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Budget

Superintendent Paul Casciano and board president, Kathleen Brennan, listen to members of the public during an April 10 board of education meeting. Photos by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

The Port Jefferson board of education voted unanimously to adopt the district’s nearly $45 million 2018-19 budget April 18. This comes eight days after the board decided to table the resolution as it sought more specifics on an announced “agreement in principle” between Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over the utility’s property tax assessment on its Port Jefferson power plant.

Ongoing litigation has loomed over the district and Port Jefferson Village, which each receive substantial amounts of property tax revenue as a result of housing the plant. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced April 3 the town had an agreement in principle to settle the case with LIPA, though specifics of the agreement have yet to be made public. Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant has also publicly said the village is nearing a settlement in its version of the dispute with LIPA.

“The board of education and district administration have been working tirelessly on creating a budget that addresses our responsibility to provide an excellent education for our students in a physically and emotionally safe and secure environment that is balanced with sensitivity to the fiscal impact on our residents,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said April 18. “The proposed budget assumes that a finalized agreement between the Town of Brookhaven and LIPA does not materialize in time to impact the 2018-19 school budget.”

Casciano said during the April 10 meeting taxpayers should prepare for the possibility of program cuts and/or property tax increases in the coming years.

A letter from Romaine to Casciano and BOE President Kathleen Brennan dated April 11 said the town attorney and assessor’s offices have been in touch with district officials to make the district aware of how a settlement would impact the 2018-19 town assessment rolls, which directly impact school tax rates.

The adopted budget carries a 2.27 percent tax levy increase and a 2.23 percent increase to state aid. The 2018-19 budget rolls over all programs from the current year, with contractual raises and higher health
insurance costs for faculty and staff driving the 3.65 percent overall budget increase.

The district also presented a backup plan should an official settlement be reached between the town and LIPA prior to June 30, which would impact the current year assessments. PJSD is prepared to make $130,000 in reductions to help mitigate a possible 5.67 percent drop in assessed value of the plant, or a 50 percent reduction in the assessment spread out evenly over a nine-year span.

On April 20, state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) introduced legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that would authorize municipalities to obtain “tax certiorari stabilization reserve funds” via the Urban Development Corporation Act in the event agreed-upon settlements result in loss of tax revenues or increased tax levies of more than 20 percent. The bill is before the state Senate finance committee.

May vote will also feature $32M bond proposition for district wide capital projects

Comsewogue school board President John Swenning and Superintendent Joe Rella, along with the rest of the board and administration, have begun 2018-19 budget preparations. File photo by Alex Petroski

Taxpayers in Comsewogue School District have two important choices to make at the polls May 15.

The board of education unanimously adopted its proposed $91,947,730 budget for the 2018-19 school year during an April 12 meeting. The board also voted back in March to add a second proposition to the ballot to seek permission from the community to borrow $32 million over a 15-year span, with about $3 million in interest, to execute more than 100 repairs and upgrade projects across the district’s six buildings.

If passed, next year’s budget would be about $2 million more than the current year, with contractual, retirement and health insurance increases for faculty and staff being the primary driver of the increase. The higher costs will be covered in large part by a 2.2 percent tax levy increase, a 3.2 percent increase in state aid, and a slight reduction in full-time employees due to several retirements.

Bond

$32 million

$3 million in interest

15-year life

Would fund upgrades at all six district buildings

The district has also placed an emphasis on security, budgeting for additional security guards and mental health support services. The budget for buildings and grounds staff, comprised of custodial workers, security guards and maintenance workers, was increased by 7.5 percent for 2018-19.

The district’s stated budgeting goal based on its public presentation provided by Assistant Superintendent for Business Susan Casali is to “develop a school district budget that is taxpayer sensitive and aligns with the district student learning objectives.”

Casali will be publicly presenting the adopted budget a total of six times, with Saturday, April 21, at JFK Middle School at 9 a.m. being the next opportunity for district residents to catch it.

The bond proposal and list of projects came at the recommendation of the district’s Facilities 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 assembled in early January and tasked with presenting recommendations to the board. It will need to be approved as a separate proposition from the standard 2018-19 operating budget.

“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.

Budget

2018-19 total: $91,947,730

2.2% tax levy increase

3.2% more in state aid

School board President John Swenning said during a March meeting the bond proposal was the result of hard work and community input.

“I just want to say thank you to the Facilities Committee that spent a lot of time going through our buildings,” he said. “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.”

The district has made a concerted effort to inform voters about the contents of the bond, filming and disseminating an informational YouTube video featuring Superintendent Joe Rella, mailing brochures to residents, and hosting several public presentations at district buildings as well as before the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.

