By PHIL NOBILE
History has repeated itself with Harrison’s school administration officials as not even a preliminary budget has been released to the public despite a quickly approaching adoption deadline, causing transparency concerns.
Although the deadline for adoption of the Harrison Central School District’s 2014-2015 school budget is April 28, there is no budget currently available, leaving the gap for public comment and involvement to evaporate.
Despite budget work sessions being held the past two months at the Board of Education meetings, only two meetings remain before the budget adoption deadline and not even a preliminary budget has been released, according to district clerk Christine Beitler.
Last year, Harrison school administration officials failed to release the 2013-2014 preliminary budget until two weeks before it was required to be adopted and solicit public comment. The $108 million budget was ultimately adopted upping Harrison residents’ property taxes by 3.98 percent. No reductions in programming or class sizes were made.
This year, neighboring districts have allowed more than one month for public digestion of their school budgets.
The Mamaroneck Union Free School District’s budget was presented on March 18 and proposed at $131.7 million; the Rye City School District presented their $79.4 million school budget on March 4 and the Eastchester School District’s $76.9 million budget was presented on March 11. The adoption deadline for all three districts is April 22.
According to the state’s education law, the Board of Education is required to submit a detailed statement regarding the budget at least seven days before its required budget hearing. Harrison’s school public budget hearing will be at the May 7 meeting, according to a budget development calendar posted on the school district’s website. No other information regarding the budget or specifics is given on the website.
Transparency concerns go beyond the budget itself and extend to basic information.
As of press time, the agenda for the March 26 Board of Education meeting had yet to be posted on the school district’s website, one week after the meeting took place. All of Harrison’s other departments—Town Council, Planning Board, Zoning Board—post agendas days in advance of their respective meetings.
According to Beitler, posting agendas after meetings has been a practice under Superintendent Louis Wool.
New York State law only requires notice of time and place to be made publicly and actively available. In February 2012 though, an amendment was made to the state’s Open Meetings Law requiring governmental entities to make all records up for discussion available to the public prior to the meeting. Records include legislation, resolutions, laws and policies from a governing body.
Robert Freeman, the executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said disclosure of agendas is ultimately up to the individual board, but added it is considerate to provide the information to the public ahead of time.
“I think that it’s courteous to the public to let them know what is likely to be discussed,” Freeman said. “We have heard from scores of people who expressed frustration from going to meetings where people have no idea what the board is discussing.”
As of April 1, the only information publicly posted regarding the Harrison Central School District’s budget for the upcoming year was provided by Assemblyman David Buchwald’s office in the form of an increase in school aid from the state. According to a press release, the district will see an increase of more than $100,000 in building aid. The school receives a total of $3.5 million in school aid from the state.
When asked for further information and response to the concerns, Wool declined comment as of press time.
Harrison Board of Education President Dennis Di Lorenzo and Trustee Rachel Estroff could not be reached as of press time.
This year’s budget will go before the public for vote on May 21, the same day as the School Board trustee elections.
The next Harrison Board of Education meeting will be on April 9 at the Louis M. Klein Middle School.