Budget

Shoreham-Wading River school district Superintendent Gerard Poole, second from left, and the board of education. Photo by Kevin Redding

The board of education was met with loud cheers and a round of applause for its decision March 27.

Shoreham-Wading River school district added pre-kindergarten classes in its initial 2018-19 budget, but after receiving backlash from parents, the board unanimously voted to remove it from the plans.

“I’m a firm believer in early childhood education,” said Shoreham resident Megan Rowick, who said she attended the March 20 meeting in favor of the idea, but that her feelings quickly changed. “There are great benefits for social, emotional and cognitive development, and while not mandated by New York State I feel that pre-K is a gift.”

She explained what changed her mind.

“I absolutely support public education and I am a big proponent of a pre-K program in Shoreham-Wading River. But it’s our job not to push our own agenda, and I hear what the community is saying and want to make a decision based on that.”

— Erin Hunt

“When I saw the plans I immediately had concerns, and I know I’m not alone,” said the pre-K, kindergarten and first-grade teacher, whose son and 3-year-old daughter will have gone through pre-K programs. “Why wasn’t the community surveyed to see who has children that will be 4 years old before Dec. 1 and who would be interested in this pre-K program? It would have been helpful to gather information prior to this, then you would know how many sections you really need, or who would choose our program.”

The board of education announced at its March 20 meeting the plan was to include the addition of part-time pre-K classes into the district’s $74,776,072 budget draft. To fund the proposed program and avoid piercing the tax levy increase cap while keeping at the current 0.9 percent increase budget-to-budget, $270,000 in contingent funds was worked into the draft. Kindergarten class sizes would have increased at Miller Avenue School to clear classrooms for the program.

Residents questioned if the district had done sufficient research.

Wading River resident Robin Heavey said she was concerned, since the program was set to begin with an expectation of declining district enrollment, that if the trend were to reverse, the larger class sizes would place a burden on the teachers and their students.

“I do not think it is fair to those children, especially at such a tender age when they are learning reading and mathematics and things that require such attention from teachers, to put them in a situation where they are increasing their numbers for a non-essential and a non-required program,” she said.

Colette Grosso agreed that there’s no crystal ball for what enrollment would look like, and added she would prefer to see the money spent elsewhere.

“When you say the money could be used for this [pre-K] program or things that come up as needed, I’m just wondering why some of our needs over the past couple of years have not been addressed,” the Shoreham mother said. “We’ve had two suicides, I can’t even quantify how many suicide attempts we’ve had, several of which have been this year.  You’ve got kids in the hospital for anxiety, eating disorders, all kinds of things — with the current climate, don’t we think security and mental health staff would be the best use of this money?”

Wading River resident Nick Gallucci pointed out the elected representatives on the board campaigned on a message of financial responsibility last year. He asked the board if pre-K would not just be economically feasible now, but five years from now.

“I think pre-K is an essential element to a child’s education,” he said, adding his two children have gone to pre-K through a private organization in Wading River. “My belief right now is that this is getting rushed to get passed when there is a general distrust in the district’s spending habits. Tying pre-K into a budget in a rushed manner regardless of the negative tax cap only fosters that district and strays far for the 2017 hashtag #RestoreTheFaith.”

The 17-year public education high school teacher pointed out how last year’s budget just passed with a close 1,112-992 vote and said while he originally indented to stand up in front of the board and ask that pre-K be a separate proposition in the budget vote, he understood it is no longer an option after the district decided it would be packaged within the budget. He said, looking at the issue like a patchwork quilt — trying to do a lot with a little — he now sides with those who wanted pre-K removed from the budget.

“My belief right now is that this is getting rushed to get passed when there is a general distrust in the district’s spending habits.”

— Nick Gallucci

“My fear is heading into this budget that they are going to vote on one issue, and I don’t want my child’s education within this district being jeopardized by a program that is already existing within this community,” he said. “Perhaps our focus should be on things that cannot be replicated.”

Board of education president Robert Rose agreed that while no one could argue with the merits of a pre-K program, the process left much to be desired.

“Why the rush?” he asked before then asking the board if it was unanimous in removing the item from the budget. “The board should give the same about of time to pre-K like we are the future of the Briarcliff building. Are we really prepared? We’re putting the horse before the cart.”

Rose said Superintendent Gerard Poole recommended to the board on three separate occasions to hold off including pre-K in the budget — that it wasn’t the best fit this year. Rose said Poole also made the recommendation the board take the next six months to work with the community on the idea.

