Posts tagged ‘Westchester County New York’

March 6, 2015

Most booster clubs don’t qualify for tax-deductible contributions

by Grace

Most school booster clubs are not compliant with IRS regulations, potentially affecting parents and other donors who deduct contributions on their tax returns.

There are an estimated 100,000+ school, sports, band, and other booster clubs currently in existence in the United States …. Surprisingly, however, estimates indicate that less than 10% of these clubs are compliant with Internal Revenue Service Code regulations. Along with failure to register with the IRS, violation of the “inurement” prohibition under IRS Code Section 501(c)(3) is one of the most prevalent issues presently challenging local booster clubs.

This problem came to light at a local high school, where concerned parents hired a private investigator to look into their athletic booster club.

Run by parents and athletic officials in the Mount Pleasant school district, the booster club has been soliciting tax-deductible contributions for years after it was stripped of its federal tax-exempt status. In fact, the club has not filed an annual financial report with the IRS since 2009.

Contributors may face trouble with the IRS.

“I thought I was giving money to a tax-deductible charity,” said parent Mike Nicosia. “I was claiming it on my taxes. Everybody who did that, I would assume, now has to worry about an audit or a liability as far as interest and penalties.”

Even if the clubs don’t explicitly promote themselves as 501(c)3 nonprofits, many donors make that assumption.


Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, “Westlake boosters under fire over tax-exempt status”,, March 1, 2015.

June 27, 2014

Even in affluent areas, many high school graduates are not ready for college

by Grace

Even in one of the most prosperous and highly educated counties in the United States, less than half of high school graduates are ready for college.

Only 48% of Westchester County high school graduates are prepared to do college-level work.  This measure is based on students scoring “at least 75 on their English Regents exam and at least 80 on a math Regents exam”.

For my local high school, located in Westchester County, 64% of graduates are considered college ready.  This is a school district that spends about $25,000 per student each year and enjoys a student/teacher ratio of 14:1.

Using AP participation figures, US News determined that my local high school has a College Readiness Index of 44.5

On a national basis “SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college'”, so it appears this problem is not limited to high schools near me.

Are these college readiness numbers surprising?  Should they be higher, given the resources being devoted to education?  Or is it unrealistic to expect higher percentages of college-ready high school graduates, even in some of the most affluent areas of the country?

Some possible reasons for the low number of high school graduates who are prepared to do college-level work:

  1. The measures are flawed and do not give an accurate representation.
  2. Teaching and/or curriculum is mediocre, or worse.
  3. Schools do no place sufficient focus on academic goals, specifically on preparing students for college.
  4. We’re not spending enough on education.
  5. The money we spend on education is used inefficiently.
  6. No matter the demographics and despite how much a school tries, a certain percentage of high school graduates will never be ready for college work.
  7. “Kids these days.”
  8. Parents are not doing enough to support their children’s education.

I dismiss the first reason listed, having some familiarity with the New York State tests used to measure college readiness.  A high school student on the college-prep track should definitely be able to meet the scores required.  These tests are notoriously easy and/or graded on a very forgiving curve.

Achievement levels do not correlate closely with money spent on education, so I cannot see #4 being an important reason.

The rest of the listed reasons probably play some role in creating the disappointingly low college-readiness figures.  In theory, schools have the most control over remedying reasons 2, 3, and 5.  In practice, most experiments innovations that schools implement only seem to make things worse.


Gary Stern and Dwight Worley, “Local high school grads not up to more ambitious state goals”, The Journal News, June 23, 2014.

Graduation Rate Data – June 23, 2014, New York State Education Department

July 4, 2012

Quick takes – July 4, 2012

by Grace

In Westchester County, school union workers agree to modest raises and increased contributions to health insurance premiums. 

A group of 265 custodians, teacher’s aides and office workers employed by the Bedford school district has agreed to a 5-year deal that will pay raises of between 1 and 1.5 percent while requiring members to pay more of their health insurance costs.

Members of the support staff represented by the Civil Service Employees Association will earn raises of 1 percent this year and in 2013, and raises of 1.5 percent in 2014 and 2015. In the last year of the contract, which calls for a pay raise of 1 percent, the school district agreed to reopen the negotiations to account for changes in the economy.

“In the fifth year we have that option because we are hoping for a booming economy that will allow us to get a bigger raise,” says Mary Lou Cavaliere, the president of CSEA Local 860. “None of us have a crystal ball, but we hope the economy will improve.”

Teachers and administrators are covered under separate contracts and are not part of the deal.

The austere times that started with the recession in 2008 has forced Bedford and districts across the metropolitan region to struggle to balance budgets. Earlier this year, Bedford laid off three dozen bus drivers and outsourced their routes in a cost-cutting move.

Those bus drivers used to be represented by the CSEA.

The new five-year contract, which was approved by the Board of Education on Wednesday, also calls for CSEA employees to increase their contribution to health care costs over the next five years to 12 percent.

Some top high school graduates in Westchester County are staying close to home for college.