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. 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, according to the district.

The Briarcliff building at 18 Tower Hill Road in Shoreham, was formerly the Briarcliff Elementary School until it closed in 2014. File photo by Kevin Redding

Residents have found their choices have narrowed regarding the historic Briarcliff property.

At a meeting at Shoreham-Wading River High School April 11, board members sat at multiple tables with groups of community members to engage in discussions on whether to keep or sell the 10.54-acre property. 

“How much do you want to do to maintain it?” Shoreham resident Lisa Geraghty asked.

Briarcliff Elementary School closed its doors in 2014. Since then, the district has had to pay for ongoing operating costs — currently $95,000 annually.

“If you were to talk about any appraisal figures that might have been provided, it undermines the opportunity of what the potential sale is.”

— Glen Arcuri

The district originally came up with several ideas for the future use of the building, like having BOCES lease it, relocating the central office there or establishing prekindergarten classes in the space. Eastern Suffolk BOCES has officially stated it does not need to lease a building, and the district said there is no immediate need to relocate its central office. After residents spoke at the March 27 meeting, it was also decided that pre-K was a rejected addition to the proposed budget.

At prior meetings when the future of the Briarcliff property was brought up, community members came forward with ideas to create special education, STEM or art programs there or relocate the North Shore Public Library to the site to expand space at the high school. The additional space is not needed, and the other options were also turned down, according to the district. 

“Part of the issue is the North Shore Public Library is not just Shoreham-Wading River’s library, so it needs to be visible for other people in the local community,” school trustee Erin Hunt said.

If the district were to sell it, the actual value of the property cannot accurately be determined, according to Glen Arcuri, assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

“At this time as the appraisal company said, there’s no [comparison] to a 10.9-acre property in the Village of Shoreham that you’re really able to compare to, so they could give you a price based on square footage or acreage, but the real question is going to be on the buyer,” Arcuri said. “Understand from a district perspective, if you were to talk about any appraisal figures that might have been provided, it undermines the opportunity of what the potential sale is.”

Shoreham-Wading River school district officials pair off with community members to have roundtable discussions about the future of the Briarcliff building April 11. Photo by Kyle Barr

Some residents fear the zoning of the town would change if the building were sold.

“I think these ideas should conform to the current zoning on the property,” Shoreham resident and developer Larry Kogel said. “I don’t see why they couldn’t come up with a value for the board as a worst-case scenario, because anything else would require petitions of zonings or change of zonings that would probably not fly with the residents in the community.”

There is opportunity to lease the property, according to the district, but that would incur new costs from
maintenance and realtors, and would take time for capital costs to be recovered.

There is also the option to attain a historical landmark status for the property, but that may create restrictions for owners, and historical designation grants are highly competitive.

Shoreham resident and member of the board of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, Dave Madigan,
was among those who said he would rather have the building remain in the district’s hands.

“As a community member I would rather just see the building remain in storage for a better day, until you find a user who would want to lease the property as a school or preschool,” Madigan said. “Something
may come up where somebody may want to use it as a private school. Who knows what the future brings?”

Superintendent Gerard Poole said discussions will continue at future board meetings. The next meeting is scheduled for April 18 in the Prodell Middle School auditorium at 7 p.m.

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.”

Port Jeff includes $107K in 2018-19 budget for anticipated “glide path”

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. File Photo

The potential ramifications of the looming LIPA lawsuit specter may finally be coming into focus.

Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant announced during a public hearing April 2 on the 2018-19 budget the village is “on the cusp of a settlement” with the Long Island Power Authority, which would end the legal battle being waged since 2010 regarding the assessed valuation and property tax bill the public utility has been paying on its Port Jefferson power plant. LIPA has argued the estimate is too high based on decreased energy demand, and the village accused LIPA of breaching its contract, which was supposed to run until 2028. The village and Port Jefferson School District receive substantial revenue from LIPA’s tax dollars and have had the prospect of lost revenue hanging over future financial planning. Port Jefferson is among other municipalities, like Northport, which host plants that have lawsuits against LIPA and believe the contract has been breached.

Garant said the board came to the decision to write $107,000 into the upcoming budget to create a reserve fund to prepare in anticipation for a “glide path” agreement, in which the village’s LIPA revenue will be scaled down gradually over time. The figure was chosen to bring the total budget’s tax levy increase to exactly 2 percent, thus avoiding asking residents to pierce the cap. The 2018-19 adopted budget is $10,642,146, about $233,000 up from to the current year, with the largest driver of the increase being the money set aside to deal with LIPA.

