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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

School Board Election Redux

In case you were all hoping you had heard the last of the School District #15 politics, it ain't over yet. Today is the revote for the budget that was voted down in last month's elections. Basically, if the budget gets voted down, the district automatically switches over to a contingency, or 'austerity' budget. So the Board has, for the first time in School Board history, proposed a budget that is actually less than the contingency budget would be. While at first glance that seems a prudent budget to approve, this Q & A flyer circulated by the budget's opponents explains things a bit more clearly:
Important Questions About the June 15th Budget Revote:
Q: Why vote NO if the budget is below contingency (austerity) level, and appears to save taxpayers money?
A: This is the first budget revote in the history of the Lawrence School District where the proposed budget amount is less than contingency. Although this unprecedented gesture appears to save the taxpayers $1,000 out of a proposed $88 million budget, the sad reality is that it opens the door to spending millions and millions more. This is because a passed budget removes the state's fiscal controls that keep the School Board's expenditures in check. Clearly, a contingency budget offers the advantages to the taxpayers and provides for the educational needs of the District's children. Voting NO is the only fiscally prudent choice that provides for all.

Q: How are the schools actually affected by contingency?
A: When the District is in contingency, the Board is permitted to use funds for those "expenses deemed to be absolutely necessary to operate and maintain schools". That requires the Board to make a case by case determination before each expenditure. When the Board is not in contingency, it gains the flexibility to grant salary increases, increase fringe benefits, and make unecessary purchases, all of which do not benefit the schools or children. For example of such purchases, see the NYS Auditor's Report regarding the software purchased by the Board for $313,448, but never used, and the 33 Palm Pilot purchased by the Board for $32,737 - most remain unopened and the rest unaccounted for.

Another wrinkle in all of this is that a NYS Comptroller's Audit Report on the District's finances was just released, and it found many examples of fiscal irresponsibility and lack of controls. From the same flyer:
Q: What does the NYC Comptroller's Audit Report indicate about the Board's use of taxpayers funds?
A: While District officials are quick to point out that the Audit does not single out anyone as individually responsible for criminal wrongdoing, the Auditor's Report stresses how irresponsible the School Board and Administration are and that they fail to maintain necessary fiscal management and critical internal controls. In addition, the Administration has not performed essential bookkeeping, and has neglected to reconcile monthly balances, which have resulted in unresolved monthly discrepancies as high as $1.1 Million. Is that the way you want your checkbook balanced?

I will be voting NO on the budget today. For any fellow SD #15 readers out there, I encourage you to do the same.
Related: I, II, III, IV, V


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering why you hadnt posted on the revote. I already voted NO this moerning. Turnout seemed light. Was this publicized enough, especially in light of Hevesi's audit? I feel like this had so much information in it that was ripe for the picking in support of voting down the budget. The audit was a real eye-opener. Where were those flyers you quoted from circulated? I didn't see any?

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



4:29 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Anon: these are not my thoughts, but a good response to the link that you just gave:

The Superintendent of District 15 has released yet another Statement which
only accentuates the School Board's lack of transparency to the taxpayers
Please read the Superintendent's statement to fully understand the extent
of this latest illusion- http://www.lawrence.org/Budgeteducation.htm

In response to the information that has been circulating about the
District 15 Revised Budget, the District Superintendent has issued a
statement which clarifies the information that the School Board failed to
disclose to the residents of the district, while proposing yet another
budget increase. The Superintendent has now confirmed that the district
has approximately $8 Million in reserves from the last 2 years - while the
district was in contingency. Although the Board and the Superintendent did
not reveal the existence of any such surplus funds before asking voters to
support the budget increase, Dr. Fitzsimons now admits that the District
has at least $7.7 Million in unappropriated surplus funds. Dr. Fitzsimons,
who has advocated tirelessly for the passing of this budget (although he
is required to remain neutral) adds that of the $7.7 Million reserves
funds, $1.7 Million remains unappropriated and the remaining $6 Million in
reserves "would be earmarked for specific purposes." That totals at least
$7.7 Million in reserves at the Board's disposal should the Board be
released from contingency.
Without making any commitment regarding those funds, the Superintendent
then suggests that the Board may choose to deplete the $7.7 Million in
reserves by doubling and tripling the size of various reserve accounts -
as though there is a sudden need for increasing employee benefits across
the board.

The Superintendent also clarifies his plans for the proceeds from the sale
of the #1 School property - $10 Million are to pay for "high priority
capital projects." Needless to say, that doesn't leave much money for long
overdue taxpayer concessions. The message could not be clearer - of the
$26 Million, the Superintendent and Board admittedly already have plans
for an additional $17.7 Million - only contingency can keep the Board from

Isn't it time we saw some transparency from the Superintendent and the
School Board?
How can the Superintendent and the Board propose yet another budget
increase, without disclosing at least $7.7 Million in reserves generated
over the last two years?

Don't be fooled - Vote NO Today and send the Superintendent and Board the
message that the taxpayers will not be fooled.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This message is to anyone that voted no, or plans to vote no, on today's budget vote. What would it take for you to vote in favor of a budget at some time in the future?

5:06 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It would take a school board that I felt was sensitive to the needs of the 5T's orthodox community. I think there is a justified credibility gap that raises the burden of proof regarding anything they propose.

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who voted NO today, speaking for myself, it would take the following 2 items to occur in order for me to vote Yes to a budget:

1) The cost to educate per child would need to become more in line with the grades the kids have been getting. Currently, the cost to educate each child is among the highest, if not the highest, in Nassau County. However, the grades of the district rank among the lowest in the county. That is not acceptable. Something has to give here. Either reduce costs or find ways to improve the grades.

2) Restore and add services to the private school children to the maximum allowed by law. We are paying more than 50% of the taxes and we keep getting hit with less and less services. Our one way to fight back is by voting down the budget. If the Board wants us to help approve their budget, make us a partner in the district and get us more services. Even is the maximum allowed by law was given to us, it would amount to no more than 15% of the overall budget, way less than we currently pay in.

5:42 PM  
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