“We want to make sure it’s the most transparent process possible,” he said.

Trustee Erin Hunt, who proposed the idea after hearing the desire for a program from other residents, personally agreeing, said she appreciated the feedback and is thankful that the past two meetings people had shown up.

“I wish the conversation went differently — I absolutely support public education and I am a big proponent of a pre-K program in Shoreham-Wading River,” she said. “But it’s our job not to push our own agenda, and I hear what the community is saying and want to make a decision based on that. To potentially sacrifice the negative levy for a program I personally believe in I think is a mistake. I would never want a budget, especially this one, which is an outstanding budget, to fail.”

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River’s third preliminary budget presentation for the 2018-19 school year March 20 included an added proposal to bring a pre-kindergarten program to Miller Avenue School for a total $270,000 in contingency funds. Some residents were on board for the idea, while others wondered if there were better options in how spend the district’s extra dollars.

Superintendent Gerard Poole said the board of education received a request last month to consider the inclusion of the popular program that offers deeper learning and more structured skill-building to young children as a way to better prepare them for success in future education. According to the presentation, the robust program features play-based math curriculum, English language arts, development of fine motor and gross motor skills and a strong emphasis on social-emotional learning.

“This is a really great gift to give to our children. It’ll help them socially, cognitively and emotionally, and also help our district’s enrollment. Families that are young and new are looking for programs like these.”

— Courtney Von Bargen

 

“Pre-K programming, according to our research, offers benefits to students’ social-emotional learning and academics, and eases the transition to kindergarten,” Poole said. “About half of Long Island districts do offer a pre-K program.”

Administrators estimated that $250,000 would be spent annually to cover the costs of staffing. An additional $20,000 was also set side as a one-time start-up cost for this year. The program requires a total of two teachers with pre-kindergarten certification and two teacher aides.

These funds, they stressed, do not in any way change previously-presented budget numbers — which includes a slight increase of just .95 percent, or $701,500, from the current year’s budget at a total $74,776,072. There’s a projected tax levy decrease in the budget draft of .5034 percent, or $268,775 from the 2017-18 budget.

Pre-kindergarten would occupy two classrooms with a capacity of 72 students and be broken down into two half-day time slots — 9:15-11:30 a.m. for one group and 12:15-2:30 p.m. for the other. Implementation of the program would also potentially boost the district’s declining enrollment.

Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent voiced his feeling of opposition not as an elected official, but as the father of a student in the district.

“I’m here to urge members of the board to not adopt the pre-K program,” he said. “Fundamentally, this program would reduce options for district parents because the money can be applied elsewhere. It has been proven time and again that when you introduce public funding into a preschool, you reduce the options, and put outward pressure on private providers. Half-day programs will also take students away from other activities.”

“Fundamentally, this program would reduce options for district parents because the money can be applied elsewhere.”

— Dan Losqudro

He read a quote from Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy, a national independent advocate for public education and more effective public schools. “Subsidies for early childhood education would produce negative effects … policy makers should recognize it’s unnecessary and provides no new benefit to low-income parents, and will create a new subsidy for middle and upper-income families while adding to the tax burden,” he said.

Wading River mother Robin Heavey also voiced opposition to the proposal, concerned about security issues that may arise from the program. Because the district would not be supplying transportation for pre-K, Heavey wondered how the school will handle the extra parents and children coming in and out of the building.

“What would be the drop-off and pick-up procedure?” Heavey asked. “If we went through the main vestibules at Miller Avenue, 36 families walking through at the same time would cause disruption and difficulty. And also, what about security guards? Will we have to hire an additional guard for drop offs and pickups?”

Alisa McMorris said she would like to see the extra funds go toward enriching and enhancing the district’s existing programs instead.

“We really need to take a good look at how this will affect the entire district, and how it can be utilized somewhere else,” she said.

But Courtney Von Bargen, a former teacher in the Connetquot school district, stood up in support.

Shoreham-Wading River Budget highlights:

  • 2018-19 proposed budget 0.95 percent higher than current year — $74,776,072 compared to $74,074,572
  • All instructional programs will be maintained, with several additions including Project Adventure and Student Council at Miller Avenue; Science Olympiad and Coding clubs at Wading River School; Christian Club and a cheer team at the middle school; and a yoga club at the high school
  • Tax levy decrease of .5034 percent, below the allowable tax levy limit cap over the last six years
  • Employee salaries and benefits make up 70.9 percent of the budget’s total expenditures with $33,811,370 projected for salaries and $19,205,941 for benefits
  • Superintendent Gerard Poole said: “Our budget is developed to maintain and strengthen our student programs and outcomes and developed to protect the future fiscal health of our residents.”

