Friday, March 19, 2010

Administrators Volunteer to Skip Raise

President Rick Rugani announced that the Bronxville School's administrators have volunteered to give up a negotiated raise of 3.75% for 2010-11, representing a savings of about $60,000. He commended the administrative group for understanding the changing economic climate and the need for shared financial sacrifice. As a result, he said, the administrative unit has agreed to forgo the wage increase negotiated for 2010-11, which the Board was legally obligated to pay. Instead, both parties have agreed to extend the contract through 2013 and spread the increase over that period of time - 1.875% in 2011 and 1.875% in 2012. All other provisions of the contract remain intact, including merit pay provisions that are at the discretion of the Superintendent and Board.

Mr. Rugani heralded the agreement, commending the group for stepping up to a difficult issue, setting a positive example, and taking a position that strengthens the district's long term financial health. Superintendent of Schools David Quattrone and Assistant Superintendent Dan Carlin, not represented by this bargaining unit, have no guaranteed wage increases. Both (among several other unrepresented employees) took no raise in 2009-10.

Other bargaining units, including teachers, custodians, clerical staff, and teacher aides, have yet to negotiate new contracts for the next school year.

Students, Parents, and Staff Voice Support for School Programs

As part of building the 2010 budget the Bronxville Board of Education listened to extensive public comments about how best to maintain excellence in our schools. About 200 people crowded into the Elementary multi-purpose room in a meeting that adjourned at 11:00 PM. The group included high school students who presented a petition supporting our present custodial staff (instead of outsourcing). Parents (mostly representing Elementary students) spoke on behalf of the Elementary foreign language program, as did a number of staff members. Parents also emphasized the importance of small class sizes, a concern generated by the district's decision not to replace certain retiring teachers. A number of parents also advocated reducing the clerical work force as a way of avoiding reductions in the teaching force.

Setting the stage for the public comments, and in direct response to email traffic over the past two weeks, Board President Rick Rugani assured the audience that "nothing in this budget or among the proposed cost reductions is designed to alter the historic ranges of class size." Over the past five years, the K-5 class size has varied between 19.9 and 21. Superintendent David Quattrone reinforced the point, assuring the Board and the public that the planned reductions would not drive Elementary class size upward and that he would recommend adjustments if enrollments warranted. The Board and the public also heard that by shifting resources across schools, the district could continue skills instruction at the same group size available in 2009-10 (= about 5). Even after various reductions, favorable class size and the availability of skills assistance will remain strong features of the Elementary School, according to the Superintendent. Although the administration has planned reductions in the number of coaches and activity advisers, no sports or clubs will be eliminated, and modified sports will continue its no-cut approach. Discussions about elective field trips resulted in no budget reductions, but questions lingered about the risks and liabilities incurred by overseas travel.

Perhaps FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary School) presented the Board with its most difficult decision in light of the ongoing interest in strengthening a global perspective throughout the curriculum. After much discussion about the FLES experience and numerous public expressions of support, the Board reluctantly decided to discontinue that program and "move on." (Without FLES, elementary students will spend the designated time with their regular classroom teacher studying their core subjects.) The Board urged Quattrone to accelerate efforts to offer a non-Western language, and he described a tentative partnership with Pelham and Eastchester as a way to deliver Mandarin at the Middle School level.

By accepting the various proposals for non-instructional savings and productivity improvements, the Board appears prepared to approve a budget in April that produces a 0% - or lower - increase in the tax rate.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Visiting Team Applauds K-12 Science

At the March Board of Education meeting Superintendent David Quattrone shared highlights of an independent assessment of Bronxville's science programs. The report evaluates the degree to which the School meets the eight standards of the Tri-State Consortium. The Tri-State Consortium is a learning organization devoted to assisting its member public school districts in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey in using student performance data to develop a rigorous framework for systemic planning, assessment, accreditation, and continuous improvement.

The visiting team consisted of fifteen educators from the Consortium's members. They spent three days in December visiting classrooms and interviewing students, staff, and parents. The Report focused on scientific reasoning, critical thinking, technology skills, application of knowledge, and meeting the needs of all learners. One section of the Report affirmed the value of the core program offered at grades 9 and 10: "One of the many impressive aspects of the Bronxville science program is 'the core.' The students gain much by being exposed to the four sciences over a two-year period, and the foundation laid for more rigorous science courses is solid. The teachers take great pride in the core program, understandably so, and the students feel well prepared by it." (p.11)

The Report goes on to commend the quality of instruction: "The visit team recognizes that members of the science department are focused on providing rich, thinking-based learning experiences within their classrooms. Across the district there is a clear, strong focus on the value and unique talents of each individual teacher. The science teachers are applauded for their depth of content knowledge." (p. 6)

The visiting team also recommended that science teachers continue K-12 communication and collaboration in pursuit of a more systematic approach to science curriculum development and assessment. As a next step the science faculty will use meeting time and the spring conference day to develop a follow-up plan, including periodic reports to the Board of Education. The full Report can be found here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

What does a sustainable model of educational excellence look like?

Is it possible to combine property tax relief and maintain exemplary educational programs? Yes, but how do you get there?

The Bronxville Board of Education made progress toward answering these questions at its March 6th budget workshop. About seventy-five people, mostly district parents, showed up. Some came to advocate for special education, small class sizes, or cherished class trips; others pushed for tougher collective bargaining agreements. Many came simply to find out more.

While there were differences of opinion on the best way of “getting to zero” (or whether zero was the right number), Board members and the public universally affirmed the importance of maintaining program and services that produce outstanding graduates and attract new families to Bronxville.

The Board expressed strong support for the traditional field trip experiences that have played an important part in the lives of students, such as the farm trip at grade 2, Philadelphia in grade 5, and Williamsburg at grade 7. Those potential reductions are now off the table. On the other hand, Board members favored eliminating certain elective field trips at the high school level because those trips involve smaller groups of students with specific interests, incur additional liability, and could be offered outside the school context.

The Board also rejected proposals to eliminate additional lab periods for science at grades 9 and 10 and deferred discussion of consolidating schools or limiting elective opportunities at the high school. Instead, the Board targeted several non-instructional areas for savings: custodial outsourcing, levels of clerical support, and equipment and supply accounts. The Board indicated it planned to proceed with $80,000 of capital projects for a storage shed and tile replacement rather than deferring those items to a time when they might cost more.

As a result of a special retirement incentive program, the Board has the choice whether or not to replace several positions. This would generate savings by virtue of attrition rather than through more painful reductions in force. In these areas, some members of the public asked about the possible adverse impact on learning. Before making final decisions the Board seeks additional information about cuts in the skills program, Foreign Language in the Elementary School, and projected cost savings in athletics and co-curricular activities. Those proposals call for fewer coaches and advisers but do not eliminate any sport or club.

At the end of the day, the Board listened to community concerns and took one step closer to defining how this year’s school budget can not only achieve a zero percent increase on the tax rate, but also honor those programs and services that have distinguished the Bronxville Schools in the past, add the greatest value in the present, and protect our capacity to thrive in the future.