Friday, February 05, 2010

Parents vs. Taxpayers ~ "Us" vs "Them"

14% Tax Rate Hike
$16 million* in budget cuts

The Greece school board has some tough decisions ahead, lots of them. After already trimming $8 million and hitting all of the more obvious larger line items, they now must make numerous decisions on axing much smaller programs and services, as witnessed with the West Ridge Kindergarten controversy. Here's the math so far:

2009/10 budget ~~ $195.5 million, as approved by last year's vote

2010/11 proposed ~~ $207.3 million, also called the "budget-to-budget" figure - it contains NO additions, just increases for salaries, benefits, retain the status quo

Current 2010/11 proposal ~~ $199.3 million, BOE & Supt. have made the "easier" cuts

More recently, a potential $8 million loss of state aid has been announced by Gov. Paterson, leaving the BOE to either make another $8 million in reductions or raise taxes by 14% (this number was used at the WR meeting Wed. night). Obviously, the latter option would be voted down at the polls, especially in light of recent assessment increases announced by the Town. So the question becomes:

 What to cut & where?

* The $16 million figure includes the $8 million already trimmed. If the BOE tries to keep the budget at last year's level, they will need to find another $4 million in cuts to the base budget on top of the $16 million mentioned earlier. All other numbers have been discussed at BOE meetings.


SCATS said...

To give you an idea of the tough decisions the BOE & Supt will be having to make, I started a list of some possibilities (probabilities maybe) below. Please remember, mandated items can't be cut. I believe the list below contains only non-mandated possibilities:

Eliminate/reduce: Pre-K & its busing; Kindergarten & its busing; Stipends; Extra-curriculars (sports, music, etc); HS electives; AP classes; activity buses before/after school; new library book purchases; text book purchases; purchases of equipment, office and classroom supplies, etc.; technology related items; nurses, counselors, psychologists, etc.; professional development expenses; legal expenses; consulting fees;

Increase walking distances to bus stops/school.

Ask unions for concessions like pay & benefit freezes or reductions.

Close/sell buildings ~~ Barnard, West Ridge, Parkland ...

Sell vacant land (bad idea!)

Eliminate school choice/options

Shut down bldgs after hours

Reduce administrative staff (DO, VPs, etc)

Raise class sizes

Stop Steve Walts' Lifetime health care ($25,000/yr)

Reduce/eliminate use of couriers

Get rid of the PO Box in North Greece

What are YOUR ideas??

Anonymous said...

Scats......All of your suggestions need to implemented by the B of E. The exceptions would be the stipends because I believe this is a "contractual" issue with the teacher's union and the concessions of pay and benefit freezes/reductions. The unions will never go for this because it IS all about them! Let the layoffs begin. I will pay higher taxes when hell freezes over. I already have to put away more tax money monthly in my escrow account than I pay for my monthly principal and interest on my freakin mortgage and I live in home that is valued at about $100,000. I do not live extravently by any means. Before the district taxes me ONE MORE PENNY they better start reducing their spending by MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!!

Anonymous said...

Scats; you say $8 million has already been cut.
What was involved in those cuts. This is news to me. I don't remember the board voting on cuts of this size.

SCATS said...

To 6:18AM ~~ I realize that union cooperation would be needed for any freeze on wages/benefits. I'm hoping that they might surprise the community just this once and step forward ... "for the kids!" When you say stipends are "contractual" are you saying we MUST pay stipends? I'm under the impression that all of those extra "duties" could either be eliminated or accomplished by volunteers (like the PTA ... I know, when hell freezes over)without needing any union approval.

SCATS said...

To 7:35AM ~~ I haven't kept a list of those, but they involve things like reductions in teaching staff, larger class sizes, reductions in transportation, etc. Ask a BOE member for their list. There will be only one vote as such ... at the time the overall budget is adopted, probably in early April. Before that, they tend to verbally agree on what needs to be done as per the Supt's recommendations.

Anonymous said...

SCATS: The stipend issue all depends on your definition of stipends or "extra duties" as you call them.

Titles for teachers, in the buildings such as team leader, math and or sci coordinator, are all paid from a different allocation of money given to each school organization level ie K-2,3-5, K-5, 6-8, 9-12 by union contract. Each school then divide up the money as they see fit. So a team leader at Parkland could be paid a different amount of money than a team leader at Kirk Rd.

The same logic is true for clubs, such as the Ski Club, Drama Club or Musical Director an allocation of money is given to each level and divided up as each building thinks is appropriate. Each building can also determine what clubs they will have. Again the amount is decided in the union contract.

