Tags Posts tagged with "Schools"


School gymnasiums, like at Rocky Point High School above, and cafeterias have long been used as polling places for elections, but citing safety concerns, district superintendents are calling for the end of that practice. File photo

On Nov. 6, voters will be lining up across Suffolk County at polling places, though if some school officials in the county could have it their way, by Election Day 2019 votes will be cast elsewhere.

Despite the fact schools are used as polling places near-universally, recent pushes for additional school security from communities have made several North Shore superintendents question why they should be forced to allow strangers into their buildings.

“You have to admit anybody onto school campus who comes to vote, so those actions and best practices for security that we observe every day, we can’t observe on Election Day,” said Elwood school district Superintendent Kenneth Bossert. “Schools are allowed to make their own rules for every school day, but on Election Day we have to defer to the [Suffolk County] Board of Elections, and in effect our facilities become their facilities.”

“Schools are allowed to make their own rules for every school day, but on Election Day we have to defer to the [Suffolk County] Board of Elections, and in effect our facilities become their facilities.”

— Kenneth Bossert

The Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, of which Bossert is president, released a blueprint for action to enhance school safety in which it specifically requests legislation that might let schools appeal their designation as polling locations. New York State law says all public buildings are in line to be declared polling places, yet all municipalities except schools have the right to appeal that designation.

Board of Elections Commissioner Nick LaLota said approximately 30 percent of polling in the county was held at nonschool municipal buildings. He added if the Board of Elections tried to move its voting apparatus to other places like fire departments or town halls that parking would be inadequate and wait times would increase more than an hour because of space issues.

Many schools close their buildings on November polling days to allow the community into a school without the potential for any danger to students. However, during smaller elections like primaries and school budget votes in June, many schools remain open and wall off the students from the public. Huntington school district Superintendent Jim Polansky said while his district does not stay open during major elections, they do stay open for students during primaries.

“While I understand that it is a challenge to find alternative sites than can accommodate a vote, using schools as polling places when classes are in session [such as for primary elections] is a significant issue,” Polansky said.

Across the North Shore superintendents lamented the Suffolk Board of Elections requirements. Superintendent James Grossane of Smithtown school district agreed with SCSSA’s proposal, and Paul Casciano of the Port Jefferson School District said he agreed with it even though polling in Port Jeff is held at Village Hall.

“When our buildings are used for public polling sites, the Board of Elections has the authority to designate the final location in the building for polling to occur, which in most cases requires voters to travel through our schools, passing classrooms and common student areas along the way all while not having to go through our strict visitor approval process,” Cheryl Pedisich, superintendent of the Three Village Central School District said.

LaLota said some local districts were being dishonest in their push to take polling out of schools.

“The school officials who choose to keep their May budget and board elections in their schools but demand that the November elections be moved out of their schools have a sincerity problem and are using recent tragedies to satisfy their political agenda, which predates school shootings,” LaLota said.

“The school officials who choose to keep their May budget and board elections in their schools but demand that the November elections be moved out of their schools have a sincerity problem and are using recent tragedies to satisfy their political agenda, which predates school shootings.”

— Nick LaLota

Since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, more and more schools have been drastically updating security measures. Schools from Northport to Shoreham-Wading River have been adding additional security cameras, installing security doors, building security vestibules and hiring additional security guards. Some schools, like Miller Place and Mount Sinai, have taken it one step further and added armed guards to their current suite of school protection earlier this year.

Mount Sinai School District superintendent Gordon Brosdal said he agreed with the SCSSA’s call for the ability to appeal. Currently the Mount Sinai campus contains four armed guards, with one manning a booth at the entrance to the grounds who asks for an ID from all who wish to drive in. He added that he was concerned that with those procedures, voters may take it as a sign of disenfranchisement to request identification. Current New York State election law says polling places cannot ask for voter ID, though LaLota said he was unaware of any statute which prevented districts from seeking identification from those who come onto their campuses.

Marianne Cartisano, the superintendent of the Miller Place school district, has been fighting the specifics for her district’s polling designation since 2013, she said. In years past, the district has had to separate students and the public with the use of cafeteria tables, for a lack of more appropriate space. Since then the district has decided to close all schools on every election day, even for primaries.

