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Pelham Officials: Elementary School Reconfiguration Could Save District $1.1 M

Dr. Dennis Lauro, superintendent of Pelham schools, presented the findings of study on the feasibility of reconfiguring the district's elementary schools Monday.

 

Pelham school officials unveiled an elementary reconfiguration plan that could potentially save the district as much as $1.1 million during Monday’s school board meeting.

Dr. Dennis Lauro, superintendent of Pelham schools, presented a brief report in front of more than 150 people on a feasibility study that was done on different elementary school configurations. The study, which can be found in the PDF to the right of this story, was done because the district needs to cut approximately $1.8 million in order to comply with the state’s 2 percent property tax cap.

The school district currently has four elementary schools that house students based on the neighborhood’s they live in. But the district to figure out of if cost saving can be achieved through cost efficiencies and the equalization of class sizes.

“The district wants to enhance programs, but recognizes the financial constraints of the tax base during these difficult economic times—so our challenge was how do we deliver a budget, remain within the cap and still preserve the fine education system that we have in Pelham,” Lauro said.

One plan considered feasible

Out of the proposals that were looked at, Lauro said a plan to pair Colonial Elementary School with Hutchinson Elementary School and Siwanoy Elementary School with Prospect Hill Elementary School is the most viable.

In this configuration, Colonial would hold grades K-2 and get paired with Hutchinson, which would hold grades 3-5. Siwanoy would hold grades K-2 and get paired Prospect Hill Elementary School, which would hold grades 3-5.  A north/south boundary would be used to determine which pairing students would fit into.

Lauro said this plan would allow the district to maximize usage of the elementary school buildings, create dedicated space for art and music in all four buildings, make more effective use of developmentally appropriate playground space and cause no changes to food service.

Transportation costs would also remain the same if the district switched to this new configuration.

The plan would also allow for the implementation of world language programs and science labs in fourth and fifth grades, according to Lauro.

In order to accommodate the reconfiguration, the school district would need to stagger the beginning and end of each school in the district. The high school and middle school would begin at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:11 p.m. Hutchinson and Prospect Hill school would start at 8:25 a.m. and end at 3:21 p.m., while Siwanoy and Colonial schools would start at 8:35 a.m and end at 3:31 p.m.

Lauro said the staggered scheduled would allow older students to arrive home earlier to pick up younger students or give parents time to drive from building to building.

Savings

The reconfiguration would allow the district to save $1,365,600, according to Lauro. The majority of those savings would come from the retirement of three teachers, which would slash $503,000 from the budget, and three teacher who are expected to go on leave, which would save $382,000.

Lauro said the savings from the teacher retirements will happen regardless of what elementary configuration the district chooses.

The estimated costs associated with the reconfiguration would total about $250,000, leaving the district with a net savings of $1,115,600.

Lauro said the board agreed that the district would not look at any reconfiguration plans unless there are sizable savings.


“That’s what I’m saying to you now,” Lauro said. “The number is sizable enough and we’re well on our way to that $1.8 million deficit and that’s why it’s still on the table and that’s why it’s an alternative to be discussed with the community over the next several months.”

Lauro also added that the reconfiguration would not be the final solution to the tax cap and that union contract will have to negotiated to ensure salaries are also kept under control. He also said that he would not move forward with the plan unless he received direction from the board.

Lauro is scheduled to present his budget proposal for the 2012-2013 to the board on Feb. 27.

Robert Eicher, the school board president, acknowledged that there were still issues such as logistics, public safety and compliance with the American Disabilities Act that need to be addressed. He said the board has about a month to mull over the plan before it makes a decision.

