2018-2019 School Year Budget Questions & Answers

Q: What is the proposed 2018-19 School District budget increase and associated tax impact?
A: The proposed School District budget increase is 5.08%, and the projected tax levy is 3.89% over last year’s actual figures. The final tax rate will be determined this fall when New Rochelle’s city tax roll is set. The levy increase exceeds the state tax cap, which is designated by the state formula as 2.231% for New Rochelle. Districts will have different state caps based on the state formula.

 

Q: How has community input influenced the development of the 2018-19 School District budget?
A: As requested, this budget maintains existing programs, supports ongoing professional development, invests in social-emotional supports, and adds needed teaching positions. It also allows for a deeper investment in safety and security measures, which will be determined after the security audit report is submitted and the Task Force on Reducing Violence in the Lives of Children and Youth provides its recommendations. Based on input from New Rochelle residents, the budget includes an additional $1,670,311 in expenditures for safety, security and student supports.

 

Q: Why did the School District feel it was necessary to request a tax levy that surpasses the tax cap?
A: The state, again, has underfunded our fair share of the Foundation Aid formula by approximately $21 million for 2018-2019. Despite the continued underfunding, the 2015-2016, 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school district budgets were the first balanced budgets built since the recession started. Savings in operational efficiencies, achieved by eliminating redundancies, minimizing previously abused overtime, restructuring facilities management, reallocating technology expenditures, going out to bid for transportation, more efficient filing of claims for reimbursement, divesting garbage pick-up, and other similar measures enabled increases in positions and programs for students.

Now, the District needs to ask voters to pierce the tax cap for a few reasons. In the budget, the majority of increases are coming from the many fixed costs that are associated with existing teachers and staff, including salaries, FICA/Medicare, retirement funding and benefits, such as health insurance. The District’s budget also makes an investment in adding positions in the areas of safety and security and social-emotional supports for students and families.

 

Q: Why not use the fund balance and reduce taxes?
A: While the District is financially stronger than just a few years ago, it faces the same daunting challenges as other school districts across the state. Generally speaking, school districts are facing rising fixed costs that are outpacing slower revenue growth, namely state aid revenue, which puts pressure on school districts’ quality of their credit ratings. As a result, many school districts are in the unfortunate position of spending down their fund balances. This is a slippery slope. By improving our credit rating, we have already saved taxpayers $500,000 in borrowing costs. The utilization of fund balances must be strategic. It is best used during protracted economic recessions. During the next economic downturn, the District will need the fund balance to stabilize educational programs and taxes.

 

Q: Why did debt service increase more than $3 million?
A: Much of the debt service – $3 million – is a function of payments coming due on the first two phases of construction being funded by the sale of $106.5 million in bonds. The two phases cost $51 million combined. Without that added debt service, the increase in spending would be 3.92 percent.

 

Q: What is the tax impact of that increase?
A: The $3 million in added debt service for the bond-funded construction is revenue-neutral as essentially all of it is covered by state building aid.

 

Q: What positions are being added for the 2018-2019 school year?
A: Proposed new positions meet two needs. The first is additional positions providing social emotional supports for students and families. They include four school counselors at New Rochelle High School (one in each house); three school psychologist FTEs, for full-time equivalents (Barnard 1.5, Columbus .5, Davis .5 [restoration of a position], Trinity .5 [restoration]; and three school social worker FTEs (Barnard .6 [restoration], Columbus .5, Trinity 5, Ward .4, Albert Leonard .5 [restoration], Districtwide .5).

The second is providing more teaching positions to address pressing student needs. They include 2.1 English as a New Language teacher FTEs (Albert Leonard 1, Isaac E. Young .6, Ward .5); three special education teachers (one each at the high school, Albert Leonard, Isaac E. Young); and one special education teaching assistant and one special education aide (both at the high school).