Currently Andrew Muller Primary School, North Country Road Middle School and Miller Place High School are all polling locations. Cartisano has long requested the Suffolk County Board of Elections move all polling operations to the high school.

“We requested that let’s just move everything to the high school, where we could accommodate anywhere between 1,000 to 1,500 at a time, we’ll give you the entire building,” Cartisano said. “I know that in other districts accommodations have been made. … I want to do the right thing for our residents, but our residents also include 4-year-olds.”

In April this year the William Floyd school district reported that all polling locations would be moved to the high school, away from the elementary school. LaLota said he would be willing to work with school districts toward that end.

“This is an example of a win-win and I have encouraged my staff to explore more opportunities that increase child safety without disenfranchising voters,” he said.

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It’s time to raise the bar on communication skills for teachers. I realize there are sensational educators who inspire a cadre of young minds each year. There are also plenty of teachers who are weak communicators, whose work wouldn’t stand up to their own liberal use of the red pen and who have their own rules of grammar that defy any style book.

That seems especially problematic, particularly for language arts teachers who are, presumably, not only educating our sons and daughters about how to read and analyze text, but are also helping them develop their writing style and voice.

The do-as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do approach may, unwittingly, be preparing students for the unfair world where merit doesn’t count as much as other factors, like connections.

I’m not sure that’s really the lesson we want to teach or the subtext we want to share during these formative years.

I’d like to ask a favor of teachers: Please read your instructions before you give them to your students. You can shape the assignment the way you’d like: asking questions about identity, seeking to understand the perspective of the author, asking for an analysis of the tone of the piece. But please, please, please read over your directions before printing them out, sending them to students or sharing them with parents. It’s not OK for your writing to read like the assembly instructions for a child’s toy.

I know it will take a few more moments and I know that you’re not particularly well paid, but please remember your mission and the difficulty of a double standard. Children can sense hypocrisy quicker than a shark can smell blood in the water.

I realize these missives filled with misdirections may provide a lesson unto themselves. Students may learn that nobody is perfect. While that may be true, are the teachers — who provide confusing directions, who send out assignments rife with poor grammar and misspellings, or who casually make the kinds of mistakes for which they would take major deductions — comfortable enough with themselves and their position to provide students with the opportunity to correct them?

Ideally, learning isn’t just about hearing things, memorizing them, spitting them back out during a test and forgetting them within a week of an exam. As teachers say so often when they meet parents, they want their students to learn to think for themselves and to question the world around them.

If that’s the case, then let’s not pay lip service to those missions. Let’s add a corollary to that and suggest that how teachers communicate is as important as what they communicate.

Let’s also encourage students to ask teachers why their instructions include particular words or employ specific phrases. I recall, many years ago, the first time one of my more self-assured teachers silenced a room when he said, in his booming baritone, “I stand corrected.” The rest of us didn’t know whether to cheer for the boy who challenged him or to duck, worried that a temper tantrum with flying chalk — remember chalk? — might follow.

Maybe schools should hire an editor who can read the instructions to kids and emails to parents. Or, if the budget doesn’t allow a single extra employee, maybe they can engage in the same kind of peer review they utilize in their classrooms.

Ideally, students and teachers can seize the opportunity to learn and improve every year. Teachers create an assignment and then reuse it the next year. If the assignment is unclear, or the directions flawed, the teacher should do his or her homework and revise it.

All I ask is that teachers lead by example.

Olivia Gregorius, right, and Emma Lutz, left, are hoping to raise awarness for female empowerment on their bike journey across the country. Photo from Gregorius

A Northport native is biking across the United States to raise money and awareness for an organization that builds schools in Africa.

Olivia Gregorius, a 2011 Northport High School graduate, kicked off her cross-country adventure in Vancouver about three weeks ago and said she is determined to finish at the Mexican border by July.

“I feel good so far,” she said in a phone interview. ”My body hurts horribly, but I feel good.”

Gregorius is a volunteer with the organization Africa Schoolhouse, a nonprofit that brings education, medical care, job training and clean water to rural villages in northern Tanzania. Her journey was designed to raise money for the newest ASH project: an all-female boarding school. Gregorius said she hopes to promote female youth empowerment while on the journey.

