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Elwood Budget Update: 13.3% Increase or Cut Like Crazy?

Staff, athletics, and kindergarten are all under scrutiny at Elwood's Board of Ed meeting tonight as the administration explores ways to reduce its 2011-2012 budget by $3.5 million.

It’s a tough choice for the : Keep services the same and ask taxpayers to shoulder a 13.33% tax levy. Or eliminate $3.5 million by cutting athletics, field trips, co-curricular activities – all the things that a community not only hopes for but expects from its school district – to which the Board of Education has requested.

The scary part about Elwood’s budget picture isn’t the $3.5 million, as Superintendent Peter Scordo explained at the March 3 budget workshop. It  is how limited the district is in its choices of where to cut, and how little those savings amount to. The "Budget Review andPossible Reductions" presentation is attached to this article.

For example, athletics accounts for $794,998, or 1.43% of the total budget. Field trips amount to another $53,801. Add in reductions in equipment, textbooks, workbooks, materials and supplies, and co-curricular expenses and the total equals $2,257,916 – still not enough to reach the $3.5 million goal.

But why those particular cuts?

There's More to Mandates Than Meets the Eye
As Scordo pointed out in his outline of possible reductions, nearly 45% of Elwood’s $55,633,473 budget is composed of mandated, non-negotiable costs, including health insurance, social security, contributions to the Employee Retirement System and the Teachers Retirement System.

Those are the mandates and terms that taxpayers probably hear about the most. Trustee Dan Ciccone cited other examples of unfunded mandates that the district is required to pay. For instance, transportation must be provided to all students, regardless of whether they attend public school. That means the district – and therefore, taxpayers --  must pay to transport those students who attend private schools as well.

Another big area is assessment and testing mandates. “It’s a big expense,” Ciccone said, “and there are other ways of getting the data.”  He also pointed out that the district is required to pay an architect a fee each year to go over each building even if nothing has changed.  “Every year we have to do it.”

Ciccone suggested that Scordo add these costs into the list of line items so that the public could clearly see the extent of mandated, non-negotiable items over which the district has no control.  And he suggested that the public lobby Albany and local legislators. “They’re screwing with our kids and we’ve got to stand up to that.”

Closing the Gap
“The challenge is we’re going to have to go to staff – it’s the only place left to go,” Scordo said, noting that the elimination of 18 full-time positions would equal $1,170,000 – enough to meet the $3.5 million. He cited one happy note: the addition of $312,795 to the bottom line due to changes in the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) contribution rates, an additional retiree, a reduction for one potential BOCES placement and reductions in summer school placements which were paid for by the state.  

At the next budget workshop, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. March 10 at the , Scordo said the administration will have a preliminary idea of staffing needs and possible reductions, and will be prepared to discuss the possibility of reducing full day kindergarten to half day.

“I’m not going to ask you to make a decision about full-day kindergarten next week,” he told Board members, but added that the decision would need to be made soon so that parents would be able to plan ahead.

The bigger picture was even more bleak. “It’s the year after next year that I’m concerned about,” Scordo acknnowledged. “If we cut now and a cap is imposed, and we’ve already cut to the bone, how are we going to budget for next year?”