Mike Bregman January 10, 2012 at 10:17 PM
This is the stupidest idea I've ever heard. It will literally KILL Pelham property prices and deprive the community of any local attachment to schools. This Lauro guy needs to be FIRED along with his 2 secretaries (each making close to 6 figure salaries). The school district just needs to consider how to get rid of tenured administrators (not teachers) and their over paid secretaries (who do nothing but paperwork). ALL of the savings in this plan are coming from 2 teachers retiring (which they should do sooner rather than later) and 2 going on leave (hopefully not coming back). More teachers need to know when to call it quits and we'll be okay. It's about time for this small town to grow up and compete with school districts like Scarsdale, Rye, and Mamaroneck.
Ricardo January 10, 2012 at 10:36 PM
Clarification - quoting from Dr. Lauro's powerpoint presentation: "Some of these [$1.37 MM] reductions would occur under current organization. These reductions would be half the savings of reconfiguration (...) the savings from the current organization include 3 teachers" The incremental savings benefit of the reconfiguration is, assuming best case scenario, no more than $650 K.
Holly McNamara January 11, 2012 at 02:49 AM
This plan would completely disrupt this town for a mere savings of 600,000, only to leave us in a worse position for further budget votes. His proposal does not take into consideration the increase police presence and crossing personnel that would be required. This burden would still be upon the Pelham taxpayers. Not to mention the traffic congestion, the pollution and decrease in property value that this would ultimately cause. Please show your opposition by signing the below petition : Pelham Community Opposition to Princeton Plan or Paired Schools Plan You can view this petition at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/595/411/257/
Carrie Liaskos January 11, 2012 at 04:58 PM
Neighborhood schools are priceless, unique aspect of Pelham. The supposed savings Dr Lauro reports are dubious, and the disruption to our lives, and the future are not captured nor considered in this examination. Many of the "enhancements" touted are a stretch (age-appropriate announcements?!) and programs they state clearly will only happen with Pelham Education Foundarion funding anyway (and could take place without a reconfiguration!). Are they trying to put lipstick on a pig? If the benefits are clear cut, and the savings arenclear cut (not built on retirements that will occur regardless), then wouldn't have ton"spin" it so hard. Lauro and the BOE must have hoped no one would read the fine print. That has not the first thing the have gotten wrong. Register for the BOE Budget Community Forum a week from Saturday to have your voice heard. Call the district to register: 738-3434
Charles Stern January 12, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I attended the Hutchinson Elementary "roadshow" version of this announcement. Here's my de-code: School board around NYS State know they can't shove through high tax increases that now require a 60% approval level. Like many communities, we have a good school system, but the cost basis is too high. The ONLY way to control that is negotiate with NYSUT teachers, and the school board and Dr. Lauro won't dare touch it. To their credit. Pelham board member did negotiate with teachers two years ago for a reprieve on the rate of increases, and they got it. Now Lauro needs to re-open the teachers contract again. It's the only lasting measure to change the cost of running the public schools. There may be a few extra administrative salaries, too. SInce the teacher's contract is sacro-sanct, the board is looking for anything else they can "do". There seems to be a legitimate problem involving uneven class sizes across schools, which results in inefficient use of teaching resources. It's not terribly difficult to correct, just adjust the district lines. At the Hutch meeting the ugly truth flowed like a river. The board member present openly acknowledged that Pelham would freak out if Hutch kids were rezoned to the other schools and vice versa (2-4-6-8 we don't want to integrate). Instead, they cooked up this costly and unnecessary Princeton Plan rather than re-district. The Lauro plan is a home equity killer, can't go forward.
Claire Persanis January 12, 2012 at 11:14 PM
Charles, I think you are oversimplifying the teacher contract issue. Dr. Lauro and the Board of Education do NOT have the power to unilaterally re-open the contract. The union membership must agree. The union members are all the individual teachers, many of whom probably have no interest in re-negotiating and giving up salary increases that were already agreed to 2 years ago. As for the Hutchinson diversity issue, re-drawing the lines would help better integrate the schools, but it will not have much effect on leveling out class size and it won't save the district any money. I don't agree that this is a home equity killer. What would really kill our home equity is losing the excellent teachers and programs that have made our district a desirable one in the first place. We will still have neighborhood schools. All the kids of the same age in a neighborhood will attend the same school, just, maybe, not the one down the street.
Shelly Boyle January 13, 2012 at 12:38 PM
This plan is a home equity killer. Anyone who lives in Pelham knows that the people who buy homes here usually do it for the fine public school system we have in Pelham. We also want our children to be able to get to school safely and that is why we choose to live near the grammar schools. This is a plan that in the end will cost more than what they are proposing to save. The school administration board better put on their thinking caps and come up with a better plan or maybe we can do without them and save the money that way.
Charles Stern January 13, 2012 at 03:55 PM
