The average Commack homeowner will see an annual tax increase of around $200 if residents vote “yes” for the 2020-2021 school budget of $199,759,525. This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, homeowners will vote on the budget via mail as no in-person voting will be made available.
The Commack School District Board of Education adopted the budget during its meeting held via Zoom May 19. If approved by residents, the tax cap levy increase will be 1.99 percent with a budget-to-budget increase of 1.37 percent.
Superintendent Donald James said the district, like others across New York state, is still waiting to hear if state aid will be cut later in the year, which means certain budget line items may still change. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced a few weeks ago that districts can see cuts of 20 percent or more, James said that figure is an average and the exact amount, whether lower or higher, would be based on the size and wealth of the district. He said there could be rolling cuts as well.
“That’s not good news,” he said. “That’s challenging for us because once programs are in place you count on your funds coming in, and you count on managing your programs based on funds you think you’re going to get from the state.”
The superintendent said while it’s difficult to plan the budget without knowing the exact amount of reductions, they have developed alternative plans if they’re more than anticipated.
James said some reductions in the budget were enrollment driven and in place before the pandemic. There will also be reductions in personnel due to resignations or retirements. There will be 11 full-time employees less due to retirement, 10 FTE teacher assistants reduced after program reviews and 12.7 FTE, plus approximately 32 individuals such as school monitors and instructional aides due to enrollment decline.
These staff reductions have already resulted in budget savings due to the attrition. The superintendent said they may have to revisit reducing staff further, as the district may need to revisit the number of cafeteria monitors.
James said there is currently a task force looking at changes which may be required to open up schools with COVID-19 distancing practices put in place. The superintendent said transportation, sports, field trips, school gatherings and more could be affected. Possible changes could include temperatures being taken and physical measures to help with distancing. The possible increase in costs is something the district is unable to estimate at this time.
James said he has received some suggestions involving opening up school post-COVID to maintain physical distance, including reducing class sizes. He said to a certain degree the district could do so if they double the number of teachers, but the problem is the buildings don’t have double the number of classrooms.
He said the district may have to look at other ways to schedule student classes.
If the budget is passed June 9, the district plans to keep classroom sizes the same or lower, and mental health support and programs such as arts, music, physical education and more will stay intact. The district is also planning a Chromebook laptop initiative, and every student is set to receive one. James said it will be a benefit even when students return to classrooms as their books will now be loaded on Chromebooks.
James said there is a pandemic elimination adjustment of $226,250, and the district received federal stimulus money that took care of that and they may get more. He said there is not much in the capital reserve funds, however, if there is a 20 percent cut in state aid it would mean more than $6.6 million taken from the budget.
The superintendent said due to school closures the district saved $3 million, part of that money being for transportation, which could be applied to next year.
James said the district has properties they could sell to tenants who are interested, though he stressed that he was not talking about Marion Carll Farm. He said selling any properties would need residents approval through a vote.
There is a possibility of saving $2.55 million with the elimination of Common Core and individuals involved with the program such as instructional aides. Other things that could be looked into are reducing high school electives, field trips, art and music classes, staff reductions and professional development for teachers.
James said if the budget isn’t passed in June it would mean the district would have to cut an additional $2,834,090 from the budget for a total cut of $7.8 million. The Chromebook project would be eliminated as well as no equipment purchases would be made. Also, residents and community organizations would be unable to use the facilities and grounds, while elementary and middle school class sizes would need to increase and several high school electives, athletics and clubs would be eliminated.
A public hearing will be held June 2 during a virtual meeting that will be simulcast on the district’s website, www.commackschools.org.The budget vote is set for June 9.
Commack School District Board of Education has two seats up for grabs with incumbent Susan Hermer and Mike Weisberg running for one position. As for the second seat, incumbent William Hender is running unopposed. For more information on the candidates, visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com.