Tom Dewick March 10, 2011 at 01:14 PM
Teachers have to contribute to their health insurance and retirement plans at the same rate as the rest of society. Wisconsin is coming to a school district near you.
East N'ptr March 10, 2011 at 02:06 PM
I agree with you Tom. Take a close look at the school budget over the past 5 years. The majority of budget increases have gone to employee pay raises and benefits, and rarely to anything that substantially improves our children's education. School district's are going to need to cut payroll and benefits to maintain existing programs without double digit tax increases. That can be done two ways...by cutting entitlements or by laying off employees. Teacher layoffs will hurt the kids far more than having all employees share the burden (instead of the taxpayer for a change) and take a little less than they are used to.
paul caplan March 10, 2011 at 04:04 PM
Can I get some clarity please? People talk of Long Island schools as being one of the best in the country and subsequently the cost to educate should reflect accordingly. Why is it then, the top colleges in our country are filled with students from every state, every small town in America with much lower property taxes? Are the Ivy League schools only attended by Long Island graduates? We, like the rest of the country graduate many students who either do not attend college or simply do not fare well at the next level. If I can be convinced that for the school taxes I pay the majority of our students will be the next movers and shakers of our society, then this money is well spent. If not,then let us stop talking about how great our schools are in comparision to small town [and lower taxed] America.
East N'ptr March 10, 2011 at 05:48 PM
I respectfully disagree Kim. There are fantastic public schools everywhere, you just need to know where to find them. Take Florida, where everyone perceives public schools as being awful, but there are certain counties where the public schools are performing way better than LI Schools like Elwood. In Florida, if you are a high school student who maintains a certain GPA, your college tuition at a state school is FREE. In these same areas, the property taxes on the average 3 bedroom home is less than $1500/yr. The problem is that we've been throwing money at our schools like its the only answer, but its not.
R. Wood March 10, 2011 at 06:47 PM
No clue where the statistics came from to support the idea that most kids outside of Long Island go to private schools. But if you check the real estate sites on the web you will find that the average property taxes for the nation are around $2500.00 per year. Long Island is four times that. I'm not seeing any value for my tax dollars that proves Long Island is any better or worse.
R. Wood March 10, 2011 at 07:18 PM
http://education.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/education/high-schools/articles/2009/12/09/americas-best-high-schools-gold-medal-list I got curious about how Long Island schools ranked. The above link is to US News and World Report. It ranks the top 100 high schools. The list is about a year old.
Jack March 10, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Ms. McCoy The cuts that need to be made are on school benefit packages. Pensions need to end as all school employees of all level needs to contribue to their own 401K. They all make a nice salary, more on average than the private sector. Next, retirement health packages need to end. If you are going to retire before 65 then get your own health plan when you retire. In the past I resent when the first budget vote in defeated and school teachers herd our children into auditoriums or gyms and tell them to go home and tell your parents to vote for the budget or your sports or oher activities will be cut. Disgusting... Don't make major cuts programs to the kids but please do on the over the top benefits packages. I'm not even challenging the salaries at this point dispite a friend of mine who is a teacher making $119,000/yr for 180 days. He said he will be going to $129,000 next year. Superintendents and administrators are pillaging the system. I can't afford to retire here if 75% of my $12,000 is going to the schools. By the time I retire it will over $20,000 property taxes. I need Chriss Christy to come work as govenor in NY. I hope Cuomo is up to the job.
R. Wood March 10, 2011 at 07:55 PM
The thing about the rankings list is that none of the public schools on Long Island cracked the top one-hundred list. They aren't on a par private schools and there's nothing to support them as being worth the current costs. Throwing more money at the problem is not the answer and the system will eventually break down as more of the middleclass leave Long Island. The baby boomers are going to want some bang for their retirement bucks. The assessment on my house came down by about 80K since the housing bubble burst and my taxes have still gone up. I'm still over-assessed.
Jerry Hannon March 10, 2011 at 08:51 PM
