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Home Schools Charmian Neary: Vote YES on Rye School Budget May 18th

Charmian Neary: Vote YES on Rye School Budget May 18th

Today MyRye.com is carrying a guest column from Charmian Neary on her YES vote for the school budget on Tuesday, May 18th. What do you think? How will you vote on the school budget? Leave a comment below.

Charmian Neary is a parent in the Midland School District, serves on the school board finance and budget committee and organizes Friends of the Rye City School District every year, an ad hoc group of women who work to turn out the vote for the school budget.

By Charmian Neary

The taxpayers of Rye have supported our schools willingly and generously over the years allowing Rye schools to develop and maintain a national reputation for stellar achievement.

Now, however, times have changed . The relative comfort we’ve enjoyed as a community has given way to uncertainty for all of us and outright hardship for some.

In this atmosphere its important that the taxpayers know that just as they have supported Rye’s schools in times of rising property values , Rye’s schools will return that support when the economy falters.

To that end the schools budget  for 2010 -2011  — developed by the administration under Dr. Edward Shine and adopted by the school board under Joshua Nathan  — reflects the lowest tax rate increase in  almost 2 decades. The taxpayers need to hear that fact above the noise of competing constituencies that inevitably rises when debating something as important as education.

Rye schools next year will see an increase in enrollment. Despite the fact that we’re educating more students — with growth projected at 1.2 percent — our budget has risen only 1.3 percent.

The district has achieved that modest rate of growth despite increases in fuel and electricity costs, lower property tax revenues from declining home values and the ever present burden of onerous mandates from Albany.

Albany is important to mention for two reasons. First regarding those “mandates” so that they are understood. The New York State legislature every year passes more laws –which we are then “mandated” to include in our budget — but they do not increase our state school aid accordingly.  On the contrary, we are considered a wealthy suburban district, so there is little sympathy for our community’s property tax burden in the New York City dominated legislature.

Second, school taxes are the only taxes we as voters can vote against directly, so it is  really tempting to register our frustration at the polls in May during our school budget vote. The anger should rightly be directed at Albany in September and November.

Yes, the money is budgeted here in Rye and spent here as well, but its shocking how much of our budget is partially, and in some cases totally, beyond our local control.

From the portion we can control, the district  will cut $755,000 dollars this year–in addition to over $1,000,000 dollars cut last year. The budget has been trending downward for four years now as our board and administration together correctly resolved, well before the current economic crisis, that its  upward trajectory  was unsustainable. To rein in spending they held the line on salaries and benefits leading to painful and protracted contract negotiations that continue today.

Despite this they’ve kept the reductions away from our children and their education. They have not gutted programs foolishly or haphazardly which would take years to restore.

They’ve  made difficult decisions and withstood public criticism to deliver to Rye tax payers a budget less than 1/10th of 1 percent over enrollment growth.

I believe our administration and our school board  have done a commendable job in keeping Rye’s tax rate among the lowest of 46 districts in Westchester and Putnam counties.

Are school taxes still too high? Yes, quite frankly, they are, but we need to remember when we vote on May 18 that the men and women with the real power to change that fact are on the ballot in the Fall.

Until the way schools in New York are funded is changed in the legislature, this district is committed to delivering a first rate education for our children at the lowest possible tax burden to our citizens.
They owe that to all of us–the taxpayers of Rye.

Please join me in voting YES on the Rye City school budget.


  1. Behold the usual tax increase whitewash with a ‘kick the can down the road’ to November ploy where the author will then undoubtedly discover and shout about the gross inadequacy of any Albany candidate attempting to replace Suzi Oppenheimer and Steve Otis.

    Tomorrow I bet Jay invites Mr. de Frondeville’s group make their case here. For any who might think the $8 to 10 million in annual savings he will identify is fictitious, look below to this previous post indicating the potential savings figures being developed on Long Island.

    New York Post – Monday March 29, 2010


    The good news for taxpayers in most of New York is that you can lower your property taxes this year by voting “no” on your local school budget. The bad news is that your state legislators are trying hard to change the law — to fix it so you can’t.

    By a vote of 56-2, the state Senate recently passed a bill obscenely misnamed the Education Mandate Relief Act, sponsored by SEN. SUZI OPPENHEIMER. The bill would “mandate” a 3 percent rise in spending by school districts whose voters reject the budget at the ballot box. The measure was on a fast track through the Assembly until The Post got wind of it. Thank God for the Fourth Estate.

    When voters reject a school district’s proposed budget, state law allows the district to operate under a “contingency” budget of its previous budget plus 120 percent of the prior year’s inflation rate. But last year’s CPI was slightly negative — so voters can actually lower their school-property-tax bills by nixing the budget. That is, a “no” vote could actually mean something.

