April 15, 2013
Public Hearing on the 2013-14 School District Budget
Open Topics Forum
The Rye City School District held a Budget Hearing in the form of an Open Topics Forum on March 19, during which Board of Education members met with members of the community to take note of concerns, address questions, and listen to feedback with regard to the Superintendent's Recommended 2013-14 School Budget.
As the Board Members shared summaries of their group conversations with the public, several common themes were identified. Below are the matters that were most widely discussed, followed by the District's responses and explanations. Our main objective in the budget development process is to keep the impact of reductions as far from our students as possible. This budget maintains our academic program and the resources we need in order to meet our goals.
Challenges such as the tax levy cap, increasing unfunded mandates, rising pension costs, and limited state aid have made some changes inevitable. Advocacy is important during this difficult time for school districts. We can voice our concerns about the tax cap burden and unfunded mandates to our elected officials and ask them to join our efforts to protect the educational framework of our community. We encourage residents to visit www.ryeschools.org and send the letter that is posted on our homepage to the list provided.
There were questions about teacher layoffs and concerns that they are based on seniority; that the state does not allow merit to go into the process. Groups asked how many people will be affected by the staff reductions, and to what extent aides are part of Teacher's Retirement System (TRS)/Employees' Retirement System (ERS). There were concerns about staff changes at the Middle School and High School and whether reductions in one building can affect the other as secondary teachers are certified 6-12. There were also questions regarding Special Education teacher reductions. Groups additionally asked about cuts to aides' hours, and the effect this will have on traffic monitoring on school grounds in the morning and afternoon. Participants asked how that will be addressed, and whether aides' schedules can be staggered so that there is always someone to direct drop-off and pick-up traffic. Groups also asked about the reduction of elementary psychologist staffing and how this will be done without negatively affecting children.
- The number of full-time and part-time positions actually being reduced is still under review and may be minimized through attrition and retirements.
- Middle School and High School staff changes can affect one another, although the District takes this into careful consideration and makes determinations that will have the least impact on students and programs.
- Aides are part of the ERS system. We plan to stagger the aides' arrival hours to allow for supervision beginning at 8:15 and traffic monitoring will continue.
- Regarding the basis of teacher reductions, there is information on www.wpsba.org that can be used to create letters to send to state officials about the process.
- Two special education teaching positions have been restored, along with Middle School team leader positions, through retirements, attritions, and the new $105,000 in State Aid.
- In response to concerns about the reduction of an elementary psychologist, the addition of elementary assistant principals will allow the psychologists' roles to be focused on providing testing and services to the students in the building and in eligible private schools who actually require these designated professional services. Psychologists will no longer be assuming building supervision duties that they have historically taken on, so the re-organization of their responsibilities will offset the reduction of one position.
Questions were raised about the proposed reduction of a kindergarten section at Osborn and what will happen if enrollment changes. Also discussed was the shortening of "specials" at elementary schools, the notion that Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) keeps students from choosing other options in the secondary schools, the Middle School Program and whether it is whittling away to a Junior High model with dismantling of teams, and continuation of the Writing Mentor Program if the schedule changes and homeroom is lost.
- Regarding the kindergarten section reduction, each year, the Board looks at the actual enrollment numbers in June and makes a determination about sections and staffing required.
- Elementary school "specials" are not being reduced; it is actually standardization across the elementary schools so that there is equal time for all specials such as art, music, and physical education.
- Regarding foreign language, administration is tracking staffing related to enrollment. Spanish is increasing in popularity as a result of the FLES program. Mandarin and Latin are also flourishing and growing.
- The Middle School Program is being maintained. The District is supporting the team approach and team leader positions, with the only difference being that all teachers will teach a fifth period. The District is not changing exploratory courses and electives.
- The Writing Mentor Program will be sustained. The High School has already begun to implement changes in the use of homeroom for the program, as homerooms are slightly larger now than in previous years. The mentors have been using Google Calendar and Google Docs to contact students, share work and request appointments. Many students also see their mentors in the department offices to set up appointments. We are known for our Writing Mentor Program across the state and in the nation and between the mentors reaching out to students, faculty encouraging mentor meetings before assigned work is turned in, and students taking the initiative, we intend to continue it successfully.
The modified Middle School sports cuts were a widely discussed topic. Parents asked if there can be a fundraising or "pay for play" solution.
- Quite a few districts are looking to reduce/eliminate middle school modified sports teams for economic purposes. Rye has gone above and beyond what other districts typically do in offering modified sports. In fact, of the 17 schools in our conference, only one has multiple teams for modified sports, making it challenging to find teams to play against.
- "Pay for play," when Districts bill parents for extracurricular activities in which their children participate, is not legal in New York State; however, organizers can come together and people can donate for a specific cause. Fundraising participants should be aware that they must first ask the Board to accept the gifts they will be providing. The Rye Recreation Department is committed to providing after-school activities in school facilities, as requested.
Theatre Arts Program
There were many concerns expressed over reductions to the High School Theatre Arts Program. Groups asked how cuts were balanced across the arts and athletics. Attendees also asked whether the Video Journalism course is being eliminated, and whether Playwriting can be made into a full credit course.
- The $80,000 athletic reduction and $30,000 club reduction both represent a cut of about 10% of the salaries funded through those budget areas.
- Video Journalism will not be offered in 2013-14 due to low enrollment.
- Regarding the Playwriting course, the curriculum would need to be re-written to make it rigorous enough to qualify as a full-credit English course.
Questions and concerns were raised regarding the Educational Foundation that is being formed. Groups asked how efforts will be balanced between academics, athletics, and the arts. They also inquired as to whether the foundation can pay staff extra pay assignments as well as ways the public can get involved and possibly attend meetings.
- The Educational Foundation is required, by law, to be a separate entity from the Board of Education. The Foundation, however, will work collaboratively with the Superintendent of Schools and the District to meet the mission and goals of the schools. Foundation funds will be used to support programs identified by the District to provide opportunities that address student needs.
- The Foundation is in its early stages of tax-exempt formation. We will share information in the next few months as this initiative becomes solidified.