The Proof Is in the Progress
By Robin Jovanovich
It happens every spring. Residents come out of hibernation and start looking around our fair city. The complaints don’t vary much from year to year.
“When are they going to do something about that intersection? Are they ever going to fix Milton Road? Was it legal to cut down so many trees and put up that big a house?”
Meanwhile, City staff and the City Council, have been working hard trying to move infrastructure repairs forward and get us past crimes (the ex-Rye Golf Club Manager) and bad judgment calls (the taped but reportedly not taped Fire Department workshop).
Why doesn’t it appear that way to many residents? Perhaps because a few voluble and unrelenting critics come to the podium meeting after meeting and throw punches (more than a few under the belt) at the Mayor, the City Manager, and the Council.
Councilwoman Laura Brett says, “The lengthy criticisms by a few residents at Council meetings are more than a distraction. I feel bogged down by the negative.”
Fellow Councilmember Julie Killian agrees. “I am frustrated that the same subjects continue to take up far too much time at our meetings.” She’d like to see “more order” at the meetings, and she feels speakers who are making “the same negative accusations should be immediately cut off.”
Councilwoman Peter Jovanovich feels that “We need to find a way back to a proper attitude — respectful and attentive. The Council has become embroiled in process to the dereliction of progress, and we have tangible problems to be solved.”
Meanwhile, Killian pointed out, the Council has miles to go on its four-year financial plan, its energy audit, renewing the Rye Arts Center’s lease “early”, to name a few of the items on the City’s desired agenda.
“We should be talking about the things we hope to accomplish soon — dredging at Milton Harbor — and the news that will have a positive impact on the community — the prospect of another retailer at 1037 Boston Post Road,” added Brett. She is working with the Landmarks Advisory Commission on a plan to ensure that some of our older homes will be preserved.
All three Councilmembers we spoke to pointed to the encouraging developments: the Sluice Gate has been inspected and will be up and running shortly, the Rye Golf Club Commission is working more closely with members, and the City has managed to sustain services through the Great Recession even though it cut 14 percent of its staff.
And all three would like to see more frequent use of the gavel — when called for — at Council meetings, so that they can work through the issues before them and get past rewind.
From the Rye City Schools Superintendent’s Desk: Facing the Budget Challenges Head On
By Dr. Frank Alvarez
It is not breaking news that public school districts throughout the state are facing extreme challenges in this current environment, particularly as we develop our budgets for 2013-14. Issues such as the tax levy cap, increasing unfunded mandates, rising pension costs, and limited state aid have been discussed and analyzed for the past few years. We are seeing their impact more now than ever before.
Pension and health care expenses are among the major cost drivers of this budget. The expenditure increase for Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS) contributions is 37%, or $1.5 million. The impact of these costs for the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) is 11%, or $117,000. The District cannot rely on its fund balance to cover these costs long term. Eventually, the tax cap and unfunded mandates will force reductions to student programs and increases to class sizes if not checked in other ways.
Additionally, while the effects of the sequester on our budget will be less than originally anticipated, there will be a loss of approximately $70,000 in federal aid for the 2013-2014 school year. Although we will face painful cuts, the District plans to propose a 2013-14 school budget that is below the tax levy cap, and sustains the key components that make Rye an extraordinary school district.
The Rye City School District’s recommended Superintendent’s Budget for the 2013-14 school year is $76,653,000. The budget will be on the agenda for adoption at the April 16 Board of Education Meeting. The Board and Central Administration have put a great deal of thoughtful planning into the development of this budget and have evaluated and considered cost-saving possibilities. It is always our mutual priority to keep reductions away from programs and services that will impact students. Unfortunately, circumstances make it necessary for us to cut $2.3 million in order to stay within the allowable tax levy cap limit.
The budget maintains the core of our program: the academic opportunities and essentials to support the District’s goals. Cost reductions have been placed around three key areas — administrative restructuring, program efficiencies, and operational savings. As disheartening as it is to have to make staff reductions, we have had no choice but to explore ways to restructure employee assignments based on actual enrollment and student needs. It is hoped that some of these cuts will be offset through retirements and leaves.
On a more optimistic level, the Board and Central Administration have identified several efficiencies that can help us continue on our path to a more sustainable future. Heating the Middle School/High School with gas will save $30,000, lower lease costs for the Administrative Offices will save $20,000, and we have deferred the desktop replacement plan as new approaches are piloted. We are analyzing ways to consolidate services with other districts and/or governments, as well as ways to provide improved special education services at reduced cost. Additionally, collective bargaining agreement negotiations are underway for five contracts expiring in June. We are committed to examining other ways that savings can be realized.
As school budgets become increasingly difficult to fund, the need for advocacy grows. On our website is a letter to elected officials, urging them to take action on tax cap modification. We encourage residents to visit www.ryeschools.org and send the letter to the list provided. Voicing our concerns about the tax cap burden and its impact on our District is one way we can join together to protect our children’s educational future.