The district can ask the teachers' union for what it needs. Dr. Lauro and the board can approach the union and say, "this is what we need to remain stable." That process is called negotiation, and everybody gets something. Instead, the school board is trying to game the budget ballot process by threatening a school re-org that's unnecessary, and that's not going to go well. Just read these responses. Budgets do fail.
warren banholzer January 14, 2012 at 02:00 AM
This headline, like those in the BoE study are misleading. Based on the actual numbers in the report, the reconfiguration of the schools only saves $366,450 over the current school configuration not the $1.1M suggested by Dr. Lauro’s presentation and headlines in local media. $749,150 of the suggested $1,115,600 in savings would be saved without doing any reconfiguration. Projected enrollment allows for three retiring teachers to not be replaced even if we leave the schools as configured. This is a savings of $503,250. One nursing position is unfortunately eliminated but that reduction and $80,900 savings is also not tied to the reconfiguration. One administrative position is eliminated in Dr. Lauro's presentation with no apparent link to the reconfiguration and an additional $165,000 savings that can be taken without reconfiguring our schools. The study also suggests that as much as $300,400 in additional savings are available. If these changes are possible, the total savings available without reconfiguring the schools would be as much as $1,049,550 making the savings from the suggested reconfiguration plan over those of not reconfiguring only $66,050. It’s vital that everyone have the correct figures. The actual savings here as reported by Dr. Lauro is only $366,450 and could be as low as $66,050 over that of not reconfiguring the schools not the $1.1 Million suggested.
Charles Stern January 14, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Nice homework. In the big picture your arithmetic makes sense. If there's no school closure, and the number of students is static, and the class size model doesn't change, then its reasonable to forecast no change in the cost basis. Lauro's proposal is a terror tactic by the school board to jam through a high tax levy increase. They need to look at administrative cuts and negotiate with the teachers' union. Thanks for the de-bunk.
Claire Persanis January 14, 2012 at 04:46 PM
So if we don't reorganize, what happens to elementary class size? This is a perennial problem in the district. The three elementary teachers retiring won't be replaced either way, correct? From what I can understand from the report, without reorg, three grades across the district will be collapsed into 2 sections instead of the current three. According tho the report, the current first grade at Colonial will be collapsed from 3 sections of 14-16 to two sections of 23 next year. Prospect Hill will lose 2 sections, in first and second grades. That's not desirable either. I would like to know what the alternative is to the restructuring. My concern is what other cuts are we talking about? Music? Middle School modified sports? Art? The swim team, again? High school AP classes and other electives? These are some of the programs that make our schools stand out. We have a student who qualified as an Intel Science semi-finalist this year. This type of research is not done in core classes, but elective classes. I don't know if the reorg is a perfect solution, but I think as a community we need to weigh our priorities. I encourage people to come to the Community Forum on January 21st to make your priorities known and to listen to the priorities of your neighbors. You may be surprised. Email forum@pelhamschools.org to register.
Claire Persanis January 14, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Warren, I think your analysis, though thorough, may be incorrect regarding the $165,000 administrative position. I am looking at page 24 of the report right now and under "Savings and Costs Incurred by Reconfiguration" it says "one full-time district wide administrative position will be eliminated, resulting in approximately $165,000 savings." It seems clear that the position will only be eliminated IF we restructure. Does it say somewhere else in the report that this position will be eliminated even if we do not restructure? The same for the nurse position. Although, based on last year's budget fight, we can only assume that the full-time nurses are up for grabs again.
Charles Stern January 14, 2012 at 06:49 PM
"What is the alternative to the restructuring" isn't going to be decided on this message board. It's should be driven by the goals defined in the district's strategic plan. The document on the district's Web site (102 pages) is dated, nevertheless it chocked full of vision and goals for student achievement. No mention of grade reconfigs. The items in your message are the classic school board/PTA weapons (music, art, ap, sports). Those programs are not why public schools are so costly to run. 6% annual salary increases (when inflation is near 0), excessive administrative headcount and escalating pension & health benefits are what drive school costs beyond the appetite of most taxpayers. The district runs a great program, now its time to get labor costs under control. Two years ago the board and the union found common ground, and they need to do it again.
Eileen Matz January 15, 2012 at 12:49 PM
The NYS Legislature may act soon. Gov. Cuomo again proposed (in his State of the State) that new teachers should no longer have a lifetime legacy of health ins. and retirement benefits (like the rest of us). Also a word in favor of Hutchinson as that's what this debate seems to boil down to. In the past 6 years, my child attended both Hutch and Prospect Hills. Hutch wins in important areas. It has a full computer lab with Smartboard, roomy art facilities and huge playground and gym. Until recently, Hutch had a full Publishing Center where K-5 published at least 2 books each year. Unfortunately, in just these 6 years, Pelham elementary schools have become top-heavy with unnecessary administrators. Let the County and NYS continue to guide how better to improve ELA scores and allow our good teachers to continue less fettered in the classroom.

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