Tuckahoe High School valedictorian will attend Fordham (probably with a merit scholarship), salutatorian will be at Iona College with Dean’s Scholarship, and another top scholar will attend  Stonybrookʼs Honors College.  Related to this story:  Families in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley adjust to rising college costs

Americans not convinced college is as valuable as it was 20 years ago

A new poll of 1,000 adults — released by Widmeyer Communications — has mixed results for those in higher education. About 60 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed said they believed college was a good investment, with only 12 percent disagreeing, and the rest saying they didn’t know. But the poll found Americans split on whether college is as valuable today as it was 20 years ago, with 46 percent agreeing, and 41 percent disagreeing — despite countless statements from educators that college is more necessary today than at previous points in American history.

I gave at the office
Finally, I wonder if colleges get much money when they solicit donations from parents who are currently paying $50,000+ per year for their kids to attend those same colleges.

June 28, 2012

Families in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley adjust to rising college costs

by Grace

The high cost of college is playing an increasingly important role in the way Lower Hudson Valley families go about choosing schools.  Students representing a wide range of economic demographics – from New Rochelle HS (41% students qualify for free lunch) to Fox Lane HS (only 5% qualify) – are choosing community college as a way to save money.

A high school guidance counselor sees more students who have decided to cut costs by giving up the dorm experience.

“If it’s their first time around, the price tag is shocking to parents,” said Cleary, noting that in recent years more of her school’s graduates live at home and commute to colleges within an hour’s drive to save money.

One student’s story offered a window into how the faltering economy may actually be causing families to make wiser choices.

New Rochelle High School graduate Chanelle Cawley considered attending Queens College and The Art Institute of New York.

“It was really expensive, basically, to pay that much money for my freshman year,” said Cawley, 17, who graduated Thursday from New Rochelle. She decided against the more expensive schools and opted to start at Westchester Community College, where she will study Web design.

“It’s a great program to start, and once I do my two years I can just go and transfer to a different school,” she said. “I’m planning on going to The Art Institute.”

Yearly tuition at The New York Art Institute (AI) is approximately $25,000, with housing costs adding about $20,000 more.  AI’s parent company, Education Management, is battling government charges it violated federal law in garnering billions of state and federal financial aid.  It is hoped that Cawley will look carefully at potential job prospects before she takes on student loans to study web design at this school.

April 12, 2012

New York public school mandate relief petition launched by BEST4NY

by Grace

Westchester County taxpayers are letting legislators know that escalating state-mandated costs are eroding educational opportunities for our children.

A coalition of tax watchdog groups from 16 Westchester school districts is setting its sights on an elusive target: the complex web of state rules and regulations that force districts to spend tax money.

The new coalition, calling itself BEST4NY, is launching an online petition for local relief from state “mandates.” It is holding a public rally at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Greenburgh Town Hall.

“We felt like people who are concerned about the neighborhoods and villages and towns should be involved in this,” said Roger Scheiber of Hastings-on-Hudson, one of five executive committee members running the new group. “We realized that these school budgets are so complex and that once the tax cap got passed, the big issue, the really big issue, became mandates.”

BEST4NY, with the tagline ” Better Education and Smarter Taxation for New York”is modeled after NYSUT, the New York teachers union and political lobbying organization that is a statewide organization with local chapters in different school districts.  In this way, BEST4NY could be viewed as a union for taxpayers and parents.

Widespread agreement that we need mandate relief

Growing numbers of school, municipal and business officials — not to mention Gov. Andrew Cuomo — are calling for the state Legislature to remove some of the hundreds of state rules that force communities to spend money. But the Legislature has been slow to reach agreements because there are so many mandates, great and small, and most are supported by special interests.

School districts say that mandates account for 15 to 20 percent of their overall budgets, dictating spending on everything from data collection and curriculum changes to pension contributions and construction.

Pensions are out of control

I’m glad to see that pension contributions are included in this petition since skyrocketing public pension costs are “the single biggest threat” to local schools’ ability to deliver educational  services for New York children.  In our local district, pension costs have risen more than 50% over the last two years and now account for 7.2% of the total budget, up from 5.1% in 2010-11.  This has meant ongoing cuts in student services as taxes are diverted to pay for pensions.  The trend is up, and by 2015 pension costs are expected to eat up 35 percent of property tax collections.

The Wicks Law and the Triborough Amendment are two other burdensome mandates

… the Wicks Law, which requires districts and local governments to use multiple contractors for construction projects; and the Triborough Amendment, which requires that public-employee union contracts stay in effect until a new contract is reached, perhaps reducing the incentive to negotiate.

“There is no traction in either house to repeal the Triborough because the unions oppose it,” said Castelli, who has sponsored bills to reform and repeal it. …

The  BEST4NY online petition calling for mandate relief:

Related articles

March 23, 2012

‘Exploding pension costs are the single biggest threat to local government’s ability to deliver needed services’

by Grace

It’s an issue that Democrats, Republicans and independents agree on: controlling skyrocketing pensions.

Politicians representing diverse constituencies are united under the umbrella of New York Leaders for Pension Reform, a group whose goal is cutting pension costs.  Members include New York City Michael Bloomberg, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Branson, and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

“Exploding pension costs are the single biggest threat to local government’s ability to deliver needed services,” Astorino said in a statement released by the group Wednesday. “It will be impossible to provide any real property tax relief while operating under these debilitating labor costs that automatically increase every year at an unsustainable rate.”