“This mission to help females so far away who deserve an equal and safe education space is something we believe is very important,” she said. “I truly believe that the way we teach and treat young females is key to shaping a more progressive and healthy society both locally and abroad.”

She also said it is important to acknowledge the privileges she’s been afforded that other women aren’t as lucky to receive.

“We, as young women who have had the distinct privilege of a college education, want to give back to the many girls around the world who struggle to access basic education,” she said. “We want to empower ourselves as young women going on a self-supported trip of 2,000 miles with the ultimate goal of supporting as many other young women as possible to believe themselves capable and worthy of any achievement.”

Africa Schoolhouse began in Ntulya, Tanzania, in 2006, when village elders approached founder Aimée Bessire with the idea of building a school and medical clinic. ASH successfully built the school and medical clinic, and now the organization is shifting its focus on getting women a safe and efficient education.

Gregorius said only 1 percent of Tanzanian girls complete secondary school for reasons including families who privilege the education of sons over daughters, girls being married off at young ages and unsafe journeys to school due to incomplete or unfinished roads, or the risk of assault while traveling long spans of distance on their own.

This wasn’t the first time Gregorius worked on projects associated with female empowerment. During her first year at Bates College in Maine, she helped develop a college-access mentoring program for Lewiston, Maine, middle school females. She also worked at an overnight teen empowerment camp in 2013, where she developed classes pertaining to girls’ youth empowerment, outdoor education, wellness and the arts.

Gregorius is traveling with Emma Lutz, a fellow Bates graduate, and so far the team has already raise more than $3,000. To make a contribution or learn more, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/emma-and-livs-bike-tour-from-canada-to-mexico.

By Elana Glowatz

Desperate times call for desperate budget measures.

For the first time in four years, a northern Suffolk County school district is taking aim at its tax levy cap, looking to bust through that state budget ceiling as more districts around New York do the same in tight times.

The New York State School Boards Association said the number of school districts seeking a supermajority of voter approval — 60 percent — to override their caps has doubled since last year. The group blames that trend on inflation.

tax-cap-graphicwThe state cap limits the amount a school district or municipality can increase its tax levy, which is the total amount collected in taxes, from budget to budget. While commonly referred to as a “2 percent tax cap,” it actually limits levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation — whichever is lower — before certain excluded spending, like on capital projects and pension payments.

This year, the rate of inflation was calculated at just 0.12 percent and, after other calculations, the statewide average for an allowed tax levy increase will be 0.7 percent, according to NYSSBA.

“The quirks and vagaries of the cap formula mean it can fluctuate widely from year to year and district to district,” Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said in a statement.

More school districts are feeling the pressure — a NYSSBA poll showed that 36 districts will ask voters to pass budgets that pop through their caps, double the number last year.

It may be easier said than done: Since the cap was enacted, typically almost half of proposed school district budgets that have tried to bust through it have failed at the polls. That’s compared to budgets that only needed a simple majority of support, which have passed 99 percent of the time since the cap started.

In 2012, the first year for the cap in schools, five districts on Suffolk’s North Shore sought to override it, including Mount Sinai, Comsewogue, Three Village, Rocky Point and Middle Country. Only the latter two were approved, forcing the others to craft new budget proposals and hold a second vote.

Middle Country barely squeaked by, with 60.8 percent of the community approving that budget, and Comsewogue just missed its target, falling shy by only 33 votes.

Numbers from the school boards’ association that year showed that more Long Island school districts had tried to exceed their caps and more budgets had failed than in any other region in the state.

But four years later, Harborfields school district is taking a shot.

Officials there adopted a budget that would increase its tax levy 1.52 percent next year, adding full-day kindergarten, a new high school music elective and a BOCES cultural arts program, among others. Harborfields board member Hansen Lee was “optimistic” that at least 60 percent of the Harborfields community would approve the budget.

“We’re Harborfields; we always come together for the success of our kids and the greater good,” Lee said.

The school boards’ association speculated that more school districts than just Harborfields would have tried to pierce their levy caps if not for a statewide boost in aid — New York State’s own budget increased school aid almost $25 billion, with $3 billion of that going specifically to Long Island.

