Saturday, January 8, 2011

2011-2012 Budget Update

The usual disclaimers apply.  I am speaking for myself, not the entire BoE or the Finance Committee or the Budget Advisory Committee.  Read at your own risk.  Shake well before using.  Past performance means bupkis.  Refrigerate after opening. Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV).

"The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on."  

On October 15th, as part of the Board of Ed's Finance Committee, Randy Katchis and I sent a request to the community, published on the CCSD website as well as on the Patch and NewCastleNOW blogs, for volunteers to be on a Budget Advisory Committee.  The response to that request was significant.  While we were hoping to have between 10 and 15 volunteers, we had over 25 people volunteer.  Rather than turn anyone away, we chose to accept all help offered.  Quite frankly, the Board was very pleased to see that the community might be engaged in this year's budget discussion.  We welcome constructive suggestions, thoughtful comments and incisive questions.  

Since the first meeting on November 9th, the Committee has met as a group two more times; once on November 23rd and again on December 22nd.  At several Board of Ed regular meetings, this group was discussed and it was reiterated that even if you were not formally part of the Committee, all public was welcome to attend and participate.  These meetings were not a secret; they were well publicized. 

I am disappointed to report that neither NewCastleNOW nor the Patch (or the Examiner) attended any meeting or any part of those meetings.  I also add that not one outside member of the public chose to join us for a meeting.  (One gentlemen came to a meeting but had to leave after 5 minutes to attend to a private matter.)  Rather than actually participate in a meeting and offer specific suggestions for our district or discuss the issues that our district faces, it appears most of the public would either rather complain to each other over coffee, write book reviews, write anonymous comments or let someone else get their hands dirty.  Know that 25 of your fellow residents are getting their hands dirty and doing what they can to help.    

The Advisory Committee was further broken into three sub groups.  One group, referred to as the regulatory group had been studying  the numerous state mandates, regulations and restrictions.  They are seeking ways to address them both internally in the CCSD and to seek ways to convince our State lawmakers to reconsider these obligations and burdens.  The second group, is focusing on ways to communicate with the community on the budget.  They are thinking about ways to get information out to the community as well as to get information.  One idea includes a community survey.  The third group is crunching numbers and looking at our district's number versus a similar cohort in Westchester County.  They are also trying to analyze our own spending to see if there are any outliers.  They will also use their work to present information to the community.

Y'all missed some important informative meetings.  For example, at the December 22nd meeting, David Shaw, CCSD's counsel and one of the most experienced and knowledgeable people in the entire state of New York with regards to collective bargaining and the Triborough amendment, spoke for 45 minutes on Triborough and other state mandates as well as answered questions for another half hour following his presentation.  When 75% of our budget comes from compensation in one form or another, a discussion on the driving forces and laws regarding collective bargaining is quite frankly  critical to appreciating and understanding the budget.  Yet no one chose to report on it or attend.  

It is easy to sit back in a state of ignorance and tell the board how it "oughta be done", but if members of the community want to be productive, they will get informed and participate. Get to know the limitations on the district in what can be changed.  Know that collective bargaining agreements prevent certain outsourcing of jobs, that the State mandates many of our obligations and that our staff including maintenance and custodial, teachers, and administrators, regardless of your opinion on compensation levels, are the best in the business.  

Those who attended the meeting on December 22nd (the Advisory Committee) heard as Mr. Shaw explained how NY State requires all school districts to participate in the State's defined benefit pension plan.    Mr. Shaw also described the Triborough Amendment that says in essence that in the event that there is no agreement on a new contract, the bargaining unit will automatically be granted whatever step raises were negotiated in the previous contract until a new contract is negotiated.  This was designed as an offset to the units inability to strike.

The BoE's next regular meeting is this Tuesday, January 11th at 8:15 in the academic commons at the high school.  At that meeting, the Board and the community will be presented with the second part of the budget preview.  While the first draft of the entire budget will not be presented until February, in December and now again in January, the administration has been previewing some of the bigger items and issues they face when creating the proposed budget.  On Tuesday, the topic of staffing levels, both support and instructional, will be addressed.  

The next Budget Advisory Group meeting will be on Saturday January 22nd at 3:30pm also in the academic commons.  At that meeting we anticipate discussing the January 11th presentation, outlining the February 15th Board budget presentation, taking suggestions on both presentation and content as well as reports from the three working subgroups of the committee.


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