“Research shows that 3- and 4 year olds that attend high-quality preschools are more successful in kindergarten and beyond,” Von Bargen said. “It really starts with a strong foundation, and if they’re provided with that they will be successful throughout their careers. This is a really great gift to give to our children. It’ll help them socially, cognitively and emotionally, and also help our district’s enrollment. Families that are young and new are looking for programs like these.”

After the meeting, a few more residents weighed in on the issue on a Shoreham-Wading River community page on Facebook.

“So many districts have pre-K programs,” Wading River resident Justine Eve said. “It helps the little ones get acclimated to their building and prepares them well.”

But Stacey Tingo believes the district should have other priorities.

“Let’s meet the needs of all the current students in the district before we bring on new clientele,” Tingo said. “Bring in a full-time elementary librarian, secondary grade psychologist, add another unit to the high school math and science classes … then we can talk about pre-K.”

Board of education member Michael Yannucci addressed many of the concerns of residents.

“We as a nation invest more in academic intervention and not enough in early intervention, where the vast majority of research shows we get more value from,” he said. “Any thought that adding a few pre-K classes would add to security threat is misplaced … we also put many dollars toward enrichment and mental health and current services are regularly evaluated for efficiency. Miller Avenue is the most logical place for [this program]. It’s our early childhood school, has the space and will be the school these children attend for three additional years.”

The next budget meeting will take place Tuesday, March 27, and will focus on: Curriculum & Staff Development, Athletics, Community Programs, Health Services and Personnel — which makes up 1.19 percent of the budget. The public will be able to vote on the budget in May.

Port Jefferson High School. File photo by Elana Glowatz

How to spend taxpayer dollars has been a hot-button issue in Port Jefferson during the current school year, and the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February that killed 17 people has only added more things to think about for residents and school officials alike.

The district is currently working with a $44.9 million budget draft that rolls over all programs and accounts for mandated contractual and benefit increases from the current year. The proposed spending plan for 2018-19 is 3.65 percent higher than the 2017-18 budget. The current draft makes up for the additional costs with a 2.27 percent increase to the tax levy, meaning taxpayers will be supplying about $807,000 of additional revenue next year, with the remaining increase covered by a 1.46 percent estimated increase in state aid. That number won’t be final until April.

Budget highlights
  • Current draft stands at $44,917,348 for total operating budget
  • 3.65 percent increase in 2018-19 compared to current year
  • Additional expenses would be covered with 2.27 percent tax levy increase and 1.46 percent state aid increase
  • All programs rolled over from current year in next year’s budget
  • Expense increase largely due to contractual raises and increasing health insurance costs

District taxpayers voted down a $30 million bond proposal in December, which would have set aside money to address capital projects to upgrade facilities and infrastructure in each of Port Jeff’s school buildings and administrative office spaces over a 15-year span. The proposed capital bond would have allowed for the building of security vestibules in the high school and elementary school, moved high school classes taking place in portables into the main building and created a more strategic location for the middle school main office, among many other projects. Now, district administration is working to address the most pressing projects within the annual budget and using reserves.

A little more than $800,000 has been allocated toward the district’s capital reserves, and administration is seeking community input to help decide what projects should be addressed with the money if the budget passes, because voters must approve specific uses for capital reserve dollars. Superintendent Paul Casciano said during a March 22 public meeting it would be a challenge figuring out what to address among the district’s pressing needs.

“We had included in discussions prior, but since the unfortunate school shooting down in Parkland, Florida, [safety] has become a real priority throughout the Island, throughout the state and throughout the country,” he said.

“We want to bring our facilities into the 21st century in terms of learning opportunities for our students.”

— Paul Casciano

Prior to the shooting, the list of projects slated to be addressed using the $800,000 included $330,000 for renovations to the high school gymnasium lobby bathrooms, $260,000 for vestibules at the high school and elementary school, $43,000 to make Americans with Disabilities Act compliant fixes to the high school track for and $170,000 for classroom reconfiguration. Since the shooting, administration put together a new list of suggestions, which includes the vestibules, track fixes and relocation of the middle school office for a total $500,000.

“I like option two, of the two of them,” resident Renee Tidwell said.

The district is in the process of assembling a committee of community members to assist Port Jeff in developing a long-range vision for facilities improvement projects after the budget season, tentatively called the “super schools team.”

