Some Blind Brook residents are taking the school district to task for allowing children of non-resident teachers to attend the district's schools at taxpayers' expense, and the issue is not going away as the community faces a 2.14 percent tax levy increase in the school's proposed 2010-11 budget.
"My concern is that teachers, whose total compensation including benefits can approach $200,000 and who live out of the district, are sending their children to our district for a nominal fee of $3,000," Rye Brook resident Sam Marcus said. "It costs more than $25,000 and the taxpayer is subsidizing it."
This particular benefit has come up for debate in light of the recent passing of Xiomara Rothmann, a special education teacher at Bruno M. Ponterio Ridge Street School. Rothmann, a Scarsdale resident who died of heart failure in December, has two daughters in the BMP Ridge Street School 5th grade class.
"It's outrageous, beyond this year to have the children remain here. We shouldn't kick them out this year, but we shouldn't have to subsidize it," Marcus said. "I'm outraged that I should have to pay for children of out of district parents, especially children who don't have a parent as a school teacher in the system."
Currently there are 15 non-resident students in the Blind Brook-Rye Union Free School District. Five of whom are non-residents paying full tuition, which is $18,011 for elementary and $28,853 for middle school through high school.
The tuition for the other ten students, who are non-resident teachers' children, was $2,860 during the 2009-10 school year and will be $2,989 for 2010-11 for grades K through five. For the 6th through 12th grades, 2009-10 tuition was $4,799, but that figure will increase to $5,014 in 2010-11. Blind Brook teachers had an average base salary of $102,000 plus benefits for the 2009-10 school year.
"This is not an uncommon practice to have this as a benefit for teachers," Blind Brook Superintendent William Stark said. "There are some districts where it's free for children to attend if you teach, and others charge a particular rate."
According to Board of Education President Steve Kaplan, this provision was put in place by a previous Blind Brook school board and has been in the teachers' contracts since at least the 1989-1990 school year.
"Anything in the proposed budget is open for visitation by the board. If there's a desire on the part of the board [to change it], that would have to be raised at the next go around of contracts and hopefully agreed to with faculty," Kaplan said. "Right now it's a fact of the contract, it's a feature put in there by a board way back."
Neither Mr. Kaplan nor Superintendent Stark could comment on the Rothmann case specifically, due to district policy against commenting on non-adjudicated personnel matters.
But some taxpayers, like noted school board critic Dick Hubert, who are already feeling the strain of increased property taxes in a tough economy, wonder if the burden of educating non-resident children should fall on them, especially when their parents no longer teach in the district.
"Educating teachers' children at taxpayer expense is one of the many perks and bonuses teachers get - including being able to pass on huge pension assets to their heirs," Hubert said. "[But] can they also pass on $25,000 free tuition or must their children attend school closer to home after they die?"
Another sticking point is two other children of faculty members who are in the current second grade class. In its 2010-2011 proposed budget, the district is seeking to add another third grade teacher so that class sizes in each section for incoming third grade students are more manageable. Some wonder if the added section would be necessary if the teachers' children weren't students.
"The question is, do these children cause you to have the extra section to have the cost, which would be $100,000 or more?" Kaplan said. "That would not be a good deal for anybody."
According to both Kaplan and Stark, however, there is a clear provision in the contract that children of non-resident teachers will only be admitted if there is space. Both said adding another section for this particular class has been a discussion for several years.
"The argument that they're taking somebody's seat is just not there," Stark said. "It's not costing us an additional $20,000 to provide a teacher's child access to the district. We're not necessarily losing money by having that child attend the district and that would be true for any district."