Now that New York school districts have settled into the cap, Long Islanders’ eyes are on Harborfields, to see whether it becomes an example of changing tides.

Next Tuesday, Harborfields will see if it has enough public support to go where few Long Island districts have ever gone before, above and beyond the tax levy cap.

Joe Sabia file photo

Joe Sabia will be waiting for results on a stressful election eve for the third time in his 39 years as a resident of Northport Village on Mar. 15.

Sabia, a former member of the Northport-East Northport school board and a mayoral candidate in the 2014 Northport election, is running for trustee on the village board this time around.

“I’ve been here since 1977,” the 60-year-old Sabia said in a phone interview. “I’m not a newcomer.”

Sabia will face incumbents Jerry Maline and Damon McMullen in the 2016 election. He said that his experiences running for school board and mayor have prepared him.

“I realized people have to get out and vote,” Sabia said, adding that he knocked on about 1,400 doors when he was running for mayor in 2014 against incumbent George Doll. But that wasn’t enough to unseat the incumbent mayor.

Sabia said that he was not happy about the village’s proposed budget that was released in January, which included more than a 3 percent increase to the tax levy. Lowering taxes was one of several issues that Sabia said is important to his campaign and eventual term, if he is elected.

“You’re pushing people to the limit,” Sabia said about taxpayers in the village.

He also mentioned fixing sidewalks and roads in the village, changing the way that snow removal is handled, improving village parks, addressing environmental concerns associated with storm water runoff and upgrading street lights to be more efficient as some of the issues that are important to him and in need of the village’s attention.

“I have fresh ideas,” Sabia said. He said he is also interested in “revamping” village hall, though he said he would prefer to fund a project like that through donations, not tax dollars.

Asharoken Village found success with resident donations financing parts of the cost for the new village hall, which opened in January 2015.

Sabia has a history of wanting to keep costs low.

He went after his former school board colleagues at a board of education meeting on July 1, 2015, after they approved the appointment of Lou Curra as the district’s interim assistant superintendent for human resources, a position that paid Curra $935 per day during his six months in the position. He said he believed Curra was being overpaid.

Sabia owns Sabia’s Car Care, an automotive repair shop located on Fort Salonga Road in Northport. Nonetheless, he said he’s confident that he would have more than enough time to effectively serve the village as a trustee.

Sabia’s daughters, ages 25 and 29, were products of the Northport-East Northport school district, and his late wife Valerie served as the village court clerk until she passed away about four years ago, he said.

Superintendent Jim Polansky. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington school district has begun preparing for budget season.

Superintendent Jim Polansky discussed the state of the 2016-17 budget on Feb. 11, and said the district will have to work hard to create a budget that stays within its 1.68 percent cap on its tax levy increase.

A rollover of programs from the 2015-16 budget would put the district above that cap, and would cost about $2 million more than last year’s budget. That figure comes from an increase in health insurance costs for the district and other personnel items, despite an expected savings of almost $1 million in pension costs, according to Polansky.

As of Feb. 29, the district’s $122 million working budget was still about $132,000 over the allowable limit, meaning that costs need to be cut or additional revenue needs to be found to close the gap. Polansky has said that the district’s goal is still to adopt a budget that comes in below the cap on the tax levy.

“These are decisions that have to be made by the board as we move forward over the next couple of months,” Polansky said at the Feb. 11 meeting.

Piercing the tax cap, which requires a super majority vote of 60 percent from the community, is probably not an option.

“I don’t think that the board is interested in piercing the cap at this point,” Polansky said. “I will state that on the record even though we haven’t discussed it.”

To help matters, the district is also expecting an increase in state aid, due to a partial restoration of money lost to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a deduction enacted several years ago that cut into state aid for New York school districts in an effort to close a state budget deficit.

The district has additional budget meetings coming up on March 14 and March 21. The vote to adopt a 2016-17 budget will take place on May 17, at which point the budget will be sent to residents for approval.

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Superintendent James Grossane file photo

The Smithtown school board voted to close Branch Brook Elementary School at a board of education meeting Tuesday, effective June 30, 2017. Five board members, including President Christopher Alcure, were in favor of the closure. Gladys Waldron, the board’s longest tenured member, was responsible for the lone “no” vote.

