School District 15 Board Meeting Report
I unfortunately was too busy with Pesach preparations to attend, but these are excerpts from a report I received by e-mail:
Proposed BudgetMy bottom line: the May 15th vote is an important one for all district voters - and particularly pressing for those with young children.
Last night's school board meeting began with an elaborate (though sorely unconvincing) presentation by Dr. Fitzsimons of his proposed budget for the '07-'08 school year. Notwithstanding the annual $6 million to $9 million surpluses generated by District and the dwindling enrollment in the public schools, the Superintendent's proposed budget was $96.4 million, which would represent a 5% budget increase and an 8% levy increase over last year's budget. Fitzsimons insisted that this significant budget increase is absolutely necessary to cover increased costs including salaries for the 14 new full-time teachers and administrators that he would like to hire. (He did not clarify why these personnel additions are necessitated by dwindling enrollment.)
Murray Forman suggested that Dr. Fitzsimons go back to the drawing board with the proposed budget and come back to the board with a budget that represent a 0% increase over last year's budget. Mansdorf, Forman, Sussman, Kaufman and Hatten insisted that they would not support Dr. Fitzsimons' proposed increase or anything close to it, and that allowing any increase to be placed on the ballot would only lead the District into yet another year of contingency. Murray Forman noted that the proposed budget could not be an accurate characterization of the District's expenditures since the District has been left with surpluses of $6 million to $9 million in each of the last few years. Fitzsimons, Kopilow and Greenbaum railed against the majority of the board and insisted that even the proposed 5% increase would provide the District with a skeleton budget and that any suggestion of presenting a 0% increase budget is "irresponsible," despite the expectation that the current school year's budget will generate a $6 million surplus. At the insistence of the board majority, it was decided that the proposed budget would be revisited objectively by the school board's outside auditor or accountant so that a budget could be presented that the board and the voters would approve.
The board introduced a referendum prepared by the board's attorneys, to be presented to voters for their approval on May 15th. Fitzsimons, Kopilow, Greenbaum and a few rowdy members of the audience suggested that the board shouldn't approve the referendum for a litany of reasons. They publicly questioned the owner of Independent Bus Company in an effort to find flaws in the board's proposition, and to try to illustrate that the District could not sufficiently establish the cost of pre-k busing (which the board estimated at $500k), and that providing pre-k busing for private school kids would be too expensive for the District. Greenbaum suggested that there shouldn't be any pre-k busing for private school children unless the board ties this referendum to a guarantee that public school children would continue to receive the free pre-k program (with transportation) that they currently receive. Kopilow suggested that the pre-k busing referendum should include a measure requiring that all of the $30 million proceeds from the sale of the #1 school property be spent on capital improvements to the other buildings. Despite the protests from Fitzsimons, Kopilow and Greenbaum, the board voted (5-2) for the pre-k busing referendum to be presented to voters on May 15th. The referendum will provide for free transportation for all District 15 private school children (who will be 4 years old on December 1, 2007) who are in "full day" preschool programs that contain in the aggregate at least 25 children in their 4 and 5 year old programs. This pre-k program will only be implemented by the District if it is approved by a majority of voters on May 15th.
Uri Kaufman presented the conclusions of a group of architects and engineers who reviewed the capital improvements needs in the District's buildings. The architects concluded that the cost of necessary repairs to the buildings is approximately $7.1 million. Kaufman's report was not well-received by Fitzsimons, Kopilow and Greenbaum who maintain that all of the $30 million proceeds from the sale of the #1 school property be spent on capital improvements. Mansdorf suggested that the board approve a referendum for voter approval to allocate $10 million (from the sale proceeds) for capital improvements, in order to provide a margin of error on top of the architects' estimate. Fitzsimons, Kopilow and Greenbaum balked at the conclusions of the architects and insisted that all of the $30 million proceeds be allocated for capital improvements (suggesting that an old estimate of $33 million in necessary repairs, which was arranged by the Superintendent, was more accurate). Mansdorf suggested that the issue be tabled for further discussion and Kopilow and Greenbaum agreed.