“There are a number of things that need to be done,” Casciano said. “We have some aging facilities, we have security needs. We want to bring our facilities into the 21st century in terms of learning opportunities for our students.”

Community input for security enhancement ideas included a system requiring visitors to present and leave identification with security personnel prior to entering school buildings and surveillance of the edge of school grounds. The district already has capital reserve money set aside for a multi-year roof-repair project, which will continue in the upcoming school year. About $1 million will go toward repairing two sections of the high school roof in 2018-19.

“The idea was to get our roofs on a cycle so that we’re not spending it all in the same time period,” board Vice President Mark Doyle said during the meeting of the reserves that had been set aside for roof repairs five years ago.

The board of education’s finance committee will hold a public meeting April 9 before the general board of education meeting April 10, where a budget hearing will take place and a budget will be adopted. The vote will be held May 15 at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School. Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Jack Blaum. File photo by Andrea Paldy.

By Andrea Paldy

The Three Village school board meeting opened to a packed cafeteria at R.C. Murphy Junior High March 14 following a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Foremost on the minds of its attendees was still school security. Following the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, exactly four weeks before, parents wanted to know how the district would continue to ensure their children’s safety.

Prepared to voice their concerns, some parents came armed with statistics and studies, while others wielded their experience in law enforcement. But, before public participation, which took place at the end of the meeting, those gathered heard a detailed and, in his words, frank presentation from security coordinator and chief emergency officer Jack Blaum.

Parent Bethany Riddle speaks at the March 14 Three Village school district BOE meeting. Photo by Andrea Paldy

“It is impossible to create a bulletproof plan,” he said. By regularly analyzing national and world incidents, Blaum said he can identify and bolster what the district is doing to safeguard schools.

For example, one of the best plans the district has in place is its “default lock-out” of the buildings, Blaum said. External doors to schools are locked during the school day and for some time after it, he said. To be admitted to district buildings, visitors must undergo two-pronged vetting, which entails showing ID before being buzzed through the first door into a vestibule, and then having that ID, typically a driver’s license, scanned before anyone is allowed through the second door.

In addition to bullet-resistant film over glass around the schools, every school in the district has at least two security guards — there are three at the junior highs and 13 at the high school — and all are active or retired law enforcement officers, Blaum said. After hours, there continues to be security presence and surveillance cameras running in and outside of the buildings.

Blaum explained that staff is trained in lockdown procedures and options in an active shooter situation. Each school has lockdown drills with staff and students four times a year. There are hidden panic buttons around district buildings to call a lockdown. Blue strobe lights and sirens are activated and are purposely loud and distracting to make it difficult for anyone, especially an attacker, to concentrate, the security coordinator said.

Administrators have extensive emergency management training, including on how to control severe bleeding. Security personnel is also receiving emergency management technician training in addition to learning how to recognize explosives and manage a bomb incident.

“We need to not be afraid of calling out the behavior of other children.”

— Janine Salgado

There is also a system that provides direct communication with emergency services at Suffolk County Police Department’s 6th Precinct and Stony Brook and Setauket fire departments, as well as shared communication channels. Blaum also explained how any student and staff following “see something, say something” protocol is also beneficial.

“I need intel instantly,” he said. “All the red flags were missed,” he said referring to the Parkland school shooting incident.

It wasn’t until the end of the presentation that Blaum hit on the issue of arming teachers.

“That is not going to happen,” he said to applause..

Regarding an armed security guard presence, he said the district is exploring its options.

“It has a tremendous amount of moving parts to it,” Blaum said.

Parent Robert Kronenberg, an attorney and former New York Police Department officer, agreed that an armed presence would require a lot of tactical planning, and expressed confidence in Blaum’s approach and ability.

He added, however, that if there’s a shooter in the school, he believed there’s only one thing that’s going to stop that.

“It’s not some security guard, it’s not just some guy with a gun that you hire,” Kronenberg said. “It’s a former or current law enforcement officer who has the tactical training and the guts to confront a shooter while that shooter wants to kill every child he sees walking down the hallway.”

Two other parents expressed similar sentiments. However, the majority of the close to 20 speakers on Wednesday felt differently.

“There is no evidence that an armed presence increases security.”

— Bethany Riddle

“There is no evidence that an armed presence increases security,” said psychologist and parent Bethany Riddle. “On the contrary, while it might provide a perception of safety, research indicates that the presence of armed guards increases the risk of violence and injury.”

Most speakers echoed Riddle’s thoughts, suggesting that more resources be put toward psychological and social welfare, anti-bullying measures and teaching kindness.