“For four years we’ve made cuts to the program, and it is not a proposition that I would like to continue,” Alcure said following the meeting. “We have declining enrollment. We have space in other buildings. Due to the fact that Branch Brook is one of the smaller buildings, and in my mindset we needed to close a building, and if we kept that open and closed one of the other ones and we had a sudden, unexpected uptick in enrollment, Branch Brook could not accommodate being one of seven schools. If we have an uptick in enrollment in two or three years when Branch Brook is closed, we’ll be able to absorb about 1,200 kids, and that was my deciding factor.”

Closing at least one elementary school has been an intensely debated issue between the community, the school board and district administration since the middle of November when Superintendent James Grossane presented the findings of a housing committee that was assembled earlier in 2015. Grossane presented the board with five options as cost saving measures.

Closing Branch Brook was a part of four of the five options. Tuesday’s vote sealed the fate of Branch Brook, though Grossane will take his time in selected one of the four options from his November proposal, he said. More debate is still to come about what happens to students in the seven elementary schools that are not closing to make room for those leaving Branch Brook.

With emotions running high and a filled-to-capacity auditorium in the New York Avenue building that serves as district headquarters in Smithtown, the vote was received with anger and sadness from the community.

Katie Healy has been one of the most outspoken Branch Brook parents throughout the process.

“If I choose to stay, I will hold each and every one of you accountable and likely pushing one of you out,” Healy said to the five board members who voted yes. “I will be okay, and I will fight for those that will have a tough time but I will be there to show you that your losses are greater than your gains. If I choose to stay in this state I will hold you accountable…shame on you.”

School board meetings and public work sessions had taken on some added emotion leading up to Tuesday, though emotions boiled over following the vote. One parent was removed by security after the meeting was over after yelling at members of the board. One was warned twice by Grossane for using profanity during her allotted public comment time.

Peter Troiano was one of the parents responsible for the Save Branch Brook movement on Facebook and an Internet petition.

“I’ll keep this quick,” Troiano said Tuesday as he addressed the board. “You’re all incompetent. You shouldn’t have signed up for this job if you couldn’t do it right. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. I don’t know how you sleep at night. You disgust me. And rest assured, this isn’t over. We plan on taking further action so get ready.”

Troiano dropped the microphone to the ground and exited following his comments. He did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate about his future plans.

Waldron defended her position to oppose closing Branch Brook to applause from the hundreds in attendance. The idea of selling the administration building on New York Avenue has been a rallying cry for the Save Branch Brook community members, though little progress has been made.

“The only reason why I am not in favor of closing a school, whether it be Branch Brook or any other school, is that I think our energies and effort of administration and board should be placed right now on the selling of this building,” Waldron said.

The necessity to close a school, according to Grossane and his administration, can be attributed to declining enrollment and revenue. Andrew Tobin, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, has said in the past that a deficit is on the horizon for the district.

“I can’t tell you that 2017-18 will be the deficit year, but it’s becoming more and more likely as we look out ahead that 2017-18, maybe 2018-19, if we don’t get those type of increases, we know our expenses are going to go up, we’re going to certainly be facing it at some point,” Tobin said at a public work session on Jan. 19.

Grossane responded following the meeting to claims from some community members that the decision to close Branch Brook has been inevitable since his presentation in November.

“This decision wasn’t made months ago,” he said. “It was very careful. It was very measured. The committee did a lot of work. They brought the material. I reviewed it.”

Grossane said that a lot of time and work went into the decision, and that it bothered him that some in the community perceived it differently.

Grossane’s November report estimated that closing an elementary school would save the district about $725,000 annually. Tobin said that Tuesday’s decision should relieve some of the financial trouble that the district is anticipating in the future, though their work is not done.

School board meetings since November have been well attended by parents wearing blue Save Branch Brook T-shirts. They submitted their own sixth option for the board’s consideration, which was assembled by parents in the statistical analysis field. Option 6 concluded that Branch Brook made the least sense for closure of the eight elementary schools, based on projected enrollment decrease over the next 10 years, building occupancy, square foot per student, students per usable classroom and utility cost.

