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Comsewogue School District

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Assistant Superintendent for Business Susan Casali explained the district’s budget proposal last week. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Comsewogue School District hopes to adopt a budget that increases staff while staying within the state-imposed limit on its tax increase.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Susan Casali explained during a school board workshop on March 26 that the budget proposal would also reduce the district’s dependency on its reserves and make security improvements.

The budget was originally proposed at that workshop to be $85.6 million, or a 2.7 percent increase over the current year’s budget, funded in part through an expected increase in state aid.

But after preliminary state aid numbers were released on Tuesday, showing Comsewogue receiving less than the $2 million bump it expected, the district is changing its budget proposal — Casali said in an email that the plan is to slash the budget by $400,000.

“Our overall goal is to stay under the property tax cap,” Casali said last week, referring to New York State’s cap on how much municipalities and school districts can increase their tax levy each year.

Comsewogue may raise its by 2.2 percent next year, and the budget proposal meets that cap.

Under the budget plan, the district would add a librarian, so that each school in the district would have one, and Comsewogue would replace its deans, who also have teaching responsibilities, with assistant principals to create more flexibility.

At John F. Kennedy Middle School, where there is already one assistant principal, the plan is to replace the part-time dean with a full-time assistant principal. At Comsewogue High School, the dean will become two assistant principals.

The district is also hoping to add assistant athletic coaches into the mix, for student safety and to help develop a stronger athletic program. In the past, those roles were cut for financial reasons.

Other improvements are proposed for the district’s facilities — according to Casali, Comsewogue’s wireless infrastructure hasn’t been updated in more than 10 years, and some classrooms need to be refurbished. Officials also hope to add cameras and other upgrades to the security system, based on recommendations from a security study that was completed last year.

While the budget has not been finalized, Superintendent Joe Rella said, “Whatever budget is put up [for a public vote] in May will be under the tax cap.”

Also on the ballot will be a proposition on transportation, to add bus service for 38 JFK Middle School students who currently walk to school. The students live within a half-mile of the building, which keeps them off the buses, but the heavy snow covering sidewalks this winter led the kids to walk in the street and spurred the transportation proposal.

The extra bus riders will not add cost to the taxpayer, as the district would reconfigure current bus routes to accommodate the kids.

The school board will adopt a budget at its meeting on April 13.

Joe Rella is planning to continue as Comsewogue’s superintendent for the immediate future, though he says he’s retiring in 2019. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Comsewogue officials have sealed their lips on a proposal not to give state exams to students next month.

Both Facebook and the Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association website were buzzing this week, as school board members and residents discussed a proposed resolution saying the board would “seriously consider not administering the New York State standardized [English language arts] and math exams in grades 3-8, and the science exam in grades 4 and 8.” The board of education had encouraged parents to attend its workshop on Thursday night and speak about the state’s testing system.

But just hours before the meeting, the district went silent, and Superintendent Joe Rella and board members said legal counsel had advised them not to discuss the issue.

It is unclear whether the board will bring the resolution to a vote at its next business meeting, on Monday.

According to the resolution, the board takes issue with the state’s current education aid levels and teacher evaluation policies, and with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education reforms, one of which would base half of a teacher’s evaluation on student test scores.

The resolution says that the Comsewogue school board would consider not administering the state tests unless Cuomo (D) and state legislators “establish a fair and equitable state aid funding formula … so [schools] can provide for the educational needs of every child” and stop weighing student test scores so heavily in teacher and administrator evaluations.

At the workshop Thursday, a community member said the announcement before the meeting that officials would no longer discuss the matter had surprised her.

“I really can’t tell you why right now,” Rella responded. “We’ve been advised not to comment about it.”

According to state education department spokeswoman Jeanne Beattie, the federal government requires the standardized tests.

“If a member of a board of education or school superintendent takes official action by refusing to administer a required state assessment, the responsible party would be at risk of removal from office by the commissioner of education pursuant to Education Law,” Beattie said in an email.

According to Article 7 of the state Education Law, the commissioner may, following a hearing, remove a school officer, including a school board member or a district administrator, if it has been “proved to his satisfaction” that the person willfully disobeyed “any decision, order, rule or regulation of the regents or of the commissioner of education.” The commissioner may also withhold state aid from any district for such actions.