Coaches salaries are decided in the union contract but is district wide. The football coach at Olynpia and the football coach at Athena are under the same rules for payment but maybe paid diferently based on years of football coaching experience, size of school, Section 5 school size, etc.

Band/Orchestra conductors are not paid extra to conduct the band/orchestra in their individual buildings but they do not get a supervision assignment such as a study hall. The district wide band or orchestra conductors do get a stipend determine by the union contract.

While I say "determined by the union contract" please keep in mind there is no "contract" without BOTH sides signing, the teachers union and the BOE. BOE in Greece Central have approved all of these dollar numbers for the stipends.

I have not read a current contract but a "current" contract is at least 7 years old because there has not been a new signed contract for four years.


Doug Skeet

SCATS said...

Doug ~~ I'm referring to the dozens upon dozens of stipends the BOE approves each money. They are largely for extracurricular clubs, coaching, etc. On Board Docs, you can see them in the approved minutes at past BOE meetings.

My point is, I do not believe the contract requires us to hire & pay someone if we could get the job done using volunteers ;) I've heard a BOE member who brought this suggestion up at a couple of the budget discussions, so I'm assuming it's not contractual. Otherwise I'm reasonably sure we would have heard about it.

Anonymous said...

SCATS: The board of education certainly has the option of leaving extracurricular appointments vacant. There is no contractual mandate to fill these positions. HOWEVER, the district (right now under current contract language and that pesky Taylor law) would be unable to fill them with volunteers as long as they are listed positions in the contract and to which union members have "first dibs". That, as the unions say, is "taking away union work." Believe me, it would be grieved and the district would lose. The way around it is to get extracurricular positions OUT of the contract and/or change the language the eliminates union members as having first priority.

Anonymous said...

Unload the asst. principals at the elementary schools thats $100,000 a pop. You can't tell me that you need two administrators to run a K-2 or K-5 school.

Anonymous said...

What is the tax rate increase associated with the $199.3 millioon "proposed budget" and is the 14%/ ($8 million) on top of that?

Who owns the "proposed" budget, super or board?

Anonymous said...

Increase class size for all teachers over $60,000 per year by 15-20% commensuate with their salary. And negotiate with union for pay freezes as an alternative.
(Lets see if it is all about the kids.)

Eliminate most all athletic directors and have only one for the district.

Pre K only for those students with a "need" (see the criteria used in Henerrita) Same for all day kindergarden the first semester.

Set up incentive plan for employees to use their spouse's health care plan as some companies do.

Anonymous said...

The contract with the teachers may specify pay, but it doesn't say how many teachers there will be. Perhaps Greece, like some other school districts, could off the teachers an option: an involuntary reduction in the work force, or a reduction in pay that eliminates the involuntary cuts. Of course, such a "deal" would also need to apply to administrators as well....

Anonymous said...

They can subtract staff in 2 ways. One is to drop programs or subjects that are not state mandated. Then the teachers or administrators in those programs would have to "bump" a lower union member to grab their position. There are hundreds of such positions from librarians to pre-school teachers.
The other way is to raise the class size guidelines. Although this may be in the teachers contract so it may be impossible without negotiation. So we are back to dropping programs which can be done very easily like ripping off a bandaid. Quick.
The extra curricular stipends should be gone too but that is nickel and dime compared to the above 2 suggestions.

SCATS said...

To 11:13AM ~~ I think they are trying to stay around or under 4%. I know at least one BOE member wants it to be around 0. But I'm not sure if that $199.3 figure puts them under, over or at their goal.

To 1:07PM ~~ Since they lowered class sizes a few years ago & haven't renogiated a new contract after that period (as far as I'm aware), they can go ahead and raise them back to contractual limits again, right?

Re stipends: How do "new" positions relate to contractual coverage? I'm appalled by the sheer number of stipends I see approved now compared to even 5 yrs. ago! I am definitely seeing positions "for pay" with stipends that were done by parent volunteers not so far back.

Anonymous said...

1:07 NYS Education law requires library media specialists in the secondary schools. They are not required in the elementary schools, however. Class size guidelines are NOT in the current teachers contract so those can be played with for sure. Also, many don't know this but compulsory school age is SIX. Kindergarten is NOT a required grade.

SCATS said...

