if Triborough was repealed the second year and we could impose a freeze, it would have saved us $3.5 million the second year, the amount of step raises. By coming to the agreement we did, we preserved programs and LOCKED in savings that amount to 50% of what may be the maximum amount saved over the two year period of the agreement.

For those residents who only care about the bottom line and not about what programs we would need to cut, by opposing this deal, they want us to make a bet that it is a greater than 50-50 chance that Triborough is changed such that it allows us to impose a salary freeze in the event there is no agreement. It is my opinion that even in this current political and economic climate, that betting on our legislature in Albany whose second most political contributions come from teacher unions (healthcare unions are first) to throw Triborough out the window is a bad bet. It is certainly not a bet I am willing to take with taxpayer money and certainly not a bet that is worth gutting our program for this year with the 50-50 hope of saving next year. I disagree with those who say we should have waited for Triborough to be "thrown out". I think there is a less than 50% chance that happens or happens in a way that the district will not benefit from it.

This deal preserves the academic integrity of our program and locks in savings to the taxpayers of $1.7 million over the two year period versus what the district would have been legally responsible for.

Yes, of course, we would have liked to have reached a deal that had a salary freeze over a few year period (or more), but the reality of the situation is that we could not get that agreement. The accusation and implications that we didn't even try or could have done better are off base. Just as off base are the implications that the teachers have acted in any way less than honorable. Remember, they tore up an existing contract and gave up legal rights under the Triborough amendment in order to help the community.

As this board has been saying for the past two years and again this year, real change has to come from our legislators. This is playing out all over the country. Mandates, regulations and work rules have to change in Albany.

How do we save specific teacher jobs?

The short answer is that it is very difficult to do so. When reducing positions due to enrollment declines or program changes, we are bound by a state mandated LIFO system for layoffs. Last in, first out. The long answer is not much different, but involves what we call the waterfall affect. With LIFO, when reducing a program, it is not necessarily the teacher that taught the class who is laid off. It would be the person who has the least seniority who is qualified to teach that subject (and does not have seniority teaching another subject for which he/she is qualified/certified) who is let go. Certain subject areas become tricky. For example, foreign language is a subject in which you can be generally certified. If we eliminate a language such as Swahili, it may not be the Swahili teacher who is laid off. If the person with the lowest seniority in the FL department teachers Japanese, that Japanese teacher would be laid off and the Swahili teacher, even if he/she does not speak Japanese would be entitled under work rules to teach Japanese.

Do you have 5 year projections or do you just look year at this year and kick the can until next year?

YES, we have projections. The administration will be presenting them at one of our next few meetings. I will also take that spreadsheet and make my own projections if they differ from the administrations. Know that it is very difficult to make projections as much of the assumptions are out of our control. How much we will be contributing to the pension fund is one example as is the amount of state aid. We can make projections on salaries for several scenarios and show the residents the different possibilities. It is also very difficult to estimate tax rates in that we have no control over assessments.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Update on Tuesday Feb 15th Meeting

For those looking for the video of our Tuesday meeting, it will be posted tomorrow (Friday). With the change in location, we used older analog technology that needs to first be converted to a digital format and then delivered to MCCMC. With a four hour meeting, and conversion taking a couple of hours per hour to convert, it has caused a much longer post time than we would like.

The Patch has posted an article to its site with a summary and review, and I expect NCN will post its own interpretation to its blog Friday morning.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Budget Preview

The administration sent the budget presentation to the Patch, the Journal News, Examiner and NCN about an hour ago. The administration proposal calls for a 1.78% budget increase, increased class sizes in order to maintain as much of the program as possible and over 30 staff cuts between instructional and non instructional.

Details tonight.

Email me at comments@newcastlealternative to submit a question for tonight's meeting. I will be able to receive them during meeting. Anonymous ok.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Tuesday Feb 15th Board Meeting Tweets and Anonymous Questions

I have been asked why there is no way to comment anonymously at Board meetings. The complaint is that there is a fear of retribution.

I have a possible solution. I intend to bring my laptop and try to Tweet the major points made. My Twitter handle is JSMCCSDBOE. (BIG HUGE Disclaimer: I am new at Tweeting and I want to focus on the presentation myself, so I may miss Tweeting a lot.)

If you are in the audience and do not want to ask a question yourself, send an email to me, during the meeting and I will try to ask it for you. All questions will be considered anonymous unless you "opt-in" and ask for it to not be anonymous. You do not even have to sign your name. I will do my best to ask them at the meeting. No guarantees, but I will pledge my best efforts.

