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Home Schools Bob Zahm: Stop the School Budget Scare Tactics

Bob Zahm: Stop the School Budget Scare Tactics

Today Ridgewood Drive resident Bob Zahm, former member of the Rye Board of Education, speaks out on the upcoming budget vote.

Bob Zahm 02-10-2010 307 

(PHOTO: Bob Zahm at a joint Board of Ed and City Council meeting in 2010.)

By Bob Zahm

Have you seen the list? You know, the list of Elementary school people who we’re told will lose their jobs if the proposed Rye Schools budget fails? The list has been circulated on the PTO mailing lists. I’d hate to see teachers lose their jobs. And what would the children say if they thought that their teacher was going to be axed? I understand looking out for our teachers and our children, but is this a real possibility or just another scare tactic?

To be a real possibility and not just a scare tactic, there’d have to be no other options for the schools if the budget fails. Right off the bat, the School Board has the option of re-submitting the same budget to a second vote. The Board has said that they don’t want to do that, but it is an option if they really believe the proposed budget is the best possible.

Instead of submitting the same budget a second time, the Board could revise the proposed budget with non-academic cuts and other sources of revenue. Both exist. For example, more of the $11.3 million in reserves than currently proposed could be used. While unsustainable, the Board has built up reserves for just such emergencies like a failed budget vote, unplanned enrollment growth, etc.

What about non-academic cuts? $1.2 million is planned for athletics which, in the proposed budget has been treated like a sacred cow. There’s the $126,000 in planned increases to facilities spending. There is also a several hundred thousand dollar increase to technology that could be reduced.

So, given that there are plenty of non-academic areas for reductions as well as another major source of funding, the circulation of a list of teachers to be fired should the budget fail is just another scare tactic. And a pretty nasty one at that.

Hopefully in the future, instead of scare tactics, those who are concerned about retaining teachers will direct their concerns to the Board along with the realistic alternatives that exist.


  1. If the full budget were actually posted, accessible, and properly detailed, I’m sure there would be a lot of items that could be identified and reduced or eliminated.

    What is really scary is that no matter how you spin it, our kids lose in this budget. The current proposal reduces our general education budget by another $200,000, yet increases wages and benefits by an additional $1,500,000. $200,000 from a $2,000,000 budget equals a full 10% decrease from the general education budget. How can Rye parents be excited about that?

    No where to cut? Explain the increased transportation costs. The peer groups that Rye always compares itself to, actually have transportation, something we don’t. For a small district that doesn’t have bussing, why are they proposing $1,495,000 for transportation?

    Most school districts contribute to special education costs. Rye doesn’t unless court ordered. With 40+ families in Rye, sending their kids to private special education schools, Rye is alleviated of more than 50+ kids in the district and spared a minimum of $2,500,000 in education contributions, as these educations are overwhelmingly privately funded. These expensive, therapeutic and/or remedial educations range from $52,000 (Windward School) to in excess of $72,000 (Forman School).

    Which then begs the question that if Rye’s Special Education program is worth the $4,000,000 budget they propose, why would so many Rye families send their kids outside the district at such an exorbitant personal cost?

    The proposed budget for special education is more than double the amount of the general education budget and is spending more than twice the cost per student. ($18,000 gen. compared to $38,000 spec.) Rye’s special education population is so small, it has an exemption from publicly disclosing that population’s test scores under Federal guidelines. Based on the budget and population, it appears that Rye provides a near prep school for our special education population. $4,000,000 to educate less than 100 students compared to $2,000,000 to educate 2,109 would seem pretty enticing for the parent of a special education student.

    However, the large number of families that have rejected that program indicate a huge underlying problem in that area of our school district. I’d like to find out what that is and believe we deserve a full public inspection of the special education budget.

    It’s time we get some transparency in that area, and in the budget overall. When our peer groups publish their budgets, they are generally in excess of 30 pages. Yet, for Rye’s proposed budget of $82,000,000, I could only find a one page budget posted. How is that transparency and how can any Rye resident approve what hasn’t been fully disclosed? Or is this just another case of we have to pass it first to see what’s in there?

    There is room for cuts and it can’t be the proposed 10% cut in the general education budget. I don’t buy into their scare tactics and believe they embarrass our community. (Check what Friends of Rye has posted on Youtube) But it will be scary if this sophisticated population buys into this administration’s proposal that does nothing to benefit our community or our children.

    Additionally, we’ve seen the budget continuously rise, while our academic expectations are lowered. What happened to gifted and talented? Ask your kids to write in script. Other schools participate in National programs that bring challenge, recognition and corporate sponsors. What similar programs do we have here? Other districts have development offices solely for writing grants that raise money, create opportunities, and lessen the local tax burden. Who’s doing that in Rye? What happened to our investment in technology? After the recent large purchase of IPads, we’ve been told they’ve been left unused on a cart and never incorporated into the curriculum.

