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Moms Talk: School Budgets - Where to Cut and Save?

With local school districts feeling the pressure to keep budget increases low, what are you willing to sacrifice and what must stay?

Malverne school officials have described this year's budget as "gloomy," Valley Stream District 13 called it "challenging," and West Hempstead is still struggling to close a $2.4 million gap in revenue and expenses.

All three are grappling with declines in state aid, unfunded mandates and rising salary and benefits costs, which have forced them to consider cutting programs and people.

It's an ugly job that these school administrators and board members are faced with, but for a moment, let's pretend you were charged with this responsibility.

What would you place on the chopping block? (Should extra-curriculars and sports be the first to go or people?) What would you fight to preserve? And how would you balance the needs of taxpayers to keep increases low and of the students to receive the best education possible?

You'll see members of our Moms Council, an advisory group comprised of smart and engaged moms from the neighborhood, responding to these questions below in the comments section and we invite you and your circle of friends to join in the discussion.

Moms Talk is a new feature on Malverne-West Hempstead Patch that invites local parents to discuss issues that matter to them.

Wondering who are these local moms we tapped for our Council? Meet the members:

  • Janet Grech - A Malverne mom with children enrolled at Our Lady of Lourdes School.
  • Laura Murray- A Lynbrook mom who grew up in Malverne and is the current president of the Mothers of Malverne. She has two young children not in school yet.
  • Gina Genti - A Malverne mom with two boys in elementary school.
  • Andrea Shinsato- A West Hempstead mom with a 2-year-old and one child enrolled in Chestnut Street School.
  • Theresa Walz- A West Hempstead mom whose children attend Cornwell Avenue School and West Hempstead Middle School.
  • Loraine Magaraci- A West Hempstead mom with kids enrolled in West Hempstead Middle School and High School.
  • Audrey Diaz Robles- A new mom to a 6-month-old baby.
  • Dawn Wladyka- A Malverne mom with two students attending Our Lady of Lourdes School and one enrolled in Grace Lutheran PreSchool.
  • Eileen Lynch O'Hara - A Malverne mother with three children enrolled at Saint Anne's School in Garden City and one child at the Brother Fox Latin School at Kellenberg Memorial High School.
  • Maria Salcedo-Hafker - A Malverne mom who sends her children to Maurice W. Downing School and Davison Avenue School.
  • Lori Lang- A Malverne native and mother of four whose children attend St. Thomas the Apostle School in West Hempstead.
  • Jennifer Johnson- A West Hempstead mom with one child attending Cornwell Avenue School and another in day care.

Moms Talk will also be the place for you to pose your questions about parenting topics and local issues that affect families. Where can we get information on local flu shot clinics for children? How do we talk to our children about peer pressure, bullying and protecting themselves online? How can we help our children's schools weather their budget cutbacks?

Have a topic or question you'd like to bring before the Moms Council and fellow Patch readers? E-mail Tara.Conry@Patch.com

