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2020-21 budget

Commack HIgh School. Photo from Google Maps

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.

Ward Melville High School. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Andrea Paldy

As if times are not challenging enough, districts across the state must create budgets without knowing when, or by how much, state aid will be cut.

Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, has removed $1 million from next year’s budget in anticipation of cuts beyond the $300,000 decrease in aid already projected by the state in March.

The current 2020-21 budget falls within the cap on the tax levy increase of 1.96 percent, for a total budget of $218.84 million. This is a 1.75 percent increase over the 2019-20 budget.

The district has begun to make contingency plans with alternate budgets, being referred to as Phase 2, which would mean a further $2 million reduction and Phase 3, which would require a deeper cut of $3 million. Cuomo has said school aid could drop by as much as 20 percent and cuts could take place as late as December, Carlson said.

If cuts go deeper than Phase 3, they will definitely affect services and student programs, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said at the district’s May 6 school board meeting. The board would have to decide whether to make deeper cuts to the budget or use district reserves, she said.

One thing officials do know is that they do not want to make cuts once the school year has begun and would not make cuts to instructional staff.

Pedisich said the district would have to look to reserves, because “any kind of midyear cuts in terms of services would be incredibly disruptive … and this year has been disruptive itself, so we don’t want to add to it and exacerbate the situation.”

The district held a hearing on the budget May 27. Carlson will also give a budget presentation June 1 at 6:45 p.m. at the Three Village Joint Council of PTAs virtual Meet the Candidates night on Zoom. This program will allow residents to hear from the six candidates running for three seats on the school board.

Also, the Three Village Civic Association and Three Village Chamber of Commerce will jointly host an online Meet the Candidates event Thursday, May 28, at 7 p.m. via Zoom conferencing. For information about how to be part of the online meeting, go to the websites of either the civic association, www.threevillagecivics.org, or the chamber of commerce, www.3vchamber.com, for links to the Zoom meeting.

Incumbents Inger Germano, Irene Gische and Dr. Jeff Kerman are running against Shaorui Li, David McKinnon and Vinny Menten.

All 34,025 registered voters in Three Village will receive ballots with paid return postage to vote on the 2020-21 budget and board trustees. Ballots must be returned to the office of the district clerk at the North Country Administration building by 5 p.m. on June 9.

Visit www.tbrnewsmedia.com for profiles on each of the candidates.