NORTH SALEM, N.Y. -- The North Salem Daily Voice accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Send letters by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following letter was sent to the North Salem Board of Education, addressed to Deborah D'Agostino, board president, and dated Nov. 19.
Dear Ms. D’Agostino:
As your Board begins the very difficult process of bringing together the District Budget for 2013/14 I ask that you share this letter with your fellow Board members and consider the following five (5) opportunities before getting engrossed in the immense amount of budgetary detail.
1. Please refer to the enclosed copy of The NYS School Report Card as you read this section.
The NYS School Report Card for 2009 10 as filed by our District provides some very alarming information that should inspire the Board to action. (This is the most recent such report filed, apparently the 2010/11 Report will not be prepared until the spring. I can tell you that Reports for earlier fiscal years provide similar indications.)
On an overall basis it tells us that for Instruction alone our District expends $15,318 per student compared to the average of $12,279 for all Westchester County Districts. This represents a huge difference on a District wide basis ($15,318-$12,279 x 1342) $4.1 million per annum more than the average Westchester district. Are we getting our moneys worth for all the extra dollars?
Looking at our Special Ed Instruction we see the same pattern where we spend a whopping $52,819 per student (remember this is just Instruction and does not include overheads) while the average Westchester County district spends $34,484.
We have made a very significant commitment to the Special Ed program with a resulting expenditure of ($52,819-$34,484 x148) $2.7 million per year more than would be spent by the average district in the County.
How much does the Board know of the Special Ed program, its costs and its oversight? To an outsider this program would seem to provide a great opportunity.
Since the General Education information provided on the Report and in my second paragraph above includes the entire District population I have provided on the far right side of the Report copy enclosed the information for the students not in the Spec Ed program only. Our cost per student for Instruction of $10,196 again is very unfavorable compared to the average Westchester district of $7,910; a total annual differential of ($10,196-$7,910 x148) $3.4 million per annum.
By a close review of The NYS School Report Card prepared by our District I hope the Board undertakes a review of the Special Ed program and on an even broader basis the overall reasons for such a wide divergence in the cost structure of NSCSD compared to the average District in Westchester.
Several years ago the District performed a “benchmark” study against another handpicked Westchester County district. (Personally I think the district selected was anything but outstanding and not one we would want to emulate.)
It should not be of surprise that we were more expensive per student than the district selected. I have provided the District with historic information of how much more expensive on a per student basis our District is compared to the best districts in Westchester such as Chappaqua, Scarsdale, Edgemont, etc. (Yes, NSCSD is more expensive by a meaningful amount than the best districts in the County). I hope that Ms. Daniels or Dr. Freeston have shared that material with you.
2. Our District is relatively small on a student headcount basis. We have fewer students than we had 10 years ago. The Board’s own study from a couple of years ago forecasts a continuing reduction in students. Can the Board justify an overhead which includes what I call the Heavyweight salaries and benefits reflected on the enclosed analysis? Personally I do not think so and I urge the Board to examine the District’s management structure and the compensation thereof in keeping with the size of the District.
3. Our District does not have a clearly defined minimum class size that is enforced; i.e. no class should be held unless there are at least 15 students enrolled. I urge that the Board look at the enrollment in the advanced placement courses, the language, art, music for examples. Adherence to a minimum class size may dictate that all class cannot be held each semester. Instead student schedules will need to be made to accommodate some class that may, as an example, only be offered once a year; or even not at all due to the lack of student interest.
With a small, and diminishing, student population we cannot offer all the opportunities a larger district can afford.
A very close look at the class size of Special Ed classes should be undertaken. Obviously Spec Ed needs its own guidelines to accomplish the educational goals and mandates; but we should not be using highly trained professionals as little more than baby sitters for small groups of students. I realize that this is a difficult area but just like all other aspects of the educational process needs transparency, involvement and management by the Board.
4. The Board should consider outsourcing the entire Transportation function; employees, buses, maintenance equipment etc. More than sufficient time exists to prepare and distribute RFPs, evaluate the responses and if appropriate have an outsourced transportation program in place by the beginning of the new fiscal school year.
5. In the longer term, to continue to provide our students with all the educational opportunities it will be necessary to merge NSCSD with other districts. Accomplishing a multi-district merger will require significant insight, planning and execution talents. I suggest the Board consider engaging an independent outside expert to perform an in-depth exploration of the subject. As one of the NSCSD representatives stated last year, the District is too small to be run efficiently.
Again, I ask that you share this letter and the two enclosures with each member of the Board and that the material I have provided receive consideration at an upcoming Board meeting.
Thank you and good luck on the difficult task of establishing the future of the District and in preparing the 2013/14 Budget.
Bill Lang North Salem