Someone posted regarding schools in Florida, & their comment was essentially correct regarding differences between counties; my oldest daughter, thinking of the education for her child, moved from Broward County to Pinellas County for that very reason. In Broward, she would have needed to send my granddaughter to private school, & really did not have the money for that (nor do I). And the tax rates, from an ad valorem standpoint, were quite similar for her former home and her current home, so that wasn't the issue. But, just so everyone is clear on these points, there is a huge structural difference between school districts on LI, versus in the many counties in Florida. There are over 70 school districts in Suffolk, & over 50 in Nassau, & over 700 in the entire State of NY. The NY structure is inefficient, & leads to escalating personnel costs as districts artificially compete for more capable administrators, as well as for teachers. However, even within counties in FL, just as is true between LI school districts, some schools are better than others; the high school which would serve my granddaughter, should her parents stay in that location, even offers an engineering program. You can do a lot more when you have the economies of scale to allow for specialization. But the biggest problems for LI taxpayers has been various burdens which Albany, and not our districts, created: ballooning pensions; underfunded mandates; and restrictions on personnel cost management.
Dan Ciccone March 10, 2011 at 09:11 PM
Before you planted that sign, did you have children that went to school? I am sorry for your forced choice to leave after 27 years. That is most unfortunate and unacceptable. However, as a community, as a society, we have an obligation to educate children to keep our economy strong, and our future, and their future secure. If you already mentally checked out and have no regard for the children that are in your community that is very sad. I would hope you would join me in asking local legislators what happened to the bill that was put forward about 5 years ago that would cap property taxes for homeowners over 70 years of age. It was a good piece of legislation that make much more sense than a tax cap and a cut in state aid.
R. Wood March 11, 2011 at 12:35 AM
I did miss Jericho at number 48 and I thought Shine in Great Neck was private. But I missed any others from Long Island in the top 100. It still doesn't or shouldn't fill one's chest with pride that we are paying for such a sparse showing in the top 100 schools. Nope! No kids in the schools now or in the past. Just an ever increasing tax burden. My house is clear of a mortgage and I've already found a nice place where the monthly costs will total less than what I pay in property taxes. Luxury in another state for what I pay in property taxes. I can retire early IF I leave Long Island. Right now all I get for my tax dollars is garbage pick up. I'm sure I'm not the only local to have figured this out. The situation on Long Island has been building for many years. Corruption and mismanagement are killing Long Island. Imagine a world where parents paid for their own kids.
R. Wood March 11, 2011 at 01:02 AM
Carole Hankin -- who oversees 6,687 kids in 10 schools -- is the highest-paid in the state with $506,322 in total compensation. She collects a $386,868 salary, $67,454 in fringe benefits and $52,000 in retirement funds and expenses including use of a "late model car," plus gas. Hankin's salary rivals President Obama's annual $400,000 paycheck. I just got this from the Huffington Post. This is what we're dealing with on Long Island. Syosset Superintendent makes more than the President of the United States of America.
Bernadette Marie McCoy March 11, 2011 at 03:19 AM
Tom, when the CEOs of lucrative companies who enjoy all sorts of tax breaks take the pay cuts you demand of your children's teachers, I might begin to agree with you. At 85, I live on a fixed income: social security and a very modest pension. My annual income is less than $40,000. My property taxes are almost $8,000, half of which goes to school taxes for the education of other people's children. It's difficult, but my civic responsibility. I was taught, long ago, to pay my own way, to take my share of the common burden. Clearly these are not common values in a world of greed, of no one should make more than I do, let other people bear the common burden. The word for this is selfishness. The current disrespect for teachers reveals an underlying contempt for education. You are where you are today, as I am, because of dedicated teachers who put us first. The fact that you were able to read my comment and respond to it is a result of some teacher's efforts to teach you to read and write, probably your most precious competencies. You must own quite a mansion if you anticipate property taxes at $20,000. Have you considered moving to housing within your means? Or do you want the school teachers to pay for your extravagant life style in a mansion? Chris Christie? All bluster, a bully without compassion. Give me a break. That seems to be the program these days: Robin Hood in reverse: take from the poor to give to the rich.