    Finally, many other states structure their school administration by county, not by town or city as we do. All these separate administrative entities make our district’s set up inherently more expensive for that reason. However, with this smaller town based structure, one would expect that in exchange for the higher cost, we would receive accessibility, accountability and results. This administration is falling far short of that expectation, with their scare tactics, failure to provide budget transparency, and inability to seek alternative available funding. Our community and our children deserve better. Though I greatly value our teachers as well, it might be time to rethink this administration. Vote for accountability and vote no on May 19th.

  2. It would be very helpful if res ipsa shared with us who he or she is. It will help members of our community continue an open and thoughtful conversation about our school budget, the district’s fiscal integrity and our community’s commitment to a public education that serves all its children –
    To be clear, I refute Ispa’s primary claim. There have been dozens of meetings all over town and many, many folks who have availed themselves of these opportunities to ask questions and exam the entire budget book that was adopted last month. There has been no lack of transparency.
    For those readers who might be confused, please remember that special education services are mandated by federal law and are fixed costs based on numbers of students and their individual education plans. There are currently 318 special education students in Rye. Dr. Alvarez, our school superintendent published a column on this very topic in a recent issue of Rye Record – please read this thorough and transparent explanation. And then decide if you agree with the anonymous IPSA.
    As a community, as parents, as grandparents, and as educators- we all worry and question whether we are doing enough for our children and by extension our neighbor’s children. That is what makes us human. We care deeply for our young people and should advocate for them tirelessly. I plan to vote YES on May 19 because I think on balance our schools are doing a damn good job for them.

  3. In response to Ms. Jensen;

    I have no doubts as to your commitment and passion regarding our school district and I know that we are a better district because of parents like you. However, not everyone has had your happy experience in this district and as a result, have concerns that are every bit as valid as yours and if addressed will also serve to make our district better.

    I appreciate as well that Dr. Alvarez has spoken about the budget in detail. However, that is not what is required by law. What they have published is the budget notice. The law demands that the full budget statement, with the account codes, be published on the school website, along with the supporting documentation 7 days before the hearing and fully 14 days before the vote. This has not been done.

    Though you indicate that my name is necessary to enhance this budget debate, I believe the ability to actually review and question the full and readily accessible budget, as required by law, would add far more.

    We need to review the full budget to vote on it. Previously, outside auditors have identified many areas of spending that are wasteful. The recommendations regarding special education in the 2009 audits were never implemented. One of many example of waste I am aware of, and raised in the audits, is that annual spec. ed. review meetings require a limited group of people by law. However, the director of spec. ed., regularly includes a number that far exceeds what is required or necessary for these lengthy meetings. When these teachers and service practitioners are removed to attend spec. ed. meetings, the district has to pay for substitutes in the classroom. Based on your statistic of 308 special education children in the district, that means at least 308 meetings per year. These meetings regularly go over 2 hours, (I’ve attended ones that went over 8 hours). The director also conducts pre-meetings, without the parents, which adds to the time. With so many district employees forced to participate unnecessarily in every one of these meetings, this is an absolute area of wasteful spending that demands community review.

    Also, based on your statistic, if there were 308 special education classified children in the district, @ $38,000+ per student, this would mean that special education is actually spending over $11,700,000, which far exceeds the $4,000,000 identified in the proposed budget. This only further supports my contention that Special Education spending needs a thorough, open, and clearly itemized accounting that can be subjected to public scrutiny.

    I’m sorry you believe the standard safe practice of a pseudo name for use on open social media somehow lessens my credibility. We are very different in that view. Credibility for me in an argument is based on the dissenter’s ability to undermine the argument, not the speaker. I have nothing against you, but your attempt to discredit my valid concerns based on this standard practice is unwarranted and dismisses concerns, that if addressed, may better our district as a whole.

    We have problems in this district, and I am one of many parents that have encountered an administrative brick wall in confronting them. Advocating that full disclosure is satisfied because they discussed a budget unavailable for public review, but ignoring that we were denied a meaningful discussion because they didn’t publish within the legally imposed timeline is antithetical to what any of us should accept. I want this district to be better for all of us, but that won’t happen if our highest standard for this administration doesn’t even meet what is required by law.

  4. The complete 2015-16 Budget book was properly published and is widely available for public review.

    The Proposed Budget was adopted by the Board on April 21 after weeks of discussion at public Board meetings, including extensive input from many community members representing a wide variety of viewpoints.

    Paper copies of the Budget book were produced and have been available for members of the public to review since April 24th at the Central Administration office at 411 Theo. Fremd.

    A digital copy of the Budget book has been posted in two different places on the District website (1: on the District home page and 2: under “Budget and Election Information” tab) since April 27th. Additional paper copies for public review were also delivered to all school buildings and the Rye Free Reading Room by April 27th.

    The legally required public budget hearing was May 5th in the Middle School Multipurpose Room and the Budget vote is Tuesday, May 19th at the Middle School gymnasium.

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