To 3:22PM ~~ Thank you for the info. I was fairly sure Kindergarten wasn't mandated. I wonder how much we could save by eliminating Kindergarten (and pre-K) across the district? More than $8 million? I bet we could reduce staff, transportation costs, utilities and the number of schools open by more than $8 million with that elimination alone. In fact, it makes sense to do so in that there seems to have been no measurable, positive educational impact in instituting full day Kindersgarten ... at least none that I've heard discussed.

I know librarians are required for secondary only. I believe other elementary "specials" teachers (art, music) are also not mandated, right? I know phys ed is a mandated program at all grade levels, but I'm not sure we're required to have a certified teacher at elementary level...?

Anonymous said...

Just went to the GTA website and read the contract that is in effect now. The class size guidelines and limits are in the contract e.g. at elementary the limit is 30 students per class and the ratio is 25.5 per one teacher not counting the counselors and psychologists etc.

Maybe Scats could provide a link. The link at the district web site to the contracts could not be read by my computer?? Something about adobe update. But the text only option at the GTA site was fine.
And the benefits package from this contract signed in 2005 Walts was generous. We cover 90% of the premium, they pay 10%.
But it appears that the class sizes cannot go above these guidelines without renegotiation.
Of course maybe the district has been operating with even better class sizes than those in this contract. For example maybe the limit to class size at the elementary level is 25 like at Pinebrook. In that case they could be raised to the bigger sizes in the contract. Does anyone know what the class limits are at the various k-2 and 3-5 and k-5 schools?

And not just librarians are optional at the k-6 level. Yes the NY state requirements separate k-6 from 7-8 or 7-12. Music and art and physical education do not have to be taught by a separate person certified in that discipline at that level. Rather the course content has to be taught by some N-6 certified professional. The classroom teacher could teach these just like she teaches math and language arts and science. And in the case of Phys Ed there is a time requirement at the elementary level of 125 minutes per week. There is also a requirement that there be a phys ed director which we have at Central Office.

Anonymous said...

Define what the role of a union is, what is the union's job - their "mission statement"? To protect its members. It is not the union's job to be "all for the kids". That is the PTA's mission statement, and, should be that of the district. Even if you don't agree, it is not the union's job to do what is best for the kids. Weren't unions formed to protect worker's rights? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

I have a good idea for saving a few dollars. There are several administrators scheduled to attend an out of state conference next week. How about if they don't go and that money gets saved? I can't remember where I heard they were going but I do believe that it is in California.

Another way to save money for the District would be to have all of the administrators pay for their own cell phones.

How about snacks do not get served at meetings....put a freeze on spending at DO...too much is spent without accountability up there.....

Just a few thoughts........

Anonymous said...

What do you mean that administrators don't pay for their own cell phones? Why should my tax dollars pay for it?

Anonymous said...

Another way to save a few dollars would be to cancel the administrative retreat this summer.

SCATS said...

To 3:40PM ~~ thank you for refreshing my memory about the contract, specials teachers & class sizes. I posted the link to the contract on the front of the BLOG for anyone interested. I also indexed the BLOG for "Teacher's contract" so you will be able to find both this BLOG & the link via the archives in the future.

Regarding class sizes, I believe Steve reduced them across the district a couple of years ago. That reduction was the reason (or excuse?) given for explaining why Pinebrook's capacity suddenly decreased by around 70 students - something I bet that parents on the waiting list were never told ;)

To 4:22PM ~~ I must agree with you. Sad as it is, our PTA is little more than the left hand to the GTA. Case in point, the Wed. night dog & pony show at West Ridge with the accompanying media blitz. For school-of-choice parents, I was stunned to see how uninformed and out-of-touch they really are! They knew next to nothing about the budget, the Supt's or BOE 's role in creating the budget, etc.

It was painfully apparent that GTA was using them to do much of their bidding. Why else would the union prez. show up to watch, but say nothing to help?

What WR parents don't realize is that GTA holds the solution to their dilemma. They do not want to hear the truth or digest the facts. I attempted to provide them with some info, suggestions, etc. on their Facebook page. Very predictably, they shot the messenger by "blocking my access" (so they think) ... that's the two-year old's equivalent to a temper tantrum when told "no" ... cover your ears & close your eyes. They believe that crying into a mic will save their K. It might, but only for the short term. "Win the battle and lose the war."

Excellent ideas 4:42PM. I'm told that few snacks/meals are provided to the BOE & that what they do get is provided inhouse & inexpensively. They justify the expense because their meetings start so early and last so long that some BOE members don't get to have dinner coming in straight from work.