“We need to not be afraid of calling out the behavior of other children,” said Janine Salgado, a mother of three. “And being comfortable and calling those parents and telling them what you see.”

Budget

Assistant superintendent for business services Jeffrey Carlson gave a preliminary report on the budget for the 2018-19 school year. The cap on the tax levy increase will be 1.97 percent, an estimated $3 million, Carlson said.

Though he does not anticipate a big increase in state aid, he said there will be no cuts for budgetary reasons. There will, Carlson said, be an increase in the district’s contributions to the employee and teacher retirement funds. To cover the $1.5 million increase, the district will use funds from the reserves, which are set aside precisely to cover such expenses, he said.

“While we never look at using reserves lightly, it’s what it’s there for — to help mitigate the increase in the retirement system cost,” Carlson said.

Additionally, the district will continue to plan for capital projects, which are reimbursed by the state at a rate of 66 percent. As has been the case with many of the projects over the past few years, many projects on deck will be related to safety and security, Carlson said.

Commack Superintendent Donald James presented the district's 2018-19 budget draft. File photo by Greg Catalano

Status quo will reign in Commack, with a few new programs.

Commack Superintendent Donald James unveiled the first part of his proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year during a March 9 board of education meeting, which would maintain all existing instructional programs intact across each school.

The preliminary budget of $193,222,797 is roughly 1.61 percent higher than the current year’s budget, which was adopted at $190,163,464. The first budget workshop focused on general administration support and instructional spending — which, combined, make up a total 57 percent of the entire budget.

Budget highlights:
  • 2018-19 proposed budget 1.61 percent higher than current year
  • All instructional programs rolled over from current year, with several additions
  • Tax levy increase to be between 2.51 percent and 2.91 percent, though cap won’t need to be pierced
  • Total budget proposed for 2018-19 stands at $193,222,797 currently

The district plans on keeping programs such as Movement in the Arts, an exercise-educational program for students in kindergarten through fifth grade that was introduced last year. New curriculum would include more art and technology class options for sixth-graders, like digital animation and 3D printing; TerraNova learning assessment for students in Kindergarten through fifth grade; and Investigations in the Humanities, principles of engineering, American sign language, horticulture and school and community leadership for high school students.

“Our aim in Commack is to prepare every student for whatever they want and need to achieve at their next level of learning while simultaneously maintaining and enhancing the educational program and academic achievement, as we define it, that Commack is known for and the community expects,” James said at the top of the presentation.

The budget is expected to stay within the tax levy increase cap, according to Laura Newman, assistant superintendent for business and operations. The projected tax levy increase in the budget draft is currently 2.51 percent, with a tax-cap increase of no more than 2.91 percent.

“I say that because there are sometimes budgetary decisions that are made that will change the tax cap formula and calculation,” Newman said of the wide-ranging projection.

Moving forward, district officials said they hope to deal with “the misperception” that the tax levy increase cap is two percent and make clear a 2.51 percent increase for Commack does not constitute piercing the cap.

“I don’t know any district in the Huntington-Smithtown cluster that has the two-percent number,” James said. “While Newsday’s and [Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s] perception is that it’s two, it’s not two.”

The 2018-19 budget’s slight increase over last year’s adopted budget is based primarily on instruction costs — more staffing, contractual increases and changes, a plan for a renewed enrollment projection report, districtwide technology upgrades and special education program enhancements. There is also a proposed hike in guidance, psychological and health services due to contractual changes. The total instruction budget will be $4,626,905 more than last year’s, up to $110,535,346.

The overall general support, which represents 11 percent of the budget and includes an increase in insurance and public information and services, is increasing by $499,873.

“We’ve worked very hard to come up with a budget that will keep us within tax cap but maintain our programs, which is, luckily, what we’ve been able to do,” Amy Ryan, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, assessment and student support services, said. “It’s sort of a boring budget in the sense that there are no big enhancements and, happily, no cuts. We have a very supportive community so it should be good.”

The school board will meet for its second budget workshop March 15, to discuss athletics, facilities, security, transportation, technology, staffing and undistributed costs, like retirement. The public will vote on the budget May 15.

Three Village budget vote is May 21. File photo by Greg Catalano

Three Village school district has officially made a decision on whether or not to allow students to participate in a walkout.

Ward Melville Principal Alan Baum informed student organizers March 9 the district could not allow students to walk out March 14, according to Bennett Owens, one of the organizers. Parents were notified by the district in a letter later that day.