    Of course, districts would feel squeezed — the state is cutting back on its aid to schools, and most districts have locked themselves in to hiking teacher pay by 6 percent or so a year while providing much better health-care and retirement benefits than most taxpayers can dream of. So, rather than risk districts’ actually trying to get tough with the teacher unions, state lawmakers tried to sneak through a change in the “contingency budget” law so that the default increase would be 3 percent, rather than zero. That is, senators already voted to put teacher-union interests ahead of the taxpayers. The Assembly would have followed — had The Post not exposed the threat.

    School spending in New York is out of control — and so are the property taxes that fund it. More than a decade of efforts to cap these taxes has led nowhere. On Long Island, we pay $25,000 on average per student — while taxpaying homeowners and businesses struggle just to survive. One superintendent told me confidentially that funding could be cut by 30 percent in many districts without harming the quality of instruction. Recent scandals confirm that — the Roslyn district, for example, saw $12 million vanish without its being missed.

    The whole “contingency budget” system was the result of the Legislature’s (at the behest of the teacher unions) taking the teeth out of a property-tax cap that then-Gov. George Pataki proposed in 1996 as part of his STAR program, which was intended to provide relief from school-property taxes. Pataki had proposed a cap on school taxes; lawmakers turned that into an ineffective cap on school spending. How ineffective? In the years since, voters who rejected a proposed school budget often found that the “austerity” budget that automatically replaced it actually led to an even greater tax increase. More recent efforts to cap property taxes have either been bottled up in the state Assembly (the Suozzi Commission recommendations) or watered down to meaninglessness (Gov. Paterson’s 2009 plan, as well as another he released last week).

    Every member of the Legislature is up for re-election this fall. Each of them should be challenged on this issue — and those who refuse to commit to a genuine cap should have opponents. Why not vote in some ordinary citizen willing to step up and take a shot? Don’t worry too much about qualifications — the bar is set pretty low right now.

    Lawmakers won’t stop favoring the public-employee unions over the taxpayers until the voters make them pay a price for it. They need to fear us more than the masters they now obey.

    Andrea Vecchio is a board member of Long Islanders for Educational Reform.

  2. Wait, Friends of the RCSD are kidding, right? They must be otherwise how could they say that “an additional $775,000 was cut from this year’s budget”? The way I read it, the budget has been increased by almost $1million, not cut. Spending is to be higher next year, not lower.

  3. Dear Charmian, Friends, Parents: Try as you may, 3 facts are starkly simple: (this may take 2-3 postings)

    ● There is $2-4million of outright WASTE in excess margins (actual-audited vs. budget) EVERY YEAR since 2001 on 3 large items alone: Salaries, Benefits, Revenues other-than-Property Tax, as shown on p.6-1 and 10-1 of budget books (Rye Library).

    This is the range over the past 8 years, averaging $2.6M/y, cumulating to $21M by the last audited year 2009-09, and to $23.7 million when adding this budget’s estimates. Bob Zahm, who recently resigned from the Board after his NO vote, added another $300,000 of smaller items, also ignored by the Board, for a $2.3-4.3M range.

    ● This $2.3-4.3M over-taxation is all unjustifiable WASTE because there is a huge General Fund Balance of $10.45 million in reserves (30Jun09, p.6-3), far beyond any top rating requirement. This $10.45M includes a $2.74M Undesignated Fund Balance for any emergency.

    Respectfully submitted, Bertrand de Frondeville, 914 967 4970, bbdf@defrondeville.com

  4. I found that a follow up posting was necessary to pass through the wordl limit, so I conclude after facts 1 & 2 on excess margins as utterly unnecessary WASTE:

    ● Eliminating these Excess Margins of $2.3-4.3 million can be done immediately with absolutely NO IMPACT whatsoever ON ANY STUDENT, STAFF OR PROGRAM. Yet, despite repeated urgings, the Board has avoided addressing this plain WASTE issue for years.

    Our State Comptroller has called them illegal (WSJ 04.29)… If “the people” say NO, a moderate approach is a minimum $1.5 M reduction, enough below “contingency budget” to ensure passage. We are working with the State Comptroller’s Office to ascertain that we have a few years to address the other $0.8-2.8 million of over-taxation, and then discuss other WASTE items worth $7-9 million.

    There will be money for new science labs, regulation field, and “Return-to-taxpayers” a la Scarsdale, even for seeding squash and crew “clubs”, all to ensure sustainable excellence in education.
    Any questions?
    Bertrand de Frondeville, 967 4970


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