I'd like to know how much we're paying for courier services and that PO Box each year. They don't need to be running all over the district delivering mail they have to retrieve from the N Greece PO when each school has it's own address and gets routine postal deliveries anyway.

Anonymous said...

Scats: 4:22 here...
It is sad but true, and despite my feelings because I am a parent with children in the district (ironically West Ridge), I try to understand that the union is only doing its job. The comments posted about cell phone and snack expenses are great ideas..I think if we all pull together we can come up with some great ideas. Getting the BOE to listen to them is another story. Is there anyone/any group that wants what is best for the children? How about all the great things that are happening in schools, all schools, even if we tell our wonderful success stories that our children have had with the district, none of it matters. Very sad.

SCATS said...

To 6:22PM ~~ Yes, the union is doing it's job. They ALWAYS get 'er done. The bigger question is why isn't your PTA doing its job?? Is it because their mission statement is phony?

I think the BOE is open to ideas but campaigning to retain K @ WR without coming up with some really BIG alternative plans to cut spending is ignoring the elephant in the living room.

As for what's best, I think I want what's best. The problem is that my definition of what is best is a no-nonsense get-us-back-to-basics approach focused on truly educating kids. They should learn curriculum, exceed state testing requirements and graduate in 4 yrs with a diploma that has meaning. I don't hear many other people saying they want that. Settling for two dozen "scholar athletes" with some sort of fuzzy standards, instead of half-a-dozen Natl Merit Scholars is what GTA & PTA help promote each year. Athletes in this district get numerous rewards. What rewards do our scholars get? I don't see any TV promos for them. It's all a matter of priorities.

Anonymous said...

SCATS: I know what kind of stipends you are talking about. They are listed on page 46 of the GTA contract.

My point is, if one teacher applied for any position listed the district would have to pay them.

On this same page is the allocation for clubs at the elementary and middles school. If a building team had individuals that wanted to be a club advisor or team leader the district/BOE would have to pay them. Again it is in the contract.


Doug Skeet

Anonymous said...

Scats: The district's, board's, PTA's and everybody's mission statement should be "Graduating students in 13 yrs who meet or exceed state standards, know the required curriculum and measuring our success by doing it in an affordable way to the preponderance of taxpayers."

The problem in Greece is they make everything so complicated. Everyone has their own goals, their own mission statement and their own measures for success. The problem is none of them share the same goals, so we just keep falling further behind. Make sense?

Anonymous said...

How about cutting the IB programs? Especially at the elementary level... what a waste of money!

SCATS said...

Doug ~~ Thank you for the info. I'm wondering how so many positions that were volunteer jobs not so long ago suddenly became stipend jobs? Example: I'm seeing a lot of stipends paid for helpers of different sorts related to school musicals. Parents were doing some of these jobs previously, so what's changed & why?

To 8:14PM ~~ WOW!! That makes perfect sense to me and is fairly well stated. I think you hit on the overall problem: we've drifted away from the KISS principle: KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID. No one is on the same page any more.

Would you be interested in running the district in a few months? I hear there's going to be an opening ...

To 10:44PM ~~ IB @ elementary? I had no idea. Which schools do this?

Does anyone have any ideas for generating revenue? How about charging employees and attendees to events for parking? Consolidate after hours classes & activities to a few buildings where use fees are collected and save by keeping the rest of the district closed after 5PM. I think we should be charging rent for the radio station WGMC who uses our facilities, utilities and services FREE of CHARGE!

Anonymous said...

Buckman Heights and Holmes Road have the IB program. They are always sending teachers from there off to see other programs. Then we pay for the substitutes,too! Also if Odyssey is such a great school why do they need IB? Is that another way to make it exculsive? I bet eliminating IB would save a lot.

Anonymous said...

scats at 11:39

How about keeping the money that Athena charges for admission?

SCATS said...

To 9:02AM ~~ Oh, now I recall having heard that once before. Thanks for the reminder :)

To 9:28AM ~~ Do you mean for A-PAC?
That would fit right into what I just read in the Greece Post. Auberger is now offering "party packages" at the Senior Center for $170 to use the gym plus a multi-purpose room for 2 hrs. plus two sports, whatever that means. Who would do this at those prices? Maybe GCSD is under-charging for facilities use fees?

Anonymous said...

Pre K should defininately be reevaluated. Some kids do need
to catch up to others but I think with a little consulting with other districts they could eliminate at least half the kids from that prograqm.

And all day kindergarden is too much for many kids at least the first semester.

