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Robert Banzer

As part of the relocation plan, eight-graders were sent to Northport High School. File photo

Following the closure of Northport Middle School after elevated levels of benzene were found in two separate septic systems near the building, district officials and the community are adjusting to the relocation of more than 600 middle school students into three different schools.

The plan called for eight-graders to relocate to Northport High School, for seventh-graders to go to East Northport Middle School, and for sixth-graders to settle in at Norwood Avenue Elementary School beginning Jan. 24. 

Superintendent Robert Banzer said the first several days in their new buildings have gone well for NMS students. 

“I was happy to hear of how welcoming each school was to the NMS students on their first days, and I anticipate that their efforts to ensure a caring environment will continue,” he said. “As we move through this transition our families have been extremely patient and flexible.”

Rich Rowehl, a Northport parent who has a daughter in the seventh grade, said the first week of the transition has gone as good as it could have.

“To be able to pull off what they did [in a short amount of time] is a monumental task,” he said. “I condemned the district for doing this and I hope going forward we can find a workable [permanent] solution.”

The transition is still a work in progress, Rowehl said. Parents expressed concerns about crowded lunchrooms and lack of lockers at the board of education meeting that night. Sixth-graders at Norwood Avenue Elementary School don’t have access to lockers. Seventh-graders were moved into a larger cafeteria at ENMS due to the size of the class. The superintendent acknowledged that they are still ironing out some logistical issues.

Rowehl stressed that this is still an ongoing process and there’s a lot that needs to come out. 

“The firm is still conducting tests [at NMS],” he said. “We have to wait to see what else it finds. Then is it safe to return or does the school need to permanently close? We know they found mercury/benzene but what else is there?”

The Northport resident said the committee and district need to continue to be transparent on what the firm finds and strive to find a permanent solution that will make everyone happy. 

Ideas from community members and parents have been floated around. Due to decreasing enrollment in the district, one of the elementary schools could be repurposed as a new middle school, or possibly the William J. Brosnan administrative building could be reopened as a school. Banzer said there has been no discussion of a permanent plan outside of the closure of the building for the remainder of this school year, adding that PW Grosser Consulting will continue its testing and review all data prior to finalizing the report to the district.

District Hires Environmental Firm to Test Middle School

Northport district officials have found an alternative location for its bus depot. Photo from Close Northport MS Facebook page

In response to a Nov. 20 TBR News Media article that uncovered that the Northport-East Northport school district was in violation of laws governing petroleum bulk storage, district officials announced at the Dec. 12 board meeting that they found a new bus depot and refueling location.

“We have found an alternate location and the resolution would allow the school board to enter negotiations to finalize that work with Cavay’s [Building & Lumber Supply] on Brightside Ave.,” Robert Banzer, superintendent of schools, said.

Over the last several weeks, the district addressed its violations with the Suffolk County Health Department and officials there said that the site was reinspected without violations found.

A separate resolution unanimously passed that would allow the district to utilize the fueling facilities operated by the Village of Northport for its bus fleet and maintenance.

“We are still seeking other possible methods of fueling, including [reaching out to] some of our other municipalities. We have reached out to them and they are considering it, “ Banzer said. “By January we should have this [relocation] in motion, if not sooner.”

Other highlights of the meeting include the board approving the subcommittee’s recommendations in hiring PW Grosser Consulting, a Bohemia-based environmental firm to begin framing a soil testing plan for the Northport Middle School. The firm would recommend soil testing parameters to the district beginning sometime in January.

The subcommittee members said that the firm could come do an initial walk-through of the building as early as later that week and would do other work throughout the winter break when students aren’t in school.

The announcements were made just days after students were again evacuated from several classrooms in the middle school after children were overcome by fumes.

A parent of a middle school student who spoke at the meeting said that children should be moved out of the school while testing is being done.

“We are very concerned, we need an answer ourselves on how this [testing] is going to happen,” he said. “The safe alternative is that they [the students] leave the school, and you do your testing.”

Subcommittee member Lauren Handler said as a group they haven’t discussed that as an official topic but agreed that the kids shouldn’t be in the building when they don’t know if its safe.

No vote was formally conducted on that issue.

State and county health officials have stated that the school board has jurisdiction over air quality at the school and not health officials.

The subcommittee plans to meet each Monday, beginning Jan. 6 or 13 of next year.

 

Northport district officials have found an alternative location for its bus depot. Photo from Close Northport MS Facebook page

At a board of education meeting Nov. 21, Robert Banzer, Superintendent of Schools, recommended to the board that they seek other fueling alternatives of the two 4,000 gallon tanks and look at options to move buses to another location. The district has already begun researching options for alternative tanks locations and placement of buses, according to the superintendent.

In addition,  a plan will presented at the December 12 board of education meeting.

The decision comes less than a week after a TBR News Media article disclosed that the district was in violation of laws governing petroleum bulk storage.

On Nov. 25, the NYS Department of Health re-inspected the fueling tanks and indicated to the district that the previous citations were corrected.