 

Q: With the added positions, how will school psychologists and social workers be distributed throughout the district?
A: With the new positions, school psychologists and social workers will be distributed as follows:
School Psychologists (in FTEs)
New Rochelle High School, 5.0 (1.0 PAT); Campus, 1.0; Albert Leonard, 3.0 (1.0 PAT); Isaac E. Young, 2.0; Barnard, 4.0 (0.5 PAT); Columbus, 1.5; Davis, 1.5; Jefferson, 1.0; Trinity, 2.0; Ward, 3.0 (1.0 PAT); Webster, 0.8; District, 1.8.
(PAT = Positive Alternative Techniques program.)
Social Workers (in FTEs)
New Rochelle High School, 4.0; Albert Leonard, 2.0; Isaac E. Young, 2.0; Barnard, 2.0; Columbus, 1.5; Davis, 1.0; Jefferson, 1.0; Trinity, 1.5; Ward, 2.0; Webster, 0.8; District, 2.4.

 

Q. What in-district special education programs are offered?
A. The in-district special education programs offer a broad range of services in order to meet the students’ needs in the least restrictive environment. Find explanations of the programs  HERE.

 

Q: How is New York State affecting New Rochelle’s budget plans?
A: The residents of New Rochelle are in a much better position with school finances than just a few years ago. However, this school district faces the same daunting challenges as other school districts across the state. Generally speaking, school districts are facing rising fixed costs that are outpacing slower revenue growth (slower growth in revenues from the state coming in the form of collected state taxes), which puts pressure on school districts’ quality of their credit ratings. As a result, many school districts are in the unfortunate position of spending down their fund balances. New Rochelle does not want to pull money from its savings to pay for its needs next year. This was a problematic activity for this school district during the economic downturn starting in 2008. During the next downturn, the district wants savings to draw from so education and programs will be somewhat protected.

 

Q: How does the District’s credit rating become part of its budget equation?
A: In the last few years, New Rochelle has improved its credit ratings based on sound fiscal practices and building up general fund reserves. Utilizing those reserves will do two things: 1) Deplete a fund balance that can be tapped when the economy turns downward, and 2) lower the District’s credit rating. A lower quality credit rating means higher loan repayment interest rates and, ultimately, costs more as the District would be paying more for any outstanding debt. An approval of the budget under the challenge of piercing the cap would not only save the District’s reserves and maintain its credit rating, it would also show strong community support for its schools and possibly help the District’s credit rating improve even further. So far, our stronger credit rating will save taxpayers an estimated $500,000.

 

Q: How does the District’s request for a tax levy above the tax cap impact voters and the passing of the budget?
A: The budget will need 60% of the voters for approval, rather than a simple majority.

 

Q: What plans are in place to address the safety and security of students and staff?
A: This spring and summer, the school district will be receiving recommendations from the security assessment performed by Guideposts Solutions, a global security consulting firm, and the Task Force on Reducing Violence in the Lives of Children and Youth. The Board of Education will then consider these recommendations and the school district will implement recommendations as necessary.

 

Q: What plans are in place to address the facilities and maintenance aspects of our physical school community?
A: The $106.5 million capital bond, which was passed by New Rochelle voters in May 2016, is allowing us to continue to correct many of the health and safety issues that have existed in our school buildings. This district needed this type of infusion of capital funding – rather than simply handling it through the annual operational budget – to address the many necessary, long-delayed and age-related repairs in these buildings.

 

Q: How was the 2018-19 budget created and what are the advantages to the District of utilizing zero-based budgeting?
A: The 2018-19 budget has been developed using zero-based budgeting principles as the current District administration has done the last few years. It allows for greater opportunities to most efficiently allocate resources and coordination among District professionals to support the District’s educational goals and mission.

 

Q: What is Proposition 2 and why is the district asking voters to consider it?
A: Proposition 2 would create a Capital Reserve Fund, which would receive fair share mitigation fees paid by developers who participate in the City of New Rochelle’s development projects. The funds would be used for capital improvements. The proposition does not cost taxpayers anything.

 

Q: Please explain why cost-per-pupil is important?
A: Showing New Rochelle residents that expenditure per pupil is important because it is an indicator of how efficient the school district is with educating our children and utilizing the money the district receives from taxpayers. This number needs to be looked at in comparison to the average per pupil expenditure. It’s a point of information when people consider the value proposition being gained for their tax dollars by the school district, and it is my argument that that is a pretty high value for your tax dollars when you consider the quality that we are delivering, the competitiveness that we have with our neighbors, while or comparative per pupil spending is lower. And, when we come to ask for more every year, and we’re going to be asking for more this year, especially around student support services, social-emotional needs of our students, and the safety and security of our school buildings, then it is important to know that we are not the most, the highest spending on a per pupil basis in the region; in fact, quite to the contrary.