Students were planning to participate in the walkout held in conjunction with events across the nation honoring the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and to call for stricter gun control laws. Parents and students were told it was a joint decision by the board of education, principal and district’s lawyer to not encourage the walkout. Owens said the main concern cited at the March 9 meeting with the principal was the district feeling it couldn’t keep the students safe during the walkout.

“My whole thing is I’m not going to not do what I believe in out of fear of someone being violent, because that’s really why we’re protesting,” Owens said, adding that he plans to walkout regardless of the district’s decision. “We’re protesting the fact that we’re not safe in school.”

At the end of the school day March 9, the school district released a letter from Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and board of education President William Connors. Various discussions were held with students and staff to find the best ways to students participate in what has been called the #Enough movement, according to the letter.

“As a result of these discussions and with the guidance of our legal counsel, our district will not be encouraging or condoning a walkout involving students exiting the building or leaving campus,” the letter read. “We feel that this type of demonstration would not only disrupt the educational program but would severely compromise our mission to ensure building security and student safety.”

In the letter, the district also informed parents that any student who leaves the building without authorization will be asked to return to class. Parents will be contacted if their children disregard the direction, and students who are disrespectful or disorderly will be subjected to the district’s code of conduct.

As an alternate to a walkout, the district is offering voluntary activities March 14 for high school and junior high school students, according to the letter from Pedisich and Connors. There will be a moment of silence at the high school and both junior high schools. A forum moderated by instructional staff and supervised by administrators will be held in the Ward Melville auditorium for interested students to discuss issues connected to the #Enough movement. R. C. Murphy Junior High School students will have the opportunity to write letters to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, and P.J. Gelinas junior high schoolers can gather in the gymnasium during fourth period to hear student government leaders read memoriam notes and listen to a brief music interlude.

“It is our hope that our planned activities will afford our students the opportunity to pay respects, offer reflection and appropriately respond to honor the victims of the tragedy,” the letter read.

The decision comes a week after students interested in participating in a walkout sat with Baum to discuss their plans. Both Owens and fellow organizers were optimistic, saying the principal was receptive to their ideas; suggested changing walking out of the main entrance to the gym entrance, feeling it would be safer; and said participants would not receive disciplinary action.

Owens said he was disappointed with the district’s final decision.

“I just think a walkout at 10 a.m. when schools nationally are doing it — this was the most impactful way to get our message across,” Owens said.

Owens said he and other organizers plan to continue promoting the event on the Instagram account wmhs_walkout, but will advise fellow students they may face repercussions. Planning to attend Binghamton University in the fall, Owens said he’s not worried about any disciplinary actions that may follow the peaceful walkout after seeing a post on the college’s Instagram account, binghamtonu. The university posted: “Binghamton University will not change admissions decisions for students who are involved in peaceful protests addressing gun violence.”

Stony Brook University followed a similar policy, and posted a message to its Facebook page Feb. 26. “We have received inquiries from prospective and admitted students asking us if their admissions application will be negatively viewed if they have protested,” the statement read. “At Stony Brook University, a disciplinary action associated with meaningful, peaceful participation in a protest will not negatively impact an admissions decision. We would not view it as inappropriate or lacking integrity on its face. We view every disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis.”

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Northport-East Northport school officials gave residents their first look at the district’s $166.2 million 2018-19 budget draft.

Superintendent Robert Banzer and assistant superintendents presented a $166,165,381 first draft of its budget for next year at the March 1 board of education meeting. It represents a 1.75 percent increase over the current year’s $163.3 million budget, or a $2,858,541 increase.

“We are presenting a budget that supports the mission, vision, core beliefs and priorities of the district,” Banzer said. “While continuing a historically low tax levy increase.”

At the March 1 trustees meeting, the board conducted a line-by-line review of the district’s approximately $11.8 million draft budget for buildings, grounds and transportation.

Some of the budgetary highlights from buildings, grounds and transportation
section include $120,000 for the purchase of a new 66-passenger bus; $69,500 budget for new snow removal equipment; and $50,000 for the purchase of a four-wheel drive vehicle.

A significant portion of the proposed buildings and grounds budget, more than $340,000, has been set aside for new security equipment and services. Leonard Devlin, the district’s
supervisor of security, has proposed installing approximately 30 additional interior cameras and 20 exterior cameras districtwide along with purchasing nine license plate readers, one for each building.

