Now that school districts are in the home stretch of the yearly budget process, it’s a good time to reiterate the importance of parent involvement. Parents are their children’s best advocates, but you can’t be effective unless you are informed. Here are the Top 10 things you need to know to help you navigate the budget process in your school district.
- Know your school district’s budget calendar, which will give you a list of meetings and topics. Attend these meetings if you are available.
- Be sure to check your district’s website for information, and read budget brochures that are mailed to your home. Read the fine print so you will understand if your children’s school experience will be impacted.
- Keep up with media reports of budget meetings. Local newspapers and the Patch offer different perspectives, which may not be covered in official school district information.
- Know when PTA meetings are held. Your PTA president should have the latest budget information.
- Know when and where Board of Education meetings are held, attend them, and feel free to voice your opinion during the public participation part of the meeting. You must sign up to speak before the meeting. This is the time when you can join together with other parents to protest proposed reductions that you oppose, such as full-day kindergarten, or increased class size.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Board of Education members and the District Clerk. In public school districts, trustees are elected by the residents and should be responsive to their constituents’ opinions and problems.
- If you are upset by a proposed cut, you may circulate petitions to the board, discuss the topic at PTA meetings, write letters to the board and to the newspapers, and come to board meetings en masse. Impassioned and organized efforts sometimes have the desired results.
- Make sure you register to vote. Check with the District Clerk for procedures and deadlines if you are not sure if you are registered.
- Remember to vote. There is a uniform voting date for all school districts in New York State, which this year is Tuesday, May 21. If you live in another state, check with your district for the date of this year’s budget vote.
- If you will be out of town you may request an absentee ballot. Check with the District Clerk for information about absentee ballots, polling places and voting hours.
Last week, I attended my grandson’s pre-school “graduation” and it reminded me that students of all ages will be embarking on new school careers in the fall. If your child will be attending a new school come September – elementary, secondary or pre-school — check out my guest post on Parenting’s “Class Notes”
Blog: Tips for Transitioning to a New School. Whether you are moving to a new neighborhood or your child is “moving up” to a new level, there are steps you can take right now to ease the transition.
Curbing the Enthusiasm of Graduation Guests
Speaking of graduations, it’s the season for high school graduations and according to the Associated Press (AP), some schools are showing no tolerance for loud and sustained cheering by guests. For example, a mother was handcuffed at one school on a disorderly conduct charge. At another school, the principal admonished four graduates for the excessive cheering of their family and friends — and meted out consequences to the students! Although they have already fulfilled all of the graduation requirements, they now must perform 20 hours of community service to receive their diplomas.
Is it fair to curb the enthusiasm of guests celebrating this important milestone? What do you think about punishing graduates for the behavior of their friends and family?
Another rite of passage that goes hand in hand with high school graduation is the prom. An increasing number of school districts have implemented sobriety tests to cut down on pre-prom drinking. In addition, they have purchased alcohol-detection devices in an attempt to keep students safe.
According to a Newsday report, staff members have been trained in sobriety testing of students in at least 11 Long Island school districts. These include: Smithtown, Cold Spring Harbor, Connetquot, Hewlett-Woodmere, Islip, Long Beach, Northport-East Northport, Rockville Centre, Shoreham-Wading River, Three Village and West Islip.
A spokesman for Advanced Safety Devices, the Chatsworth, Calif., company that sells the Breathalyzer brand tester, told Newsday that it was unusual for school districts to purchase these devices in the past, but in recent years sales have increased to schools throughout the country.
While school administrators claim the tests are effective and have made a difference in preventing drinking, critics question whether educators should be administering sobriety tests to students.
Nine LI Budgets Pass in Revote
In a last hurrah to the school budget season, nine Long Island districts held revotes on Tuesday. In the first vote on May 15, seven of those districts had attempted unsuccessfully to override the two percent tax cap that became law in New York State this year. Eight of the nine reduced their budgets for the second round, this time adhering to the two percent tax cap.
Only one district – Elmont – submitted a 4.9 percent budget increase to the voters. A bit more than the required 60 percent of voters approved the budget, enabling the district to exceed the cap.
