SCARSDALE, N.Y. Nearly three dozen people showed up Wednesday to the Girl Scout House to hear a school budget presentation and to discuss their concerns and priorities for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.
"Communication is going to be so important as we approach and discuss what we are going to do," said Scarsdale Schools Superintendent Michael McGill. McGill said it is unfortunate that, in recent years, the discourse about school spending has become "reductivist," with people on both sides of budget issue resorting to talking in sound bites that make the issues seem simple.
"The implications are much more fraught than the way they are presented," he said.
There was nothing simple about Wednesday's discussion, although most of the speakers urged McGill and Board of Education members in attendance to preserve programs and personnel at current levels. According to Assistant Superintendent Linda Purvis, a "rollover" budget that would maintain the status quo, allowing for mandated spending increases such as salaries, pensions and health insurance, would put the budget about $1.5 million over the target to comply with the new state tax levy cap. Earlier projections had placed that figure at $8 million.
The people in attendance were more concerned with preserving the quality of a Scarsdale education than meeting the cap, though.
"While we applaud the board's efforts to take advantage of attrition to cut expenses, we are extremely concerned about the loss of teaching positions in the high school while enrollment has increased," said High School PTA President Vivienne Braun. "We strongly urge you to look at alternatives such as cutting some programming or administrative expenses regardless of amount rather than teaching positions in core subjects at the high school. Our teachers are the key to our reputation and the academic success of our students."
Jackie Walter, a high school parent, cautioned the crowd that there is another sentiment outside the school community that may be just as strong as the one inside the room.
"Bring friends to these meetings," she said. "We tend to think we are representative of the whole community. We are not."
Walter said she hears just as many people say too much money is spent by the schools and that there are savings to be had.
Some people spoke of cuts already made that had an impact on their children. Penny Bauersfeld, a Scarsdale and Edgemont Family Counseling Board of Directors member, made a plea to keep funding for her group to continue the Scarsdale Youth Project that places five counselors in the schools.
McGill responded that he has already begun a list of possible cuts to get down to the cap, and that there is not an item on the list for which there isn't a strong case to be made against cutting.
"It's going to be really critical for the community to be educated" about the school's programs and needs, he said. A Scarsdale education "will be substantially different if we start to make cuts."
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.