Lori Hunt-Lang March 23, 2011 at 06:28 PM
This is never an easy subject. As a lifetime Malverne resident, I lived through years of "austerity" when I was a student in middle school at HTH. Basically, that translated into a big cut in after school sports and extracurricular clubs and activities. While I hate to see any cuts made, the reality is, they need to be made. Unfortunately, not all students use these services or benefit from them whereas cuts that would effect the school day for everyone are what should be avoided at all costs. Perhaps ask parents to pay a fee for an after school club or activity instead that would cover the cost of the activity or close to it. That way, if you want to participate in it, you pay for your child the same way we do for CYO or town teams and activities. Alternatives such as cutting teachers, which leads to increasing class sizes and effects test scores and the social setting of the schools, serves no one well in our districts. Pay freezes, perhaps yes. I would rather have a pay freeze than know someone else would lose their job. Not easy decisions, but they do need to be made.
Tom Grech March 23, 2011 at 07:30 PM
Why cut extra-curricular activities and sports, hurting the students? Why not have staff, teachers and administrators contribute more to their own retirement and healthcare benefits?
Lori Hunt-Lang March 23, 2011 at 08:24 PM
That is a very needed option as well - one I believe all unions need to meet administrators in the middle on. I was responding more to the question regarding what activities I would and would not cut. The extras are just that though, extra, so I believe parents should be asked to contibute for them if their children want to participate in them. The entire school does not necessarily benefit from them, so asking those that do participate to contribute is the same idea. Everyone should contribute to any benefit they receive. For me, I pay the taxes, my kids do not use the schools and then we also have to fund sports and after-school activities - in difficult economic times? And then also pay for our kids to play sports through the village and OLL CYO. If we all contributed to any benefit we received, this world would be in a much better position. School should be run more like corporate America - contribute to your benefits, 401 K/pension and job performance based on merit not tenure.
Teresa Beaubian March 23, 2011 at 09:06 PM
T.Beaubian, Malverne Mom- President Obama states that students need a better education to be competitive in the 21st century. I do not understand how this goal of his will be possible when the educational field is under attack by all. Congress as well as big businesses are all looking for the school system to help bail us out or reduce the countries national debt. People should reevaluate the situation, let big businesses and the wealthy bail us out of this deficit. After all, it was just two years ago when our taxes helped bail big business out of debt. In order to receive a return on our investment, the government should be allocating funds towards the youths of tomorrow instead of reducing funds. I do not think schools should have to make decisions such as eliminating extracurricular activities and special programs that will give these kids the competitive edge. Furthermore, teachers should not be asked to freeze their salaries during these difficult times. After all, the fuel prices keep rising, the government is not freezing the cost we must incur. We must stand up and fight for what is right not for what is wrong. This nation needs to do the right thing and revisit the progressive income tax rates of the wealthy.
Andrea Shinsato March 23, 2011 at 09:19 PM
This is such a challenging question. I honestly don't know where to start 'cutting' to save money where our children are concerned. I do not believe that any of the programs for our children should be considered "optional." Sports and extra-curricular activities are a vital part of a well-rounded education. Teachers are the backbone of that education, so really, where is the wiggle room so to speak? One aspect that needs to be looked at is superintendents salary. It is a slap in the face, honestly, to ask the taxpayers (many whom might be unemployed at the moment) to shell out more and more money for our children to have a good education when the superintendents are making six figure salaries! How can a superintendent tout the education system they are working for while milking the same system for a personal fortune? I'd be hard pressed to find a resident in this community that makes what the superintendent does yearly. If they want to cut costs without having a direct impact on the kids, that is one (maybe the only one) avenue to explore.
Tom Grech March 23, 2011 at 09:37 PM
Malverne 12 has the highest compensated employee in the history of New York State (salary, benefits and previous state pension) as well as 85 administrators making over $100,000. While the results are improving, the district is still only 7 or 8 from the bottom of the 56 Nassau County school districts. It's not about money = results. Do we need 56 Superintendents each making hundreds of thousands per year? It needs to be addressed broadly across Long Island. The unions can say what they want in this State and others, but we are slowly but surely killing the system. It is unsustainable.
vincent March 24, 2011 at 01:36 AM