In a letter to the Northport School Community, Banzer said they would:

  • Conduct refresher training on the latest guidelines for tank maintenance and inspections
  • Schedule periodic tests of all tanks throughout the districts with an outside environmental testing firm
  • Ensure consistent and documented follow up with the Department of Health when seeking follow up inspections
  • Formalize internal communications which includes the superintendent and board of education.

Similarly, the board of education approved two other recommendations brought forward by the subcommittee:

  • Authorizing that the district request the Suffolk County Department of Health perform a follow-up inspection to their May 2017 visit and its subsequent inspection report.
  • Authorize follow-up testing of indoor air quality to follow the same protocols as the August 2018 assessment as well as air quality testing in individual rooms.

 

Northport district officials have found an alternative location for its bus depot. Photo from Close Northport MS Facebook page

At its Nov. 7 school board meeting, parents of Northport Middle School students asked school board members and school district officials, if the district did in fact have a bus depot stationed next to the school building, where 600 children attend classes. Many parents knew about the refueling station and were appalled, but many residents did not. 

“This is just alarming to me,” said Jamie Marcantonio, who said she had three children go through the school system. “We’re talking about toxicity.  How is it even possible that an affluent community like Northport is saying its okay to have a fuel station where our kids go to school.”

“This is just alarming to me.” 

Jamie Marcantonio

In response to ongoing air quality and health concerns among parents and former teachers at the Northport Middle School, and questions about the bus depot, the Times of Huntington-Northport has obtained copies of the most recent Petroleum Bulk Storage inspection for the Northport Middle School site. 

The Feb. 20, 2019 report indicates that the district is in violation of laws governing petroleum bulk storage.

During the announced inspection, though no evidence of spillage or release to environment were found, health officials were unable to confirm that the tanks’ leak detection, corrosion prevention and overfill protection systems were operating properly,  largely because the district has failed to maintain required self-inspection records for at least the last three years. 

One 4,000-gallon tank stores gasoline, another 4,000-gallon tank stores diesel fuel and a third fiberglass tank holds up to 15,000 gallons of #2 fuel oil, which is typically used for heating in furnaces and boilers.

The law essentially requires that metal tanks, piping, dispenser sumps and containment systems for petroleum storage utilize a technique to slow or stop corrosion called cathodic protection. The inspector noted in the report that operators were unaware of the requirement for cathodic protection and testing for the two 4,000-gallon metal tank dispenser sumps. 

To comply with Suffolk County Sanitary Code, the record-keeping and testing of cathodic protection must be rectified, health officials stated in a Nov. 13 email. 

The same report notes that one of the probes in the tank’s alarm system for leak detection was defective. Facility staff provided documentation to the inspector showing that they already had a work order in place to have the item repaired. 

The county requires prompt correction to violations and had provided a phone number to call to arrange for reinspection in its report to the district. But the county health department’s Office of Pollution Control states that no reinspection has been requested, despite the fact that the department followed up and sent a warning letter to the district in April. 

District officials did not return phone calls and board members did not respond to requests for interviews through email. 

In a Nov. 7 meeting, the school voted to test the soil on the site sometime this winter  to address concerns of ongoing complaints of odors and reports of diseases among students and former teachers. It’s unclear if the testing will include areas where tanks are located. 

In an email, Superintendent Robert Banzer stated that the district is in the process of forming a 13-member subcommittee. He advises all community members to visit the messaging center on its website for updates. Relocating the bus depot is an issue that the pending board of education subcommittee may decide to do,  according to Banzer.

Suffolk County Health Code states that violations are subject to fines not to exceed $2,000 for a single violation. The health department said that the matter has not gone beyond the warning letter stage. A proposed fine has not been calculated. 

Violations to the New York State Petroleum Bulk Storage regulations are subject to civil, administrative and/or criminal penalties up to $37,500 per violation per day. It’s unclear which entity enforces this law. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation directs all regulatory compliance issues for diesel fuel storage tanks to Suffolk County.  

The February 2019 inspection report also noted that the district could not prove that it had a current statement of insurance coverage to remediate spills if one would occur. The county said that most single station owners need to demonstrate $1.5 to $2 million in coverage. 

The county stated that it only reports the issue and does not enforce it.

In a last minute response to questions raised in this report, the district states that it has insurance coverage of $1 million for each occurrence for spills for the period July 1, 2019, to July 1, 2020. The coverage is also reportedly retroactive to July 1999 for the 15,000-gallon heating oil tank and to Feb. 18, 1994, for two 4,000-gallon diesel and gasoline tanks, the district stated.

Banzer stated that the district is unaware that it is in violation of laws governing petroleum bulk storage. 

The district provided a copy of its permit to operate a toxic or hazardous material storage site issued on July 1, 2019. The permit states that it is subject to compliance with provision of the Articles 12 & 18 of Suffolk County Code and 6 NYCRR Part 613.

 The Suffolk County Health Department said that it will conduct another inspection in December 2019. 