 

Q: Is there money set aside to improve school culture and social-emotional learning?
A: The School District is exploring new programs that will complement its current work in the areas of schoolwide, classroom, individual and community strategies that create a safe and positive school climate, improve peer relations, and increase awareness of and reduce the opportunities for bullying behavior. Its exploration includes anti-bullying programs that offer additional activities in schools. It is implementing the Safe Schools Ambassadors Program, an approach to improving school climate that relies on changing social norms using the power of students to stop bullying and violence.

 

Q: Will there be a re-registration of students?
A: Yes. All students in all grades will be re-registered over the summer. Details on the process will be forthcoming in an email from Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne.

 

Q: Will there be additional counseling services?
A: The budget provides for additional positions to provide social emotional supports for students and families. They include four school counselors at New Rochelle High School (one in each house); three school psychologist FTEs (Barnard Early Childhood Center 1.5, Columbus Elementary .5, George M. Davis Jr. Elementary .5 [restoration of a position], Trinity Elementary .5 [restoration]; and three school social worker FTEs (Barnard .6 [restoration], Columbus .5, Trinity .5, William B. Ward Elementary .4, Albert Leonard Middle School .5 [restoration], Districtwide .5).

 

Q: Where is the district at with implementing its Chromebooks program for students?
A: The district will continue to expand its Chromebook program with the eventual goal of providing every student with access to a device during the school day. The district currently has 8,200 Chromebooks for student use daily.

 

Q: Why are so many budget codes allocated to a location districtwide (code 39) rather than to building locations?
A: The location coding to district-wide instead of to schools in many, if not most, instances is deliberate and beneficial to everyone. In fact, we have deliberately moved funds from school codes to districtwide codes, at the request of principals and in the interest of equity. Districtwide budgeting and procurement have been especially helpful since we first launched our theory of action about instructional improvement in the spring of 2015. Previously, schools were determining their own approaches and procuring their own materials with funds allocated directly to their budgets. The principals then decided that funds related to curriculum materials and professional development would be better leveraged as a district, since all schools were going to be using the same consistent and coherent approach. We were then able to negotiate better pricing for the materials and professional development used by the schools in reading, writing, mathematics, and academic intervention. The materials were ordered centrally, relieving the schools of the burden of negotiating with the vendor, ordering and procuring their own curriculum materials in these areas, which had been the prior approach. Selections were made as a team, with high levels of buy-in from all schools, and delivery of materials went right to the schools. Likewise, professional development to support the new approaches were procured by central, and scheduled in collaboration with the schools as a way to build cohesion, so that grade levels across the district from various schools learn together. This had the positive effect of building cohesion around a district-wide approach, keeping the principals as decision makers within a team structure, and absorbing the logistical burden centrally, relieving the schools so that more time could be focused on the students. Another example of the advantages of an area that is budgeted districtwide instead of distributed to the schools is the one touched on at the board meeting - computer-aided instruction. The majority of the funds in this area are enterprise licenses and software that are used districtwide. Similar to the curriculum areas, the selections for programs and software are made by collaborative teams that include every school. Central negotiation of pricing leverages economy of scale and relieves schools of logistical burdens. We are also then able to make comparisons between BOCES procured services, which are aidable, and other vendors, as a district. When goods and services are procured centrally, there are cost benefits from economy of scale. To make it work for equity, the distribution of the goods and services has to be done to support all schools, especially schools that have greater needs, and this has been our mindset and approach. All this said, there may still be some lines that are coded districtwide out of accounting convenience that we could in future budgets more accurately and transparently code to school locations. In the meantime, please know that while doing so creates school-level discretion, it also involves selection and procurement logistics for the schools.

 

Q: Can there be more transparency with the budget, including showing how funds would be distributed among schools?