“It allows the principal and myself to identify a vehicle coming on the school property,” Devlin said. “It would give me a clear video of the license plate to prevent vandalism and identify those vehicles that come onto our property at 2, 3, 4 a.m.”

In addition, Devlin has requested the district set aside $28,000 to purchase a new security vehicle to replace an aging vehicle that while having 90,000 miles is spending more time in repair shops than on school grounds, he said.

David Stein, vice president of the board of education, questioned if the district should consider increasing all security lines in the budget by as much as 20 percent.

“There is a lot of work for us to do in this new environment,” he said at the March 1 meeting. “One thing I am certain I heard tonight is there needs to be an increase in substance and value.”

Stein was backed by his fellow trustees in asking Devlin to come up with a wish list of security equipment and personnel for the district in the upcoming weeks. The district will revisit the budgeted lines for security at a future budget presentation, as well as weighing whether the budget allows for additional security personnel.

The next presentation on the proposed budget for instruction, technology, BOCES and special education is March 8 at 7 p.m. at William J. Brosnan School. A preliminary budget hearing for district taxpayers is set for March 22.

Comsewogue board of education President John Swenning and the rest of the board unanimously passed a resolution to establish a $32M bond referendum in May. File photo by Erika Karp

Comsewogue School District is going to ask taxpayers for a little more when they head to the polls in May.

The board of education approved a resolution with a unanimous vote at its March 5 meeting to officially add a referendum on a $32 million spending plan recommended by the district’s Facilities Committee in February. The list of slated upgrades and improvements is more than 100 items long and addresses areas in each of Comsewogue’s six buildings. If passed, the money would go toward improving health and safety, infrastructure, academics, arts and athletics.

“The proposed facility improvements preserve the integrity of the school buildings, address repairs, improve
instructional resources for all and upgrade athletic facilities,” district administration said in a statement.

The list of areas in need of improvement was the byproduct of several meetings and discussions by the committee, a group of 21 professionals from across the Comsewogue community including members of the board, administrators, architects, engineers, former teachers and civic association members. The group was assembled in early January and had been tasked with presenting recommendations to the board.

“I just want to say thank you to the Facilities Committee that spent a lot of time going through our buildings,” board president John Swenning said during the meeting. “This bond was brought to us from the community members. They found what they felt needs to be addressed and they came and presented it to the board. We’re going to accept it just as the committee has submitted it to us.”

Some of the projects include required upgrades to achieve compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; repairing parking lots and sidewalks; adding security vestibules at all of the district buildings; fixes to exterior and interior building infrastructure; improving athletic fields and facilities; and kitchen upgrades. If approved by voters, the bond would have a 15-year life with about $3 million in interest. Some of the higher-priced projects included in the committee’s recommendation are: a new roof with solar panels at Terryville Road Elementary School; interior work at John F. Kennedy Middle School, including some classroom and hallway renovations; and upgrades to the high school concession stand building. If passed, the average taxpayer would see an increase of about $120 annually to their school tax bill, based on conservative state aid estimates, which won’t be known until the spring.

“We’ve really touched everywhere that your child could be, from safety in the parking lots and curbs, to every elementary classroom getting a face-lift,” said Stephanie Jaklitsch, a former teacher in the district who also has children attending Comsewogue schools. Jaklitsch is a member of the Facilities Committee and was among the contingent who presented recommendations to the board Feb. 12. “Our students are going to see changes all the way through their education.”

The bond vote will be held at the same place and time as the annual operating budget vote and school board trustee elections. Polls will be open at Comsewogue High School May 15 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The district has suggested it will hold informational meetings going forward to get the community up to speed on the contents of the bond.

District faces larges cost increases in employee health care benefits, state Teachers' Retirement System contributions

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington school district administrators will be counting every penny to reduce their drafted 2018-19 budget by more than $2.64 million to come in under the state tax levy cap before May.

Huntington Superintendent James Polansky gave residents their first look at the district’s suggested $132,294,449 spending plan for next school year at the Feb.26 board of education meeting. The drafted budget represents a 4.82 percent increase from the current year’s budget,  significantly more than its 3.14 percent cap.

“A budget-to-budget change of over $6 million, that is not where we are going to land,” Polansky said. “That is not going to fly.”

The main driver of the Huntington school district’s increased expenses are non-discretionary costs, according to the superintendent, which includes teacher and staff salaries, employee health benefits, pension contributions, transportation, building maintenance and utilities. In total, the district’s non-discretionary costs are anticipated to increase by 5.66 percent.