In a small step to remedy this pension problem, last week Governor Cuomo won passage of Tier 6 reform legislation that he grandly labeled a sweeping pension reform plan that will save state and local governments and New York City more than $80 billion over the next 30 years.

Not so fast.

E.J. McMahon writing in The Torch calls Cuomo’s grandiose claims hyperbole, especially because taxpayers will see no benefit anytime soon since the changes only affect new employees.  And the “billions” in savings are based on the assumption that the Tier 6 structure remains unchanged for 30 years, a highly unlikely scenario.

Even using Coumo’s assumptions, New York City will only save 6% off the projected $359 billion in pension contributions over the next 30 years.  Clearly, this legislation only puts a small dent in the skyrocketing public pension costs that are eroding educational opportunities for New York children.  I foresee no change in time to help my child who is attending a public school where pension costs have risen more than 50% over the last two years and now account for 7.2% of the total budget, up from 5.1% in 2010-11.

The fundamental flaw in New York’s public pension system remains unresolved: like similar systems across the country, it exposes taxpayers to massive open-ended financial risks.  Pension accounting is incredibly arcane and opaque, setting up a proven moral hazard for elected officials who customarily have little regard for long-term consequences.  Unfortunately, the governor did not address this problem, or even acknowledge it.

You can read the entire article after the break.

read more »

October 5, 2011

How much does a college application essay tutor cost?

by Grace

Did I mention that phone consultation package with a top college essay tutor runs $2,500 for 5 one-hour sessions? That’s even more than a Westchester litigator makes, my standard for good pay for questionable work.

From a guilt-ridden father considering this as a money-making opportunity.

September 20, 2011

High school online classes expand in Westchester County

by Grace

Eight school district in Westchester County are participating in a pilot program offering BOCES-sponsored online classes to their high school students.  The courses were designed by local teachers and make use of  “blended” learning, including both virtual and in-person experiences.  Initially limited to four elective courses, plans call for expansion in future years.

Although this might seem like a low-risk way for the schools to try online learning, I am left with some questions about this initiative.

  • What are the costs, both in terms of money and lost opportunity?
  • How will results be assessed?  Is saving money the main criteria?  Will the outputs be measured in quantifiable ways?
  • Although it seems like a good idea to try online teaching with what appear to be relatively light-weight electives, are there plans to go online with core courses also?  What about AP courses, where offering students more options could be a real way to take advantage of the efficiencies of technology?

It turns out that New York lags behind some other states in K-12 online learning initiatives, which actually could be an advantage if it means that we will learn from the experiences of other states who have taken a leading position in this area.

A reason for New York’s relatively slow start in online learning

Nationally, online learning is taking off. As of late 2010, online learning opportunities were available to some students in 48 states and Washington, D.C., according to the nonprofit International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Twenty-seven states plus Washington also had at least one full-time online school operating statewide. New York was one of the last states to finalize a set of distance-learning standards in 2011.

Martabano said that as a result, students in New York have had limited access to online courses compared with their peers around the country — though there have been recent advances.

You can read the article after the jump.

read more »

July 8, 2011

Fewer Westchester County high school graduates are ready for college

by Grace

Local high schools continue to graduate high percentages of students, but fewer of those students are actually ready for college, according to new high-performance measures released Tuesday by the state.

Half of Westchester and Rockland graduates and 43 percent of Putnam graduates in June 2010 fell short of one top standard, measuring scores on English and math Regents exams.

A second standard, a Regents diploma with “advanced designation,” was earned by 45 percent of Rockland graduates, 46 percent of Putnam graduates and 31 percent of Westchester graduates — keeping in mind that several elite districts in Westchester use alternative testing….

The two new standards are designed to measure “aspirational performance,” according to state officials.

One standard requires that graduates score at least 75 on their English Regents exam and at least 80 on a math Regents exam.

This standard, Aspirational Performance Measure (APM), was formerly called “career and college ready”.   It measures the minimal requirements for college readiness, including the ability to score at least 80 on a basic algebra test (Integrated Algebra Regents Exam).  The low percentage of graduates meeting this standard is abysmal, especially considering that Westchester County spends an average $24,636 per pupil, the highest in the state and among the highest in the country.

Even in my local school district, where average per pupil spending is now up to $23,389 per year and where over 90% of graduates  go on to college, only 59% of high school graduates are considered “college ready”.

In 2010, getting 50% of the answers correct earned a score of 80 for students who took the Integrated Algebra Regents Exam.

Related:  Typical undergrad ‘could not write a paper or solve an algebra problem’

Related:  36% of college students take remedial class


*  Graduation rate: Percentage of enrollment graduating in four years (not counting summer school)

**  APM: the new Aspirational Performance Measure is the percentage of students who graduated on time and scored at least 80 in Regents math and at least 75 on Regents English —formerly called “career and college ready” graduates

***  Advanced-designation Regents diplomas: The percent of students who graduated on time with a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation (not all districts participate)

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