A: The proposed budget, with extensive supplemental information, is available on the District website, www.nred.org. Many costs are broken down by school, including instructional salaries, textbooks, computer equipment and supplies and materials such as copy paper, crayons and glassware for science laboratories. Staffing levels and projections are also posted on the site. An example of a cost that cannot be broken down by school is special education because it is a districtwide service.

The budget, as constructed, allows the flexibility to allocate resources where they are needed among all schools.

The budget process is far more transparent than in the past. This is evident from various items, including:
1) Vigorous zero-based budget process resulting in a zero-based budget document that is available to the public.

2) Multiple community meetings open to the public and live-streamed for those who could not attend.

3) Lengthy public budget presentations prepared by the administrators and staff members who actually prepared the various sections of the budget (i.e. assistant superintendents, directors, principals, etc.)

Further, the members of the public will receive a detailed budget newsletter and six-day notice of the May 15 budget vote in the mail. The newsletter is already available on the website.

 

Q: How would the budget affect my school tax rate and annual school tax bill?

A: The budget would increase the tax rate an estimated 4.14 percent. That would result in an increase in the annual tax bill of $507.68 for a home with a market value of about $695,000, the city median (based on the average home assessment in the city of $16,000.) The new tax rate would be $798.50 per $1,000 of assessed value. That’s an increase of $31.73 over the current rate of $766.77 per $1,000.
That means the tax bill for a home assessed at the city average would be $12,776, up from $12,268.32 this year. Owners of less expensive homes would see smaller increases and lower bills; more expensive homes would generate larger increases in the annual tax bill.

 

Q: Why is the tax rate increase larger than the tax levy increase?

A: The tax levy is the total amount of money that the District needs to raise in property taxes. That obligation is shared among all owners of taxable properties in the city – houses, commercial buildings and so on. As individual property owners successfully argue for the city to lower their assessments – the value assigned the property for tax purposes – that owner’s share of the obligation is reduced and shifted to the remaining properties. As a result of reduced assessments, the city’s tax base – the sum of all taxable assessments – is projected to shrink by the time taxes are collected to support the 2018-19 budget. Specifically, the tax base is projected to decline by $1.27 million, or about 0.5 percent. A smaller tax base means a higher tax rate is needed to raise the same amount of money.

 

Q: Why are police officers necessary at the high school?

A: The stationing of armed police officers in and around New Rochelle High School was not meant to be a permanent measure. It was a key step in increasing security at the school immediately in challenging times.

We have committed to maintaining their presence at the school through the end of the school year while we await recommendations from the Task Force on Reducing Violence in the Lives of Children and Youth and from the security assessment being conducted by the independent global security firm Guidepost Solutions. Those recommendations are expected to result in more permanent safety and security solutions. The future of police presence at the school will be determined then. We continue to welcome comments and input on the measure even after the budget vote.

 

Q: When will the District receive recommendations from the Task Force on Reducing Violence in the Lives of Children and Youth and the security assessment being conducted by Guidepost Solutions?

A: We understand that residents had hoped to see information on specific security measures sooner. That was not possible. The timing of the establishment of the Task Force and in the hiring of Guidepost Solutions made it difficult, if not impossible, to produce recommendations before the budget adoption.

While we want the Task Force and Guidepost Solutions to present their findings with all due efficiency, we also want their reviews to be thorough in order to bring back the most effective measures. Both are expected to present their findings shortly. The budget sets aside $421,146 to fund recommendations from both sources that are eventually approved by the Board of Education.

 

Q: Would the proposed tax levy impact individual tax rebates?

A: The STAR tax exemptions will not be affected by the budget.

If the budget is adopted, taxpayers who receive Basic STAR will lose, for one year, the property tax relief credit, an additional benefit. The credit is calculated as a portion of a taxpayers Basic STAR savings and is offered in addition to those STAR benefits.

 

Q: Why does the “Other benefits” line on page 90 of the budget show an increase of almost $2 million?

A. Two adjustments in the budget that were meant to be assigned to health insurance and the teachers retirement system were inadvertently mis-posted to the “other benefits” line. This was a clerical error. It has been corrected in the budget posted on the District website here.