The budget vote will be held on Tuesday, May 21. Voter registration details, absentee ballots, and all presentations are available on our website, www.ryeschools.org. We will be communicating more information in the coming weeks. Please take the time to carefully read these materials as you consider the 2013-14 school budget. Please continue to support our efforts to provide Rye students with an excellent education.
A Call to the Community
My boys and I write you on behalf of St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity funding research to help find cures for children with cancer. The Foundation raises money primarily through head-shaving events.
We’ve all known a parent, a brother or sister, a relative or a friend who has been affected by cancer. My father was diagnosed with cancer and lost his battle in 50 weeks; it was fast and furious and there was no time for a cure. During one of our discussions at Sloan-Kettering, my father put it in perspective: “I’ve been lucky, I’ve had a great life but when you see kids with cancer it just doesn’t seem fair … every kid should get a chance to be a healthy kid.”
Well, we are doing our small part to help children affected by this terrible disease by shaving our heads to raise money. Please join us as a participant or a team or just to watch and enjoy food, friendship, and refreshments this Saturday, March 16 at the Rye Roadhouse Bar and Restaurant from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
With my baldhead, I’ll stand in solidarity with children being treated for cancer, while raising money for life-saving research. You can make a donation on my head to help me reach my goal of $7,500, and watch us Shaving the Way to Conquer Children’s Cancer.
This is my small way of doing something very important. You can give directly online (http://www.stbaldricks.org/teams/mypage/83973/2013), or by phone at 888-899-BALD. To see a list of my donors, fundraising progress, and before-and-after photos, visit my page on the St. Baldrick’s website.
You can count on this donation being used responsibly. To see all the research being funded – by disease type, location, and more – visit www.StBaldricks.org and click on Where the Money Goes, then View Grants.
On behalf of all the very special kids, thank you for your support!
Myles and the Brothers Lavelle
How We Can Minimize the Chance of Another Rye Golf Club Incident
By Bob Zahm
The City Council’s Rye Golf Club report provides a basis for understanding who did what, for how much, when. But the report does not identify the substantive changes needed to prevent the same or a similar situation from re-occurring.
Observation of the City Council’s actions over the past few years, the RGC report, and analysis of the City’s organization structure reveal three areas of action required to minimize the chance of another “Rye Golf Club” incident happening in Rye.
First, access to all City documents must be made available to each City Council member, not the mayor alone, as presently specified in our City Charter. Specifically, the authority granted to the mayor under Article 7, section G”… have the authority at all times to examine the books, papers and accounts of any board, commission, department, office or agency of the city” should be extended to each City Council member.
Once they have the authority to see all city documentation, it will be incumbent upon our trustees to actually seek out and use the available information. This is a non-trivial activity that requires increased attentiveness, an ability to recognize when things just don’t look right, and a willingness to ask relevant questions as opposed to accepting what one is told.
To help our trustees, and frankly, the City Manager better execute their oversight and management responsibilities, the quality and timeliness of management reporting must be improved. As a case in point, questions about the effectiveness of policy enforcement of traffic laws led, over a period of years, to the generation of a quarterly report showing the frequency of citations issued by infraction. Discussions during the past budget cycle about how $500,000 in overtime was used by the police force also indicates that regular reporting on this subject should be made available to prevent year-end expenditure surprises. Similar types of reporting related to use of labor by the Department of Public Works, conduct of construction inspections, and the incident of violations, parking meter income, as well as the expenditure of funds versus the City’s budget would be useful to our governing bodies and to give us all increased insight into how our City is running.
Second, the City Council must fully empower the citizen commissions appointed to oversee the Golf Club, Rye Rec, and the Boat Basin so that they can serve as the active, “close to the ground” level of oversight most taxpayers expect them to be. This empowerment must include the authority to obtain regular reporting about the operation of their charges, as opposed to having to petition the City Comptroller, City Manager, Golf Club Manager, or Boat Basin Supervisor to obtain answers to individual questions. Additionally, the role of commissioners should be enhanced so that they provide status, plan and budgets to the City Council instead of merely accompanying the city official responsible for Rye Rec, Golf Club, or the Boat Basin.
Third, the assistant city manager position must be restored and the associated reporting structure inside the city manager’s office re-structured to provide sufficient capacity to be able to actually manage the city as opposed to merely responding to each new critical issue. The decision to eliminate this position as a way to save money was clearly short-term expedient, but it has resulted in a loss of management capacity absolutely critical to effective city management. With 14 people reporting to him, it is virtually impossible for the city manager to spend sufficient time monitoring/mentoring/managing his staff while executing City Council-identified priorities and also identifying big-picture risks and opportunities faced by the city.
Taken together, the proposed changes would play a significant part in increasing our City government’s transparency. They would also enable the City Council members and commissioners to fully engage in their oversight and leadership roles.