Feel free to send the questions in advance too if the question is more general and not directly tied to what is presented.

Also, know that item 2.2 on the agenda is my proposal to add my district email address and a personal phone number to my entry on the member page. I feel strongly that residents should have the ability to contact me directly if they so desire rather than going through the general email. I believe in transparency. To email any Board member or for that matter any staff in the district that has district email, use the first two letters of the first name with the last name For example, Jerry Garcia would be



Saturday, February 12, 2011

This Tuesday's Meeting on the Budget

In anticipation of this Tuesday's budget proposal meeting, I ask two questions. Please feel free to comment here or at Tuesday's meeting. I have heard from some residents who want a zero budget increase. The question for them is, is that at any cost regardless of its effect on the academic programs? Is it simply a financial decision without regard to the ramifications or is there some academic component to your request? To those who say we should preserve all academic programs regardless of cost, is there no price too high? Is there any concern over cost and any thought to justifying a cost benefit analysis of some programs that could be cut?

I will be looking for those who not only point out problems and make demands, but I will be focusing on those who follow up problems with possible solutions. It is easy to sit back and say 0% or 5% budget over budget change, but to actually point out feasible ways to accomplish your goal is the hard part.

I also suggest that all sides in the budget debate remember that they can make their thoughts heard and their opinions known with dignity and civility. I would love to have what Jeffrey Weiss coined a civilog or a civil dialog.



Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Official District Announcement

Here is the announcement sent out by the District regarding Tuesday's Budget Meeting:

CCSD 2011-2012 Budget Proposal - 2-15-2011- HGHS AUDITORIUM
The Chappaqua Board of Education will meet on February 15 to focus on the 2011-2012 Superintendent’s Budget Proposal, with particular attention to school programs and staffing. To encourage public participation, the meeting will be held in the Horace Greeley High School Auditorium, starting at 8:15pm. Subsequent meetings in March and April will delve further into budget details, leading to the Board’s responsibility to formally adopt a budget proposal on April 12, which in turn is subject to voter referendum on May 17, 2011.

Already thus far in the budget-building season, the Board and administration have confirmed that significant reductions from the level of a “straight-line” budget will be necessary, and proposed support staff reductions have been announced. A reopening of the current Chappaqua teachers’ contract, which will save the District over $1MM in 2011-2012, has also been publicly announced. Even so, further announcements of proposed reductions in teaching positions are expected on February 15.

The Board’s strategic question guides this whole process: How can the District ensure continuing excellence in academic and extracurricular programs while developing a budget that is fiscally responsible?

2011-2012 Initial Budget Proposal on February 15th

Reminder that this coming Tuesday February 15th Interim Superintendent John Chambers and his administrative staff will present to the Board and the community a proposed budget for the 2011-2012 school year. This is a first look at the budget (expense) side of the proposal. It will also be a first chance to comment directly on the budget. Public input is an important part of the process of finalizing a proposal for the voters in May. Please come out and be heard!!

Oddly Enough

I just finished reading, Odd Jobs, a great page turner of a thriller by a first time novelist. I read the book in two evenings. Could not put it down. Very impressed by the pacing, the detailed story and the interspersing of humor within a thriller context. Written in the first person, the main character is both sympathetic as well as willing to do whatever necessary to reach his goal. I highly recommend the book. Since I am not a regualr book reviewer, I will leave out much more as I do not want to spoil the book, but if you like thrillers, take the time to read this book.

So why am I telling you this? Well, this first time novelist is a bond trader who lives here in Chappaqua. His name is Ben Lieberman. Here is a link to the book on Amazon. Here is a link to Ben's website and here is a link to an interview he did when he won the Tommy Award for excellence as a first time novelist. (Ben Lieberman author of Odd Jobs)

Ben and I are acquaintances, having several friends in common. We may have met several times. One of my children is friendly with one of his. Despite our tenuous connection, Ben spent 10 minutes with me in the parking lot of the A&P discussing his book. I had heard he had written the novel and saw him on line in the store. I merely intended to congratulate him for getting published when we started to talk about the book. His enthusiasm for the book and for the process of writing a novel for the first time is contagious. At the time, I had not yet read the book but had read several interviews and reviews. His willingness to discuss the concept behind the title and the editing process as well as the entire publicity and marketing "campaign" that is required was so interesting and fascinating.

