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Elementary School

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Board member Pam DeFord pushes for the implementation of another full-time librarian. Photo by Barbara Donlon

After incorporating all but one wish list item in its 2015-2016 budget, some Kings Park board of education members insisted on raising the tax cap to add a full-time librarian position.

On Tuesday, the district presented its last budget presentation, which included a tax levy of 2 percent — lower than the maximum 2.27 allowed by the state. The district was able to keep the levy low and still add all the items it wanted, except a librarian that would split time between both Park View Elementary School and Fort Salonga Elementary School.

“So on the wish list, the only thing we didn’t do was the librarian for Fort Salonga and Park View,” board trustee Diane Nally asked. “If we had gone to the 2.27 and we did do the librarian, would there be additional monies also in there to go towards the applied fund balance?”

The district’s superintendent, Timothy Eagen, addressed Nally’s question and said increasing the levy to 2.27 percent would leave the district with roughly $170,000 that could potentially pick up the last wish-listed item.

Increasing the tax levy to 2.27 percent would cost the average homeowner $22 per year, which is something board members Diane Nally and Pam DeFord were advocating.

“I am disappointed that the librarian to be split between Park View and Fort Salonga is not included in the budget because I do think that is important,” Nally said.

During the discussion, board trustee Pam DeFord spoke about a staff member being hired to fulfill an unfunded mandate from the state and said if the district did not have the mandate, the librarian position could have been fulfilled.

DeFord pushed to allow the tax levy to increase to 2.27 percent; she feels since the state is allowing it, the district should take full advantage of it.

“By going up to the 2.27, which is well below what budgets have passed historically here in Kings Park, we could possibly bring back a full-time librarian,” DeFord said. “Now is the chance to restore, start to restore what our kids have been missing for so long.”

Board President Tom Locascio and Vice President Charlie Leo said they felt uncomfortable maxing the allowable tax levy. Leo mentioned that the district originally projected a 1.71 percent increase and raising it to 2 percent was enough of an increase.

“One of my concerns is we have put forth a budget where we were always talking 1.71, and I think the community kind of started to get a nice feel the budget was going to be 1.71,” Leo said. “I don’t want to hire a librarian, then have to reduce a librarian.”

According to Eagen, the district has a contingent position in the budget in the event that kindergarten registration is higher than normal. If the registration is lower and the position is not needed, there is a chance the position could go toward a librarian.

“We could absolutely take that contingent position and dedicate it to the librarian,” Eagen said.

Parent Bill Claps addressed the board in support of adding a librarian and said he feels the school needs one. He said he is embarrassed that the district can’t offer a librarian to its students.

“You’ve all had librarians in your school, so why can we not afford that for our children,” Claps said. “I don’t want to pay taxes anymore than anyone else does, but we have to bring the district back to certain standards.”

Chris Philip, president of the Kings Park Classroom Teachers Association, also took to the board in favor of a librarian.

“It’s really incomprehensible under the common core rigor that we don’t have one [a librarian] in every school,” Philip said.

Philip said librarians do more than fund books and it’s crucial for their education that students have access to a librarian.

As of Wednesday, no decision had been made on whether the district will go to the 2.27 tax levy to add a librarian.

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Gordon Brosdal addresses parents about full-day kindergarten on Wednesday. Photo by Erika Karp
A small contingent of parents erupted into a round of applause at Mount Sinai’s Wednesday night school board meeting, as Superintendent Gordon Brosdal announced that full-day kindergarten is included in his 2015-16 budget proposal.
Gordon Brosdal addresses parents about full-day kindergarten on Wednesday. Photo by Erika Karp
Gordon Brosdal addresses parents about full-day kindergarten on Wednesday. Photo by Erika Karp

The meeting marked the first time district administrators committed to making the jump from half-day kindergarten. However, they were quick to remind parents that the move helps more than just the youngest students.

“It’s not a full-day K budget,” Brosdal said. “By giving our kids full-day K, you’re benefiting our entire program.”

The school board still must vote on whether to adopt the budget next month before it goes to a community vote on May 19. The proposed $56.7 million plan increases spending by a little more than 3 percent over the current year and stays within the school district’s tax levy increase cap of 1.86 percent.

Last month, a group of residents spoke in support of full-day kindergarten, saying students need the additional classroom time to meet the new Common Core Learning Standards.

Supporters of the plan had previously expressed concerns that students would fall behind under a half-day program, as there isn’t enough time to cover all the topics required by the Common Core. This was also a worry for Brosdal, who said under a full-day program students would have extra time to learn and would benefit down the line, as would their teachers, who will no longer have to worry about playing catch-up.

Last month, Renee Massari, one of the parents who supported the full-day plan, said she supported full-day kindergarten because she is seeing her son struggle this year as a first-grader who went to a half-day program. On Wednesday, she thanked the district administrators for proposing the change.

“I think I am speaking on behalf of plenty of people when I say thank you and we are excited.”

While the district is receiving $459,125 in state aid to help implement the program, it will still have to spend $90,000 of its own funding to cover the cost. In past budget presentations, officials had estimated a higher district cost.

At previous meetings, school board members agreed that full-day kindergarten was important for student success, but were hesitant to propose the change, as they wanted to make sure the district’s current Kindergarten through 12th grade offerings were maintained and the full-day program would be sustained in the future.

“The board and myself annoyed you perhaps, but you have to look at the budget down the road,” Brosdal said.

On Wednesday, school board President Robert Sweeney spoke about some of the challenges in budgeting for the upcoming school year, as the district grapples with a dwindling surplus, which could run out by 2017-18.

Even so, he said he remained optimistic about the future, as the school board members advocate for additional education aid and legislators move to restore the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a reduction in aid for each school district that was once used to plug a state budget deficit.

Sweeney thanked residents for their patience, but was blunt about the importance of voting in the future.

“Where will you be in the future, as a community, in terms of supporting your school?” he asked.

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