James Burulcich March 11, 2011 at 03:46 AM
Wow, so based on that, only 10 schools have 100% college readiness and only 100 schools have at least 63%? Of the thousands of High Schools? Sheesh, not a good sign.
Jerry Hannon March 11, 2011 at 05:34 AM
The total amount that a school district pays for its superintendent ranges between 1/4 of one percent, to 1/2f of one percent; obviously it depends upon the size of the district, as well as the comp level for each superintendent. But the new governor & some of his legislator cronies are trying to get people to pay attention to stupid things, like the compensation of senior administrators, so that we don't pay attention to the pension mess that Albany created (huge cost to all districts), or to the unfunded & under-funded mandates mess that Albany created (again, real money), or to the strangle-hold that Albany has put on school districts, instead of letting them deal fairly but without the artificial constraints on personnel compensation & negotiations created by Albany . In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was told "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," but for residents of school districts in NY that man behind the curtain has always been the governor of New York aided by the legislators which allowed the pension mess, and the mandates mess, and the personnel management limitations mess, to be created. No wonder that Cuomo & Raia and others are trying to keep our eyes off of Albany, where the billions of dollars of problems originated, and instead pay attention to minor matters like senior administrator compensation. Should some of the superintendent's compensation be adjusted? Of Course, but what Cuomo proposed would destroy good management is school districts.
paul caplan March 11, 2011 at 02:09 PM
Ms. McCoy, I take exception to anyone who thinks that by not supporting the annual wage increases given to our employees we do not fully support the education system for our children. Quite the contrary. Because we value the educational programs for the students, we want our tax dollars spent on these very programs. We feel that these annual increased taxes are not being spent on what is most important.. Increased taxes and cutting of programs? Where is the value in that? Tom is correct. At the rate of tax increases for the past 9 years, it will only take 7 more years for his $12,ooo taxes to increase to $20,000, living in the same house. It has been 2 years since Social Security benefits have risen and Medicare premiums and co-pays have increased. We must find a balance.
Jack March 11, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Ms. McCoy, I should be living in a mansion based on the amount of taxes I'm paying. I live in a 3 bedroom house that is on a 50 x 150 lot. You have alot of nerve thinking I should downsized in some apartment just so we can continue to pay school employees their huge benefits package. Benefits packages were first designed to attract school employees to jobs that paid less than "private" workers. Now school employees make more on average that "private" workers. I attended my 35th high school reunion and we invited teachers from our high school. (I live in the next town over where I grew up.) I sat with my assistant principle and he told me he retired in 1982 with a $88,000 pension. That's 30 years ago and that same pension today is obscene. We have paid this one person $2,640,000 to date and that doesn't include the health benefits plan. The school unions and school boards have created a culture of greed. Note I never said anything about teacher's salaries. The other insulting statement "you are where you are today is due to teachers". Totally ridiculous. I have a friend that I went through scool with and he had an "A" average (#56 from the top of our class). He lives in a one bedroom apartment today and can't afford a car. I barely had a B average. I am where I am today based on my own ambitions. I actually owe the most of my success to my parents. Teacher contribution was minimal to my being where I am today.
FYI March 11, 2011 at 06:59 PM
I think your old asst. princip(a)l must have had a good laugh to himself when he told you he retired with an $88,000 pension in 1982. That would mean that he was in Tier 1 retirement system, and if he retired after 35 years of service, his final AVERAGE salary for his last 3 years would have had to be $126,000. Sorry, but it didn't happen. A teacher in this area with a master's degree earned about 27,000 in 1982. I checked. NO administrator made that much. Check your facts and stop being so gullible.
Bernadette Marie McCoy March 12, 2011 at 01:17 AM