Clearly, New York State districts have entered a new era in school budgeting. How will the tax cap continue to impact Long Island schools, which pride themselves on being among the best in the country? During this budget season, a number of schools were closed, teachers were excessed, class size was increased, and educational programs were reduced.
What will be on the chopping block next year? Stay tuned.
In the first New York State budget vote since a 2 percent tax cap was mandated, 92.7 percent of Long Island school budgets passed last week. Of the Island’s 124 districts, 115 had their budgets approved; nine were defeated.
Of the nine that were defeated, seven had opted to exceed the 2 percent tax cap in the hope that voters would approve the increase anyway. But those school administrators bet wrong because under the new rules, they needed to convince at least 60 percent of their voters to approve their spending plan — and they didn’t. Districts whose budgets were defeated may submit the same or a new budget to voters next month.
The tax cap ushers in a new era in New York State. It demonstrates that the majority of districts were able to make deep cuts, and most taxpayers accepted the reductions despite outcries in numerous districts that cuts were hurting students. Across the Island, a number of schools were closed, teachers were excessed, class size was increased, and educational programs were reduced.
The dilemma is that taxpayers want to keep tax increases down at the same time that they want their schools to be outstanding. It remains to be seen whether parents will accept this state of affairs in coming years.
High School Senior Elected to School Board
High School senior Joshua Lafazan did the unimaginable last week! Just 18-years-old and the president of his senior class, he won a seat on the Syosset Board of Education – in a landslide!
Voters gave Lafazan an overwhelming mandate despite the district’s launching of a robo-call to parents accusing his father of taking the district’s list of absentee voters. He said his win was a backlash against what he characterized as a “smear campaign” by district officials.
“The people of Syosset have sent a mandate that we need open government and transparency in this town, and Josh Lafazan will deliver,” he told Newsday after he learned he had won.
During the campaign, Lafazan had been critical of the salary and benefits of Superintendent Carole Hankin, who is the highest paid superintendent in New York State and earns $541,000 in salary and benefits.
It’s interesting that while taxpayers and parents have decried administrative salaries and benefits in many districts, it took a student to make this a centerpiece of his campaign.
Could this be a harbinger of school board elections of the future? Will parents and taxpayers in other districts take on entrenched administrators? Calling for transparency is a familiar theme among critics of school boards. But most critics never step up to the plate by running for office. How many adults have the courage of this young man? If more did, it could substantially change the dynamics of school district politics.
Late last June, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the two percent tax cap legislation into law in an effort to provide relief to taxpayers. This is the first time New York State has ever had a tax cap on property taxes and its importance as a school issue for parents is huge, although school districts will not confront the issue until they embark upon their budget process in early 2012.
Expect to be hearing and reading a lot about it in the news and from your district this school year. Indeed, a recent New York Times article indicated that local governments, which are also affected by this legislation, are already mounting protests and threatening to override the cap. They are objecting to the restrictions on their spending limits and want to exempt themselves from the new cap, saying they cannot control the growth of property taxes and still provide services and comply with mandates.
The good news for homeowners is that this legislation will limit the amount you pay in school and property taxes. It will become effective during the 2012-2013 school year, and it will prevent school districts and local governments from increasing property taxes by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.
The bad news is that all New York state school districts are worried about how this legislation will impact their finances. While there are certain exceptions in this legislation, such as allowing the tax levy to be higher for pension contributions required by law, districts are concerned that if state aid does not increase and unfunded mandates (state requirements for which the local districts shoulder the expenses) are not relieved, there will be further erosion to the educational program. During the last budget cycle, many districts reduced programs and staff. Another exception is that districts will be permitted to propose budgets that exceed the cap if 60 percent of voters agree.
Also problematic for school districts is that they must submit their proposed budget to the NYS Comptroller, Commissioner of Education, and Tax Commissioner by March 1. This is about six weeks earlier than most budgets have been finalized in the past so it will likely move up the budget process in most districts. The weak economy, coupled with the tax cap, and now the debt ceiling legislation, will likely engender much debate in school districts this year about cost savings. Be aware that your district can put anything on the table to be cut, including full-day kindergarten, sports, electives, music, busing, and even the closing of schools. You may also be asked to override the tax. Stay informed and keep tuned for tips to help you to advocate for quality education for your children.