Grossane defended his suggestion that Branch Brook made the most sense for closure at the Jan. 19 work session. Closing Branch Brook would do the least damage to the discrepancy of elementary students being on track to attend either High School East or High School West when they reach ninth grade, according to Grossane’s data. Additionally, because Branch Brook is the smallest of the eight schools in terms of capacity, its closure would leave the district least vulnerable to overcrowding if there were a future increase in enrollment.

Closing Branch Brook should increase average class size, though Grossane called instances where any classes would reach a district implemented maximum of 28 students “outliers,” on Jan. 19.

“Every school has a grade level that runs almost to maximum,” Grossane said. “If we close a building and we operate with seven, those outliers would smooth out. They’d shift. There would still be an outlier occasionally in every building. I’m not going to tell you there isn’t going to be a class in fifth grade that doesn’t have a 28 at some point within the next six years after we close a building, because there definitely will be. But it’s usually one grade per building. Most times, the class averages even out across the district.”

School board member Grace Plourde presented discussions on Feb. 9 from an earlier business affairs meeting regarding the budget for 2016-17. The deficit that Tobin suggested to be on the horizon was not expected to occur for the 2016-17 school year, mainly due to a low number of retirement payments. Tobin said Tuesday that the district is in “golden years for pension reprieve,” though he expects that to change in the near future.

“We may find that we’re not in the kind of trouble that we have been in in prior years,” Plourde said. “Our preliminary budget is looking pretty stable. We’re anticipating that at this point we’re not going to have to make the kinds of painful cuts that we’ve had to make in prior years, but again it’s not because we’re getting the kinds of revenue we need to get.”

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Harborfields Central School District is one step closer to technological improvements thanks to its utilization of New York State’s Smart Schools Bond Act.

At a school board meeting last week, Jordan Cox, executive director of institutional services, presented a $1 million investment plan that focuses on improving the district’s Internet connectivity operations by utilizing the bond.

“We’re looking for something that’s going to be long-term,” Cox said. “Something that we can make an investment in that’s going to last 10-plus years.”

The Smart Schools Bond Act, passed in 2014, authorized the issuance of $2 billion in general obligation bonds to finance improved education technology and infrastructure. Over the last two years, Cox said district officials have been meeting to determine what the highest priorities are for bond funds.

Once they narrowed in on Internet connectivity, a plan was created to update the “aging architecture to support high-speed traffic requirements for online productivity and assessment operations,” he said.

The entire plan included two projects — one $921,000 plan focusing on upgrading infrastructure and the other $177,000 plan on centralizing all district servers.

Cox said that Harborfields was using outdated equipment and upgrading it to support high-bandwidth and wireless devices would help the district support more devices at once.

“We’re talking about the bones that you don’t see behind the walls that allow us to keep the connectivity day-to-day within schools,” Cox said of the infrastructure.

The second part of the plan Cox pitched concentrated on centralizing all servers to help reduce the amount of data center equipment required, which he said would cut costs and negate the need of system downtime.

Cox said that fewer servers and less networking gear would mean less equipment would be required, lowering monthly power and cooling costs. Cox also said that the more programs and devices added to the district, the “more critical that our Internet connectivity does not have any down time.”

In his presentation, Cox said Harborfields would receive about $1.3 million from the state through the bond. These two projects should cost about $1 million, leaving $223,656 left over, he said.

Cox also said that the money from this bond does not expire and can be carried into the next school year. So if Harborfields does not use its full amount immediately, it does not lose the surplus.

Going forward, Cox said this plan needed to be approved by the board of education before the district can submit an online application. He also said the turnaround time from the state is unknown because Harborfields is one of the first districts to complete the process.

The school district did not confirm whether the board has approved the plan.

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The Smithtown Central School District is gearing up for another budget season, but officials say this year might not be as financially difficult as administrators had anticipated. File photo

Budget season has arrived in Smithtown, and district administrators said they anticipated a bigger budget to be matched by more state funding.

The Smithtown Central School District held a business affairs committee meeting recently with district administrators and board of education representatives to mull over potential budgetary options facing them. Board member Grace Plourde presented the discussions from that meeting to the public Feb. 9 along with a first draft of the pending $233,476,414 school district budget.