Paul Caplan and Tom, I understand your frustration but I think you are missing an important point. "No man is an island." We depend on one another for what we make of our lives. Often the impact or contributions to our advancement are not recognized, inadvertently underappreciated. I am struck by the tone of the attacks on teachers, a resentment springing perhaps from envy, even ignorance. Remember: Thou shalt not COVET thy neighbor's goods? Then there are the seven deadly sins: pride, avarice (greed), envy, wrath (anger), lust, gluttony, and sloth. Surely your parents warned you against these, or you made the discovery for yourself. Hard to detect that these lessons were learned in the disparagement of teachers. Perhaps you need a year or two as a teacher to understand what the job is worth. BTW, pension and health benefits are provided in lieu of higher salaries. Stop feeling sorry for yourselves and wasting you energy in bashing people you envy for no good reason except your own greed. I a
Jerry Hannon March 12, 2011 at 01:39 AM
I am saddened by the extreme polarity I am witnessing in some of these posts. While I hope that nobody disparages the great contribution of teachers as a group, I also hope that those who identify so greatly with teaching would recognize that compensation has gotten out of line with economic conditions, and that many of the taxpayers who are required to subsidize the combination of salary & benefits are themselves being negatively affected by economic realities over the past 10 or so years. There is an infinite difference between "envy," which would be wanting to deny teachers or any other class of workers whatever compensation levels they can fairly obtain for themselves, versus "subsidization" which is asking people who have less than they used to have, and who have little prospects for returning to the levels they once had, to pay for those more generous compensation levels with their taxes. Please don't confuse the two issues. Also, please help to make education better by finding ways to differentiate the superior teachers from the average teachers from the inferior teachers, and also please help to find ways to better compensate those superior teachers, as well as help to improve - where possible - those inferior teachers, or alternatively to weed out the ones who either can't improve or who won't improve. Pay needs to be differentiated. This outdated, and destructive process of laying off the most recently hired teachers, regardless of performance, has to end now.
Jack March 12, 2011 at 05:07 AM
Jerry, well said. I agree on all points. School employees are probably held hostage vs. let's say Suffolk County police on this issue primarily due to how the funding is set up to pay for their salaries and benefits. The police are paid through my state income taxes which are based on our incomes. Once we retire and income drops off quite substantially then State income taxes are reduced in kind. The problem with paying for the schools through property taxes is those taxes never are reduced even if your income goes to zero. Maybe a solution would be the creation of a County Income Tax that would just pay for the schools . That tax would tax all individuals who reside in the county whether homeowner or renter and be based on your income. It wouldn't push people out of their homes who can't pay their ever increasing property taxes and would spread the burden of the schools among more people. It would actually reduce property taxes. As I said on an earlier post, I project my property taxes to be $20,000 when I retire in 10-12 years. That amount of tax will be very challenging to say the least. To add insult to injury I understand that school employees do not pay state tax on their pensions. I find it amusing that Ms McCoy would call people like me who pay huge amounts of taxes greedy (calling the kettle black) and that she believes they should move from the home that they love. She clearly doesn't get it.
Say What March 12, 2011 at 05:29 AM
@ Bernadette.... BTW, pension and health benefits are provided in lieu of higher salaries....The problem is this is no longer the case. Pension and health benefits "were" provided in lieu of higher salaries..but now that teacher are making higher then average salaries, they need to stop demanding the pension and health care packages that the tax base can no longer support.
JOHN March 26, 2011 at 05:39 PM
PAY THE TEACHERS WHAT THEY DESERVE THEY ARE GIVING YOUR KID AN EDUCATION. EDUCATION IS FOREVER SPORTS AND OTHER USELESS ELECTIVES IS TEMPORARY. WITHOUT TEACHERS YOUR KID LEARNS NOTHING. TAX THE RICH THEY GET AWAY WITH EVERYTHING. TAXES GO UP IN EVERY TOWN ITS A WAY OF LIFE AND IT WILL ALWAYS BE A WAY OF LIFE WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. POLICE DEPT. SHOULD ALSO BE CUT THEY GET UNLIMITED OVERTIME AND YOU PAY FOR THAT IN YOUR TAXES. SO MUCH FOR LOWERING THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE CUTTING TEACHERS WILL ONLY HIGHER THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE. THE GOVERNOR IS CUTTING EDUCATION AID AND NOT TAXING THE RICH BECAUSE HE HAS TOO MANY BUDDIES ON WALL STREET HE HAS NO CLUE ABOUT ANYTHING HE IS A DOPE
JOHN March 26, 2011 at 05:45 PM
