MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. – After months of public and private meetings, the Mount Vernon Board of Education has approved a budget exceeding $230 million that will be put to a public vote next week.
The $230,887,373 “Fiscal Plan for Academic Excellence,” the first proposed by new Mount Vernon Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Hamilton, who was appointed last summer – represents a 1.5 percent budget-to-budget increase with no tax levy increase on homeowners for the first time in years – a rarity in the current state of New York education.
With the district in a the process of rebuilding as it transitions to a “K-8 model” and attempting to regain the public’s trust, the new administration worked diligently to relieve the burden on local residents, who have been harsh on the much-maligned school district in recent years as many students struggled academically.
According to Assistant Superintendent of Business Ken Silver, the district “used a zero-based budget approach this year rather than the traditional method of rolling one year’s numbers to the next with slight increases.” This approach enabled district administrators to “take a close, thorough look at their programs and rebuild them from the bottom with a laser-like focus on improving student achievement and academic opportunities.”
“We did not just ask them to create their ideal programs,” Silver said. “Once their initial requests were submitted, each principal and administrator participated in a budget defense process, which compelled them to demonstrate how their proposed requests would have a positive impact on students and academic outcomes."
“As the new superintendent in Mount Vernon, this process gave me an opportunity to engage in deep conversations about educational philosophy and priorities with our district administrative staff,” Hamilton added. “I got a real feel for where our staff believes our priorities ought to be and where our focus areas are.”
If approved, under the new budget, several programs for students will be expanded while “minimizing the impact on an already tax-tired community.”
There will be several important positions restored district-wide. School nurses and guidance counselors will be installed in every building, and programs centered on art, career and technical education will be put in place.
“The CTE program is going to play an integral role in our school district. Some children will elect to go straight into the workforce,” Hamilton said. “We need to provide them with the skills and tools that will help them establish well-paying careers in industry that desperately needs a trained and motivated work force.”
Hamilton, who has been a part of the district for less than a year since transferring from New Jersey, noted this budget represents something of a revival for the district.
“When I first arrived here, I was saddened to see so many valuable programs had been lost due to reduced funding,” he said. “The arts play an integral role in student development. From building confidence to exposing our students to rich culture and experience beyond the city limits, the restoration of these programs is a top priority for my administration.”
There will be additional schools budget presentations from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 16 at Longfellow Elementary School and from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Pennington K-8 School. Mount Vernon residents will have the opportunity to vote on the schools budget on Tuesday, May 19.
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