The projected budget for the 2016-17 school year is about $4 million higher than the budget for the current school year, she said. That increase, however, would be covered in large part by a projected 0.8 percent increase in the tax levy and an increase in state aid from a partial restoration of money lost to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a policy enacted for the 2010-11 fiscal year which cut into state aid for New York State school districts in an effort to close a large budget deficit.

An increase in funding from the state would mean a smaller increase in taxes for Smithtown residents.

“We may find that we’re not in the kind of trouble that we have been in in prior years,” Plourde said. “Our preliminary budget is looking pretty stable. We’re anticipating that at this point we’re not going to have to make the kinds of painful cuts that we’ve had to make in prior years, but again it’s not because we’re getting the kinds of revenue we need to get.”

A rise in salaries for district employees accounts for the majority of the $4 million increase from the 2015-16 budget, according to Andrew Tobin, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

The district is currently in the midst of a heated debate over potential cost-saving measures while grappling with declining enrollment and a potential deficit in the near future, Tobin added.

Plourde said that stability in the projected 2016-17 budget could be attributed to a low number of required retirement payouts, which is not to be expected every year.

“We’re continuing to hope to hang on to the kind of quality programing that we’re used to around here, but we need to be smart,” Plourde said. “We need to always be looking ahead.”

Superintendent James Grossane has recommended closing at least one of the district’s eight elementary schools, an option that would save the district about $725,000 annually, he said. Parents in the district, however, have said they would prefer that the district sold or repurposed their administration headquarters located on New York Avenue, Smithtown instead. The building hasn’t been used for instruction in several years.

The next budget workshop will be held on Tuesday, March 1, at 7 p.m. at the New York Avenue headquarters. A decision on the fate of the district’s elementary schools is expected in the coming weeks.

Diana Todaro speaks during the budget presentation at the board of education meeting on Wednesday night. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Budget season has come to the Harborfields Central School District, and residents could be in for a budget that pierces the tax levy cap.

At a Board of Education meeting on Wednesday night, Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Human Resources Francesco Ianni presented options the district has to choose from for the 2016-2017 budget, calling it an “evolving process.” Harborfields was given a small tax levy cap increase from the state, which means that the district may have to consider piercing the cap if they want to provide any new programs, or face a budget with no additions to stay within the cap.

“Approximately 17 percent of the annual budget that is coming from state aid, but that number is fluctuating everyday,” Ianni said at the meeting. “Reserve funds will account for about 7 percent, and 76 percent of the budget is coming from the community.”

The main concern with this year’s budget, Ianni said, is the .37 percent tax levy increase cap, which is limiting the district’s ability to even rollover last year’s budget. A rollover budget is the same budget as the year before.

The 2015-2016 budget was roughly $80 million, and if a rollover budget were used this year, the total would be approximately $81 million, with an increase of $1,159,907.

If the rollover budget passed, there would need to be a tax levy increase of .84 percent, according to the district, which is .47 percent more than what the state is mandating. If the district abides by the state tax levy increase cap, they will be $287,408 short of the rollover budget total.

Those variables leave the district with some options, Ianni said.

A budget within the tax levy would be $81,346,454, the district said. This would require the district to not only refuse any new mandates or potential additions like full-day kindergarten, but also to cut costs.

But if the district decided to pierce the tax cap, Ianni presented several different budgetary routes the district could take. One is what he described as the simple rollover budget, which would require less than .5 percent of an increase in the tax cap and bring the total budget to $81,633,862.

“But, what if we add some mandates?” Ianni asked during the presentation.

The district presented a potential budget that included mandates like an additional librarian, AIS teacher and an English as a New Language teacher, which would bring the budget to $81,833,862 and a tax levy increase of 1.17 percent.

Ianni said the third possible scenario is the most costly because of additions like $600,000 for full-day kindergarten, $20,000 for a teacher’s assistant testing room and anywhere from $100,000 to $150,00 for a BOCES cultural arts program. The total here brings the budget to about $82.6 million, and would bring the tax levy cap to 2.57 percent.

Ianni said the district has not made any decisions yet as to which budget they would pursue, and would continue to discuss options at various workshops and community forums over the coming weeks.

The next upcoming budget meeting was scheduled for March 5 at 9 a.m.