“Salaries are a part of that, but the biggest chunk is health care insurance,” Polansky said. “We do have some alternatives we can look at in the teachers’ contract and we have work to do there.”

The district will be hit by a mandated increase in its contribution to the state’s Teachers’ Retirement System. Its rate is expected to increase from 9.8 percent up to 10.63 percent of its payroll. That will cost Huntington approximately $800,000 more per year, Polansky said.

Huntington officials also estimated its transportation costs will increase by 3.35 percent, or more than $380,000, due to annual cost increases in addition to paying for more student aides and bus monitors.

“Buses are an extension of the school,” Polansky said. “If something happens there, it’s treated like something that happens in a classroom.”

The district is working with a transportation consultant to review its bus routes in the hopes of increasing efficiency, according to the superintendent. Any cost savings measures the consultant may be able to suggest for next year have not yet been factored into the district’s draft 2018-19 budget.

Under the current draft budget, the average Huntington taxpayer’s school tax rate would increase by 5.65 percent. It would also require a 60 percent supermajority approval by voters to be adopted, as is standard when budgets pierce the tax levy increase cap. Polansky repeatedly referred to the $132 million proposal for 2018-19 as a starting point.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said. “It is a concern at a time when we have a lot of needs to be addressed both educationally and in security.”

The district will need to reign in its discretionary spending, according to Polansky, which covers staffing, textbooks, supplies, technology, sports and co-curricular activities.

In the upcoming weeks, school administrators will give several budget presentations, including March 12 on employee benefits, debt service and capital funding; and March 26 on instruction and staffing. The district has pushed back its final review and workshop to April 9. Polansky said the decision was made to give as much time as possible for final state aid figures from Albany before adopting a proposed budget to go before voters May 15.

Smithtown Superintendent James Grossane. File photo from Smithtown Central School District

By Kevin Redding

Smithtown school administrators have unveiled their first draft of the 2018-19 budget, which calls for a larger increase than prior years.

Smithtown Central School District presented its preliminary 2018-19 budget of $244,526,399 at their Feb. 6 board of education meeting. The district’s projected budget is about 2.16 percent higher than the current school year, which was adopted at $239,567,205. Administrators anticipate asking taxpayers for  $5.52 million more this May.

The increase in preliminary 2018-19 budget comes mostly  a $3.4 million increase in district employee salaries due to state-mandated  contractual obligations to contribute to the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System and Education Resource Strategies, and a 3 percent increase in health premiums, anticipated to cost $700,000.

School officials also propose to cut five elementary classes due to declining enrollment across the district. Superintendent James Grossane said the district currently has 661 fifth-grade students but has seen a decrease in the number of incoming students in recent years. While Grossane said he
anticipates kindergarten enrollment to be close to 500 again this year, similar to last.

Budget highlights

Preliminary 2018-19 budget debuts at $245M,  a 2.16 percent increase

Officials suggest cutting 5 elementary classes, decreasing max class size

March 13, 7 p.m.: Presentation on district’s proposed instructional budget

The district’s declining enrollment allows school administrators to contemplate shrinking maximum number of students in each class. Last year, in the 2016-17 school year, the limits were set at: 25 students per kindergarten class, 26 students per class in grades 1 to 3, and 28 students per class in grades 4 to 5, according to Grossane. Under the proposed 2018-19 budget, school administrators are suggesting reducing the number to 25 students per class through fifth grade.

“This is the second year in a row of reducing class sizes in our elementary schools,” the superintendent said.

Unfortunately, the district expects to receive approximately $45.7 million total in state aid, roughly $1.5 million less than last year as the plans of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)  call for increased funding to “high-need” districts.

The district plans to reduce its assigned fund balance, which has been increased by $1.5 million in order to balance the 2018-19 budget and increase its year end fund balance to “build up reserves.”

“The district is currently in the preliminary stages of budget development for the 2018-19 school year, with an anticipated adoption date of April 10,” Grossane said in an emailed statement. “As we do every year, the board and administration are working collaboratively to develop and present a budget to the community that is clear, transparent and fiscally efficient while preserving or increasing opportunities for our students.”

The school district’s next budget workshop will be held March 13, at 7 p.m.  to discuss the instructional budget for the elementary and secondary schools. The superintendent’s final proposed budget will be presented March 20 for adoption by the board of education.

The district’s preliminary 2018-19 budget of a 2.16 percent increase falls within the state tax cap and, as such, will only require approval by the simple majority of voters.

“The district will likely go to the voters right at or slightly below the cap,” Grossane said.

The budget vote will be held May15.

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