“The appropriations of reserves that we have accumulated over the last six to seven years aside, once we know what the glide path looks like, we will be putting our fund balance, monies that we’ve built, into that reserve account, which kind of locks it away so that future boards, if there should be future boards, can’t take that money and do something else with it,” Garant said. “It’ll preserve that money and entrust it to contributing toward the glide path.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) announced during his State of the Town address April 3 it had reached a settlement with LIPA on its version of the assessment suit. Village Attorney Brian Egan said Brookhaven’s settlement would have no impact on Port Jeff’s discussions, and that negotiations were ongoing.

“This year it’s basically another rollover budget like we’ve had in the past with very minimal changes,” village treasurer, Denise Mordente, said during the presentation. Other factors contributing to the budget increase included contractual raises for village employees, the increasing minimum wage, increased costs for medical benefits, and some additional funds for code enforcement that were used for installing security cameras and maintenance throughout the village, among a few others.

The board also passed a resolution that would give it the option to pierce the tax levy increase cap — as it does every year — should it need to do so, though that is not in the village’s plans for the upcoming year.

Port Jefferson School District offered a scathing statement in response to the news about Brookhaven’s settlement, saying it is “deeply troubled,” to hear of the settlement.

“This decision will imminently place the School District in harm’s way,” the statement said.

This story was updated April 4 to remove information mistakenly included about a public budget vote, and to include a statement from Port Jefferson School District.

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.

Improving school safety also addressed during March 8 board of education meeting

Northport has put in its preliminary budget a focus on expanding its fleet of chromebooks. File photo

Northport administrators have placed an emphasis on getting more computers into classrooms and updating athletic gear and other essentials as part of the instruction, technology, BOCES and special education sections of the preliminary budget.

Superintendent Robert Banzer said during a March 8 board of education meeting that the district intends to continue expanding the deployment of Chromebooks, laptops powered with Google applications, in the $166.2 million budget draft for 2018-19. The district began implementing a plan to provide personal computers to its students last September, piloting the program at the district’s two middle schools.

2018-19 draft budget highlights in instruction, technology, BOCES and special education:

  • $49,000 for responsive classroom training
  • $8,250 for new automated external defibrillators across district
  • $7,500 for training in CPR and AED use
  • $10,000 for upgrades to playgrounds
  • $3,860 for recycled clay for ceramics classes

“Kids want to have them available,” said Matt Nelson, assistant superintendent of student services, technology and assessment. “The biggest problem is the kids leave them at home then want to go get a loaner. They realize really quickly that the loaners run out, and they won’t have one for the day.”

Next year, the district has budgeted to give Chromebooks to its current eighth-grade students as they enter Northport High School and current fifth-grade students as they enter middle school. Banzer said the goal is to provide computers to all students in grades 10 through 12 by September 2019.

Denise Schwartz, of East Northport, asked school administrators to consider providing additional funding for more computers given some classes have students who are in different grade levels.

“I have a problem with some of the inequalities with co-seated classes,” Schwartz said. “For tenth and eleventh-graders to not have Chromebooks when ninth graders do is very unfair. What device does every student have at home to do homework?”

The superintendent has recommended $25,000 be set aside to redesign Northport High School’s career center with new seating, tables, desks and computer workstations “to update and create a learning environment conducive to group counseling, college counseling and professional development,” according to the budget draft. Banzer said staff was noticing the area was not being used as often as expected, and hopes the reconfiguration will promote it.

To build on increases in technology at the middle schools, the budget includes more than $8,000 to purchase six additional 3D printers, three for each building. There is also a proposal to include roughly $10,000 to support the FIRST robotics team and more than $4,000 for VEX robotics for high school students.

“I’m glad to see the robotics competitions fees and materials are included in here,” said trustee David Badanes.

For student-athletes, school administrators have recommended using part of the more than $40,000 budget to outfit the boys lacrosse program with school-issued helmets, similar to the football teams’. The proposal calls for purchasing approximately 30 helmets per year over the next six years.

Other athletic expenditures in the 2018-19 draft budget include more than $26,000 to replace 10-year old treadmills and elliptical machines; fix the girls field hockey goals; add new glass backboards in the north high school gym; purchase new junior varsity football uniforms in the school colors; and add new uniforms for teams.

The next presentation on the proposed budget for personnel and benefits, including security staff, is scheduled for March 15 at 7 p.m. at William J. Brosnan School building on Laurel Ave. A preliminary budget hearing for district taxpayers is set for March 22.

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.

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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