BY MICHAEL CAHILL AND JESSICA DOWNER
Review of North Rockland Central School District Board meeting, February 7
The School Board of the North Rockland Central School District met Tuesday evening to discuss progress with the district’s ongoing transformation and begin laying the groundwork for the 2012 – 2013 budget.
The meeting started on a musical note in the auditorium of North Rockland High School as 6th graders from Willow Grove Middle School presented the board and attendees with a full band rendition of the song “Majestica” from American composer Brian Balmages.
After no opening comments from the public, Superintendent of Schools Ileana Eckert gave a presentation updating the board on the ongoing transformation of the school district. Eckert’s presentation detailed new administrative appointments and positions within the North Rockland Central School District (NRCSD). The changes in positions were the same as those detailed in a recent edition of the Rockland County Times and can still be seen on the paper’s website.
Eckert concluded the presentation saying that the strength of the program changes called for by the transformation depends on the budget for next year. Continuing to hold the floor, Eckert narrated a presentation about the district’s budget situation for the academic year 2012-2013.
Eckert was criticial of Governor Cuomo’s comment that New York is number one in spending and number 38 in graduation, which she stated is misleading. She displayed other indicators of New York’s overall competitiveness, such as the state’s strong number of high achievers.
Eckert said it is difficult to keep school budgets down in New York State because of “151 unfunded mandates” many of which don’t do students any good, as well as special education requirements above and beyond federal mandates. “All we ask of Albany is that they don’t give us any more unfunded mandates. If you require something else of schools, make sure you do the financial analysis behind and that you fund what ever else you’re asking us to do.”
She said the federal program Race to the Top has been a waste of time for North Rockland and other districts, as its caused NRCSD to spend close to $1 million, while only bringing back $250,000 or so in funding.
Graduation rates in the North Rockland district are something to be proud of Eckert, said. Her statistics showed double-digit percentage gains in NRCSD high school graduation rates for all demographics since 2002. According to Eckert’s statistics, black students had improved from a 60 percent to 85 percent graduation rate, almost even with the white rate of 91 percent, itself increased 10 points from 81 percent. Hispanic students still were lagging behind, with about two out of every three Hispanic students graduating high school.
Board members Mary Romano and James Kraus then discussed meeting with New York State Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski and the Albany Budget Committee to talk about the unique budget situation for NRCSD. The NRCSD is still feeling the effects of the 2006 settlement with the Mirant Corporation. Around $11 to $12 million a year has been coming out of the district’s budget to pay for the settlement since then. An estimated $11 million is expected to come out of this year’s budget. Romano emphasized the receptiveness of the Zebrowski and the budget committee to the district’s situation. The board plans to meet again with them again in March.
The new tax levy cap was also briefly discussed. Eckert expressed doubt about the district’s long-term well being with the tax cap. She said due to the tax cap it would be a struggle to create a budget that does not require touching student programs. She also said that due to dealing with the Mirant lawsuit for many years, the district does have an advantage in a certain sense, because the board has already been struggling and cutting back long before the economic crisis that hit all the districts in the county.
Eckert’s presentation reviewed efforts by the district to save taxpayer money. Reduction of staff alone has saved the district $32.5 million over five years, she said. This combined with the elimination of certain programs, and adjustments to employee benefits have saved an additional $1 million.
Due to exemptions, the district will able to have a 2.9 percent increase on their tax levy this year, but Eckert said that she does not know how the district will be able to stay under the cap three or four years from now. “It’s sad to say but budgeting cannot be long range in New York,” said Eckert.
The meeting continued on with the approval of a tenure recommendation for elementary school teacher Lindsay Osberg, programs and upcoming and past events going on around the district, tax refunds, student activity accounts, the proclamation for National School Counseling Week, Extra Duty assignment changes, and the retirements of Marlene Silverman, Eileen Bernstein, and Luz Dubois.
The board mentioned several upcoming events in the district:
‘Dancing with the Teachers’ event at Fieldstone Secondary School to benefit Stand Up To Cancer. Admission $10
For more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org
– 3/2 – 3/3/2012 & 3/9 – 3/10/2012
7:30 p.m. 3/2, 3/3, 3/9
2:30 p.m. 3/10
North Rockland High School presents ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’. Tickets $12 for general admission. $10 for students and senior citizens. For more information call: 845-942-3300 ext. 4954
Also mentioned is that North Rockland High School’s Academy of Finance will be helping local residents prepare their tax returns on Wednesdays in March from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The school board approved the retirements of several teachers leaving the district in June 2012. The board then turned to the remaining items on the agenda requiring action, including the approval of tax refunds for towns in the district. All items were all passed unanimously 5 – 0.