The school budget focus should not rest on the Superintendents salaries but on the fact that 70% or more of a schools budget is spent on salaries, benefits and insurance. In addition, many would be shocked to learn how the district spends your money and how many non teacher professionals are on school payrolls: nurses, speech therapists, behavior therapists, social workers, occupational therapists etc.. More parents, business owners, and residents need to get involved, run for school board positions and help make decisions for our children and our tax dollars. It is terribly sad to see only a handful of people attending monthly school board meetings. Remember it is the school board that approves the supers salaries and the budgets!
vincent March 24, 2011 at 01:47 AM
Progress income taxes do not work and only serve to punish high earners who already contribute a disproportionate share of taxes. NYS tried only to discover that the tax receipts diminished. Not long ago apx 40 thousand people paid more than 50% of all NYC taxes! Guess what? They started to leave and took their money with them!
Andrea Shinsato March 24, 2011 at 03:07 AM
but Vincent, what is your reaction to a superintendent being paid 150+K a year in salary? That can in no way compare to a nurse or social worker. And it's my belief that schools need nurses and social workers.......
vincent March 24, 2011 at 03:37 AM
My position on outrageous public servant salaries is nothing short of outraged and disgusted. The former superintendent of my hs district is always in the paper when salary stories are published. He retired from one district (Merrick) and was rehired by the VSCHSD, at a salary in excess of 300K. In addition, he was also provided with a car and god knows what else. I am certain he will resurface again, somewhere else. My point is that the community should be informed, vote responsibly and participate in the school system and the budget process. If not, the few board members who are making decisions on your behalf will continue to approve retired rehired supers who seem to be more interested in lining their own pockets. BTW why do schools need social workers, isn't that what the Department of Social Services is for? Last year the VSCHSD budget meeting was nothing short of a joke, parents were outraged that the school planned to cut the drivers ed program, however no one commented on a 100 Million dollar budget. The former Superintendent must have been laughing all night and on the way to his bank!
Theresa Walz March 24, 2011 at 04:03 PM
This is a very touchy subject for me. Last year my school district budget failed on the first vote and too many things were cut teachers, sports, clubs, programs to name a few. I think the children were the ones who suffered the most from this. We now have larger classes and much less things for them to be involved in. I think a student who is involved in any type of after school activity is a well rounded student and I think it is a vital part of their education. Both clubs and athletic teams teach them many things that maybe the classroom cannot. I think we need to take a long hard look at our transportation and see what we can do. I know most of it is mandated so it is difficult to cut maybe we can have more centralized bus stops which is something that would not effect the classroom.
Bob Rabey March 25, 2011 at 08:25 AM
Everyone knows that education is the key to success. Programs, teachers, after school activities, etc. all play a vital roll in this process. However, that being said, there is a BIG HOLE where are "intended dollars" are falling through. I don't think there are many who really mind paying their fair share of taxes to support our children's future. But most of the money we all pay for this DOES NOT go to the student/teacher relationship as intended. Nassau County alone has 57 school districts. Each with superintendents, assistant superintendents, assistent to the assistants, administrators, assistant administrators, etc., etc., etc., the list is staggering! Each year we are faced with yet another school budget vote. Yet so few participate in the practice of formulating the budget, they simply await the bottom line which ALWAYS has an increase. All of this is OUR FAULT! Over time, we have all allowed this to happen. Consolidate the administrations, closely monitor spending, and get involved in the practice of budgeting.
Gina Genti March 25, 2011 at 10:41 AM
Everything I've read leads me to believe that New Yorkers believe that any one of the above mentioned issues will solve our funding problems. It is my belief that a portion of ALL of them are how we begin. I don't believe in cutting programs but I do condone trimming all budget lines and distributing those reductions evenly. I would not like to see a consolidation of school districts but I believe a substantial saving could be found in consolidating operations and services such as legal and auditing, transportation and materials to give buying power to a larger consortium. I also think the proposed superintendent salary cap currently in legislation is quite fair in that it gives the taxpayers the authority to over override a state imposed salary cap on a superintendent salary. If school administrators and boards are asking everyone to come to the table, as we in Malverne did, to help solve the problems then they themselves have to be part of the solution. I also don't believe that sports and clubs are extras. They are neccessary to help insure we are educating the entire student and producing well rounded and civic minded people. That being said in the current economic climate I would not be adverse to contributing towards extra curricular activities but let's make sure those clubs are at near capacity, meeting regularly or as scheduled and that the accounting procedures are followed.