THE GARBAGE I HEAR ABOUT KIDS ARE GOING TO TAKE DRUGS AND GET INTO TROUBLE IF THEY DONT PLAY SPORTS IS A LOAD OF BULL. REMEMBER IF YOUR KID ISNT GOOD ENOUGH HE DOESNT EVEN MAKE THE TEAM. SCHOLARSHIPS ARE VERY FEW ALSO AND TO THINK YOUR KID IS GOING TO GO PROFESSIONAL IS CRAZY. IF YOU ASK ME THE KIDS WHO DONT PLAY SPORTS ARE USUALLY THE TOP IN THEIR CLASS. WHETHER YOUR KIDS PLAY SPORTS OR NOT ITS HOW YOU RAISE THEM WHETHER THEY TAKE DRUGS OR NOT. THIS DISTRICT IS TOTALLY SHOT AND IS BACKWARDS. SOME OF YOU PARENTS SHOULD TRY TO TEACH 25 KIDS TO READ WRITE AND LEARN HISTORY OR MATH LETS SEE WHERE YOU GET.
Jerry Hannon March 28, 2011 at 02:53 AM
For John: Unfortunately what you may feel intuitively is not supported by fact. I suspect that you have not been active in the schools for some years, but I have spent a lot of time at budget work sessions and board meetings over the past ten years (and, no, my kids have all graduated, but I continue to care). None of my kids were involved in sports in school (outside of school, yes), and my middle child was only active in musical theatre and chorus in school, so we are not a "jock" family, by any means. But I have heard personal testimony at some recent budget work sessions which blow away your personal philosophy: some kids try to study harder in school just because they will get thrown off the team if they don't. That's pretty straightforward, and logical. And as for the kids at the top of their class not playing sports, two of Elwood's valedictorians have been active (and good) at competitive school sports; no, not all of the top kids are "jocks," but some are, and some do better in school because of the sports. It's not at all unidimensional. As to learning, our kids need to become much better educated in aspects of the global economy and geo-politics, as well as taught to write more clearly and think more critically. It needs to get better all across LI, as well as in Elwood, but that's not a function of compensation.
FB April 05, 2011 at 02:36 AM
@ Paul - You are 100% correct. Also, let's look at St. Anthony's. I can bet that the administrators, teachers, custodians, etc. are not paid nearly what the public school teachers make and have to contribute way more to health benefits and retirement. I've always heard that St. Anthony's is a great school. Go figure.
But .... April 05, 2011 at 03:07 AM
@FB - 1 big difference is that Saint Anthony's has an entrance exam. And if a student does not maintain a high grade point average they are kicked out. So they are only educating the higher academic level students. An average student would not be accepted.
Steve O'Connor April 05, 2011 at 11:58 AM
I see your point. I have three daughters in the Elwood District, however, I am an ardent supporter of a tax cap. Someone has to be held accountable for a benefit and retirement system which has become unsustaneable. My family can't afford yet again a +10% increase in taxes. If enough parents become angry due to an austerity budget, perhaps the Teacher's Unions will agree to increase contribution requirements to lets say 40%.....401K. As most other working american's my retirement is what I put into it. How about health care....I pay a $50 copay everytime one of my daughter's catches a cold. I'm not complaining, just keeping it real. Why not raise copay's for for the teacher's? Let me be clear. I am not against a teacher with 20 years experience making 90,000 a year. It is the teacher's retirement system and healthcare which we can not afford. One last thought. Do we need all of the very expensive administrators we have? We have a small district, why not cap admin. salaries and consolidate? The 2% cap is coming and the School District needs to get their finacial house in order, however they need to do it. If these doomsday austerity budgets come to fruition I will move or put my kids in private school. If enough people do this, the District is toast. The costs associated with running our schools needs to be contained. If the Teacher's Union is not willing to help there may be quite a few teachers on unemployment in the next couple of years. A very concerned taxpayer
FB April 05, 2011 at 12:23 PM
@Kim - I'm sorry, I was unaware that you were the only one allowed to post on multiple threads. WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU THINK MY MOTIVES ARE? Because you disagree with me it automatically means I have some underhanded motives???? I'm glad you reposted what I said because I stand by it 100%. I have a great job and I know it!
FB April 05, 2011 at 12:59 PM
@ Kim - What would you like to know. As far as layoffs, my school is not really affected. We had such an overage of teachers that they were just put back in the classroom. Pay and benefit cuts...not really. Senioity, yes, they are trying to change that and get rid if the last in first out rule which I agree with. I have been on a childcare leave for the past year (unpaid) so if you want more info I can email my collegues. I'm amazed that you have a problem believeing that a teacher can be against this craziness. I see all sides of it as a teacher, a spouse of a private sector employee, a taxpayer, and a mother.

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