We also discussed the premise behind the title to the book, Odd Jobs. Ben, using his own experience as well as from many many conversations remarked how the "od jobs" we all have had at one point in our life has had a profound impact on who or what we eventually become. It is a terrific observation Ben makes. I spent one summer in the customer complaint department of Sieman's Furniture. As a 17 year old, I did not even know some of the words that were coming out of the caller's mouths. I am very sure that I cannot put the broken furniture in the place they suggested.

I spent another summer working in a factory as the assistant to the gofer. His name was as far as I could get, Tony "Coca-Cola". By day, when I was with Tony, he did handy work around the factory floor, ran errands, picked up and sorted the mail as well as any other undocumented small job around the factory. It took me three days to get the guts to ask him the question that was burning in my head since the moment I met him. I finally blurted out, "Hey Tony, how come you are driving a Cadillac and talk about your pool and wear all that jewelry when you are the gofer around here?" "Kid", he replied, "this is my day job. On the weekends I have another job. I pick up envelopes. Each week I go to a list of addresses given to me by my boss, ask for the envelope and go on my way to the next pickup. If they have the envelope, great. If they don't, the next week when I go try to get the envelope, 9 times out of 10, the guy who I am getting the envelope from has either a leg or arm cast and several bruises."

"Tony, you work for the f*cking mob!" I shouted in surprise. "Kid, you're real smart. You're going places with that quick thinking of yours. Now, stop thinking and start doing. Turn the f*cking label machine on, huh?" Toward the end of the summer, he did offer to take me to his weekend job. I declined. Oh, and when I told Tony I really wanted to get tickets to this one concert, but it was sold out, two days later he handed me an envelope with four good tickets to the show. When I asked how he got them and what I owed him, he responded, "I was talking to my boss about you kid when I told him about the concert. Next day, Big Joey hands me the tickets to give to you. You never ask Big Joey where he gets things, but he must have noticed the surprised look on my face because he said to me, 'What are you looking at? I found them on the ground.' Here kid, enjoy."

Here is a quote from Ben's website:
People who read the novel often ask how much of this is from my own personal experiences. I usually say for sure one thing - I never killed anybody. I leave the rest up to them."

Monday, February 7, 2011

Another Twit!! Or Tweeter. Or Something

On January 26th, I posted about my Twitter account. Quite frankly, I have very few followers and I am Tweeting in the proverbial forest hoping someone hears me. @JSMCCSDBoE. But I am ok with that. Feel free to follow my tweets.

But, this post is not about me, it is about one of the other local Chappaqua blogs, NewCastleNOW. They have joined the ranks of those with Twitter accounts and send out their first Tweet this morning announcing the Monday update to their blog. While they only have three followers right now including me, this is a step in the right direction!! Follow them at @NCNowTweet.

(Also, to be fair to the Patch, Tom has been tweeting from @Chapkiscopatch for months now.)

Timely updates for all!!

AOL aka The Patch Buys Huff Po

Tonight, word leaked that AOL is buying the Huffington Post for $315 million. The big winner is the Patch. Content is king. The Patch will now have access to the second most read news website behind the DrudgeReport.

As I have said repeatedly, content and comments are king. The Huff Po articles often have literally thousands of comments. The Patch has already started posting articles across local editions when the story is more regional relevant than locally by town. Now, the Patch will have a national flavor as well.

Why do I care? This will have a tremendous impact on local news gathering. The Patch is a dynamic blog, posting news as it becomes available not waiting on a deadline or publication time line. The Patch has already started publishing real news stories such as sports scores, pictures and analysis, school stories and local current events including the police blotter. They do reviews of local businesses and cover local government.

If I want to know how many points A'mare had last night, I read the NY Post. If I want to know how many Matt Townsend had I read the Patch. This deal will expand local coverage, give access to much more varied editorial content and drive readership.

The difference between the Patch and NCN will be even more highlighted. It is the difference between a weekly like Time and a daily like the NY Times. They both have their place and niche, but they do have much different niches. The Patch is dynamic, updating multiple times a day. NCN posts 2x per week. Even the moderation of their comments can take hours if not half days. The Patch publishes comments upon submission. That allows for real dialogue between commenters.

I predict that either NCN changes its model to be more dynamic or it changes to more of an editorial and in depth news type blog a la Newsweek. I predict that local ad revenue will flow to the site that people will check multiple times per day for updates rather than multiple times per week.

I suspect that NCN will change but thrive at what they do well which is write editorial articles and cover fewer issues more in depth. Do you want to know that Summit Greenfield filed an amended FEIS, read the Patch. Want to know the implications of the filing, read NCN.