Gina Genti March 25, 2011 at 10:58 AM
After stating above I have to leave Patch with one fact. The Malverne UFSD is curently working on a budget that will produce a 3.89% increase in spending over last year if it is adopted. 88% of that 3.89% is salaries and benefits. In dollars that translated to about $201,000 in funding that we have the ability to control within the parapmeters of a $47,000,000.00 budget.
Tom Grech March 25, 2011 at 11:07 AM
So based on this information, it sounds like the budget should be voted down and the Board ought to require a larger contribution from staff, admin and teachers for benefits and retirement.
Gina Genti March 25, 2011 at 11:30 AM
It could read that way to you. Pension contributions are mandated by the state and dictated by the performance of the stock market. School districts have no control over howe much is contributed. Secondly we are currently negotiating a new teachers contract but it's important for me to helpyou with 2 items you mentioned earlier. Malverne does not have anywhere close to 85 administrators much less 85 administrators making over $100,000 and you can find out how much our teachers contribute to therir health insurance by calling the superintendent but I urge you to take a guess on Patch first.
Gina Genti March 25, 2011 at 11:31 AM
Typos-sorry!
Tom Grech March 25, 2011 at 01:57 PM
I would like to know from a budget perspective how much they contribute by % of their salary. It shouldn't be a requirement to call the Super; if it's public information, post it. Further, the data about the school district came from the following source: http://nassaucivic.com/Taxes_School_Districts.htm Is it incorrect?
Gina Genti March 25, 2011 at 02:51 PM
They all contribute a % of the cost of the policy. You made a statement above that said they should contribute a larger % which leads the reader to believe you know what they contribute currently. As far as your link the most current data I see is nearly a year old and if somewhere in there it states that Malverne has 85 administrators making over $100,000 it is absolutley incorrect. Please clarify.
Tom Grech March 25, 2011 at 03:04 PM
Gina, I have no idea what they contribute. That's why it's important to know. See pages 604-606 of the document titled: For all LI teacher-administrator salaries go to http://www.lischooltax.com/08-9TS.pdf If this incorrect, please let me know. I am basing some of myfinancial concerns on this data. Tom
Gina Genti March 25, 2011 at 04:16 PM
Malverne teachers currently pay for 20% of their health benefits for a family and 15% for an individual for the cost of a the policy. The link you included is for administrators AND teachers. Your statement clearly read adminstrators. I have no problem talking about the issues we face but please be accurate in your statements-especially on the internet.
Tom Grech March 25, 2011 at 04:53 PM
That data regarding benes is good to know. Having that many people; be they staff, admin or teachers making over $100k in a district such as ours in outrageous.
Gina Genti March 25, 2011 at 05:06 PM
Accurate information is always good to know Tom.
Tom Grech March 25, 2011 at 06:17 PM
You bet it is.
janet grech March 29, 2011 at 02:30 PM
I have thought this question over most of the week. I am not sure where to begin as far a cutbacks are concerned. I do feel, however, that something must be done because the expenses and increases just seem to be spiraling out of control. I don't feel that any administrator, no matter how qualified he or she may be, should be earning the amounts stated above. I just cannot justify it in my mind. The amount a superintendent earns is not a direct reflection on having a better scoring school district. Adding to this problem is that there are over fifty school districts each with a superintendent. Why is this necessary? Can't one superintendent cover several school districts, bringing with them their successful plan of action and implementing it? Another thought is to organize a volunteer group to look into the budget/spending of a school district and get their feedback to work with a district and see how to better utilize budget money. I don't think this is ever an easy task, but we do need to start somewhere. Unfortunately, there will probably be some extracurricular activities that will end up getting cut or as Lori suggested, may be supplemented by parents to keep programs running. I think each school district has to take a more stringent look at their spending and act accordingly.
Jan Kasal December 14, 2012 at 02:06 AM
If you follow the Malverne school district news on a regular basis you are aware that the board of education has recently become an agenda of its own, not leaving much room for any other business. Its conduct has been divisive, obscure, and poisonous. The current school board is a burden and embarrassment to the school district residents. If you are ready to dedicate some time to prepare for the upcoming May 2013 school budget and school board member elections and to change the course, please join others by contacting me at vevajanka@hotmail.com

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