A little outside the box thinking is really needed this year!

Anonymous said...

Scats at 11:13 that's not what I meant but it is a good idea.
What I meant was that the middle school Carl Wager productions are 6 performances over 2 weekends and donate the ticket money to a charity, not the school district. And has anyone been a witness to his direction and discipline strategies? It is almost like child labor. They are performing to make money to donate to some charity.
Has anyone been approached by them to be a sponsor of that event. Whoooo they want from $500 to $1000 for a page ad and a banner and some VIP seats. Yes you can sponsor with smaller ads but just the fact that they have big "corporate" sponsor opportunities is so pretentious. It makes you think that maybe the schools in Greece need no financial help since we are making money for other charities.
For that matter much of the fund raising in the schools is child labor.

SCATS said...

To 12:23PM ~~ Thanks for explaining. I disagree with you about fundraising and donating money to charity if kids are involved. In fact, I'm opposed to our schools USING CHILDREN TO DO THIS AT ALL. Charity should be just that: a CONSCIOUS action to give by an individual or group of adults.

I give to charity. My family gives. We've had projects at home where all have been involved. The gift of time is often worth more than any amount of money. Students should be studying, not fundraising. They can learn charity from the examples set by the adult role models in their lives. We don't need to "teach" them to do it in school.

I wonder where the money from those pricey ads lands? Does it pay for the costs associated with having the production?

SCATS said...

According to today's D&C article, here's what the BOE had slated* to cut from the budget:

Axing WR K
Axing some elective courses
Axing approx. 60 teaching/staff jobs
Axing Assests Program
Delaying bus purchases
Delaying repairs
Refinancing some debt
Eliminating buses for pre-K
Raising class size

Those items were on the table BEFORE Paterson announced a possible $12 million state aid loss for Greece. New items up for consideration:

Raising class sizes even more
Changing school structure/options
Cutting more jobs
Reducing Transportation

*As WR parents found out, these things have already been slashed. Whether any get restored after lots of sobbing into the mic remains to be seen.

Anonymous said...

@SCATS 11:13, you're really showing your age. ;) These days $170 for a room and activities like that are a bargain for youth parties. Renting a park facility alone is $175+ and a firehall facility is $200+ before anything else. Forget Chuck E Cheese and places like them. Through the roof prices!!! We always just did them at the house but it's good residents have other less expensive options.

SCATS said...

To 1:50PM ~~ Maybe I'm just showing a lack of sleep. I hadn't thought about holding "youth" parties at the "Senior" Center :)

Whatever happened to going to a park and taking your chances on finding a shelter that's not in use? We've always had good luck at Braddock's & Charlotte.

Anonymous said...

Scats at 12:42
The money raised by sponsors and tickets goes first to pay the people in the orchestra which are paid at union scale. Musicians local and teachers union. There are very few students in the Athena production orchestras. Then they have to pay the professional light and sound people who have state of the art equipment. The other schools use students for these. Then they pay for the other expenses such as props and costumes and the backdrops and the rental of the books. The stipends for the directors etc are paid according to the union contract from the district budget. The rest goes to the chosen charity. Once it was Camp Good Days. So all the money from the ads and sponsorships and the tickets pays for all that.
And although they use the district budget for the artistic and musical director and the school buildings for the production,as a community we never get to see the books for the total gross take and expenses. Totally secret unless you are in a leadership position of the music boosters.

Anonymous said...

additional to scats at 12:42
I must not have been clear. I am against children being used for fundraising. PTA is supposed to be only raising funds for the activities which promote the mission of the PTA to involve parents and educate parents about school involvement or parenting. They go waaaay beyond that into covering the purchase of entertainers and field trips and books and computer equipment. Again using district resources for the distribution and collection of the moneys and not having to disclose their gross take.

And to have theatrical productions that are so extravagant is way out of line for a school district. What are they trying to prove? Those children should not be exploited to provide reality to these poor man's Oliver Stones and DeMilles dreams.

SCATS said...

To 4:09 & 4:26PM ~~ Thanks for the insights ... geesh. If we could at least pretend to be a school district, the students would be doing those "jobs" and learning something. How sad they don't get that chance.

Anonymous said...

SCATS 5:32 -- On the ball there.

SCATS said...

To 8:16AM ~~ My reference was regarding the musicals. I'm well aware of the PTA's fundraising talents. I'm also well aware that fundraising isn't supposed to be the mainstay of their reason to exist. Maybe they should be required to recite their mission statement before every meeting and activity to remind them.