by Nina Recio
With the May 15 school budget vote quickly approaching, the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit invited school Superintendents Robert Shaps of Mamaroneck and Barbara Ferraro of Rye Neck to its public breakfast forum on April 17 to discuss with the public the proposed school budgets for each district. Both Superintendents stressed that the proposed budgets are designed to maintain the high quality of education that the community expects despite funding challenges, including those caused by changes in the tax code and, in the case of Mamaroneck, a steep surge in student enrollment.
The proposed budget for Mamaroneck calls for a 3.9% increase in the tax levy but is designed to maintain the breadth and quality of educational programs at the schools. Dr. Shaps emphasized that the budget is “an articulation of community values.” Thus, despite facing changes in the tax law and increases in student enrollment, Dr. Shaps said the district must continue to focus on “meeting the needs of each and every student” and, in his view, the proposed budget supports the district’s many innovative programs.
Dr. Shaps explained that this year the district experienced an enrollment growth of 650 students, a 13% increase, which is an enrollment equivalent to an entire elementary school. This increase was not predicted by professionally-prepared models. In fact, the models predicted a decline.
The unanticipated increase has had a large impact on district planning and budget concerns. Dr. Shaps’ proposed budget asks the community to override the tax cap in order to maintain the same quality of education with its focus on “educating the whole child.” He emphasized that his proposed budget is an attempt to “right-size” the district and staffing levels relative to the growth rate.
Dr. Shaps explained that the impact of the proposed budget on the average assessed home is an increase of $111. He also pointed out that the cap is particularly hard on any district, such as Mamaroneck, that experiences large enrollment increases since there is no factor for enrollment growth in the legislature’s budget cap restrictions. Dr. Shapp warned that fifteen teaching positions would need to be eliminated in order for the district to be under the tax cap.
In his presentation, Dr. Shaps stressed that his budget will continue to support the wide array of special programs offered in the district. Beyond music and athletics, the offerings include the dual language program at Mamaroneck Avenue School, the Capstone Project, the science and civics research programs, engineering and computer science programs, and the culinary arts program. He also proudly pointed out that Mamaroneck is the first public school district in the state to become a “steward of beehives,” a project involving natural and environmental sciences.
Rye Neck Highlights:
Rye Neck Superintendent Barbara Ferraro has proposed a $41 million tax cap-compliant budget which is one million dollars more than last year’s budget. This is the seventh time in as many years that Rye Neck has complied with the tax cap. Rye Neck is a smaller school district than Mamaroneck and is not experiencing any similar enrollment surge.
Dr. Ferraro expressed how much planning and thought went into the budget process. In her presentation she explained that the proposed budget is designed to maintain the literacy program initiatives, preserve favorable class sizes, continue staff training, expand STEM and STEAM programs, support the arts, athletic and music programs, maintain support staff and continue full-day kindergarten. The budget also needed to address an increase in the number of students requiring special services and a bump in the pension system.
In addition to the academic considerations of the budget, Dr. Ferraro discussed how Rye Neck school administrators, in the post-Parkland era, are dealing more urgently with school security and emphasized that security is a major part of the budget. (Security is also a consideration in the Mamaroneck budget.) According to Dr. Ferraro, there is particular focus on security at F.E.Bellows Elementary School which is located on the Boston Post Road. Physical access, perimeters, and partnering with law enforcement are components of enhanced security that are addressed in the proposed budget. Additionally, the proposed budget provides for full-time monitors at each elementary school.
Both Superintendents agreed that educators need to be forward-looking and focus on student outcomes, not test results, so that students can acquire the necessary analytical skills to compete globally, as well as develop creative and inquisitive minds. In Dr. Ferraro’s words, “What we need to do now is not what we have done in the past.”
This breakfast forum was hosted by The Larchmont-Mamaroneck Local Summit. Its next program will be Tuesday, May 15, 7:45 a.m. at the Nautilus Diner in Mamaroneck with a program which will explore how residents can help neighbors in need. All are welcome. Breakfast $8.