 

Students and parents address the board during a standing-room only board meeting Nov. 7, after air quality issues have resurfaced at Northport Middle School. Photos by David Luces

A day that began with over 60 parents and children participating in a “sickout” protest in front of Northport Middle School ended with a public meeting later that night, where the seven-member board of education unanimously voted to begin soil testing at the school. 

A packed crowd at the boarding meeting Nov. 7. Photos by David Luces

A crowd of concerned parents and community members packed into the standing room only public meeting at the William Brosnan School. Many parents voiced dissatisfaction about how the school district has been handling recent incidents with foul odors at the middle school, saying that soil and groundwater testing are long overdue.

Many people blamed illnesses, such as cancer, headaches, nosebleeds, mold infections and other serious diseases, on the school’s long history of air quality issues. 

Board President David Badanes and Superintendent Robert Banzer both reiterated to the crowd that according to experts, the middle school is safe for operations.

“Since 2017, we have made major capital and personnel improvements to the school and have corrected issues found in a 65-year-old building, as well conducted environmental testing and engaged experts from the Department of Health, the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center of Long Island and the Icahn School of Medicine,” Banzer said. “In their professional assessments, all have indicated that the middle school is safe for occupancy. Without the assurances of these professionals we would have not occupied the school.”

“In their professional assessments, all have indicated that the middle school is safe for occupancy. Without the assurances of these professionals we would have not occupied the school.”

– Robert Banzer

The district expects that soil testing and the creation of a subcommittee will quell any remaining concerns and help bring a divided community back together. 

The subcommittee will be made up of 10 members, which will include board trustees, parents, district staff and professional experts. Together they will work on an analysis and come up with parameters of the soil testing. 

The timetable for the subcommittee’s actions has already been established. On Dec. 12, recommendations will be given to the board identifying experts that will conduct soil testing and additional analysis. December through January, soil testing begins. January-February, assessment of soil testing results. By March, the district expects a final report, which will include recommendations given to the board.  

Parent Lauren Handler called on the board to stop utilizing the services of Hauppauge-based firm J.C. Broderick, which has come under scrutiny for some of its previous reports and findings at the middle school. 

She also asked for a comprehensive review of all previous testing done at the school, additional groundwater testing, cesspool testing, and investigating the environmental impact of the VA Hospital and Covanta among other things. 

“If any part of this testing cannot be completed, or if testing is completed and the source of the result cannot be identified and remediated, than this building should be closed,” Handler said. “If this request cannot be met, I’m asking the superintendent and board members to step down.”

 A number of speakers called on the board to consider appointing an independent broker to select the consultant and experts that will be on the committee. 

Tammie Topel, a former board member who served for six years, said she previously brought up health concerns to the board.

A Northport Middle School student addresses the board Nov. 7. Photos by David Luces

“I am a former board member and when I was on the board two years ago, I requested for soil testing more than once,” she said. “Especially during one of my final board meetings, when I learned two former students had developed aplastic anemia.”

Topel, a nurse by profession, said proposals to approve soil testing at the middle school were voted down twice during her tenure. 

“Why didn’t we do this two years ago?” she asked. 

A number of parents also accused the board of not being up front with information about student illnesses at the school.

“I’m alarmed and disgusted by some of these things I just learned recently,” Michael Figeroura, an emergency medical technician for the New York City Fire Department and parent, said. “I find it disgusting when kids are complaining that they have headaches or smelling metallic things, they go to the nurse and all that gets done is that they check their temperature.”   In addition, Figeroura criticized Timothy Hoss, Northport Middle School Principal, for his handling of the situation.

“Who tells them [the students] after he comes into the room that there’s nothing there … But miraculously 30 minutes later there’s an email, a text message and a phone call — that yes there was some type of smell in the air and that they are working on the ventilation systems,” he said. “I want something to be done, we absolutely need more testing now and later.”

He also called for better trained medical staff in the schools. 

“For a nurse to check the temperature of a child after they complained about metallic smells, it is unacceptable,” Figeroura said. 

Timothy Heck, an accountant and community member, was one of a number of individuals that proposed the idea of moving the middle school students to another building in the district, arguing that the district has the available space due to declining enrollment. 

“I did a rough estimate myself and I figured from the administrative and operation costs, it costs around $2.5 to $5 million to keep one of the schools open,” he said. “What makes sense to me is that you could close one of the schools down and move the kids to this building or one of the grade schools.”

Heck cited a 2015 demographic study done by the district, where they projected that about 502 students were expected to be enrolled in the middle school in 2024 compared to 2007 when it had a peak of 908 students. 

Similarly, at a board of education budget meeting in January, the district projected that the schools have lost nearly 1,165 students since the 2011-12 school year. 

It’s unclear if board members are considering that option. 

Three board of education trustees have been appointed to the committee: Vicky Buscareno, Larry Licopoli and Tom Loughran. If you are interested in being considered for the subcommittee please send an email to: boe@northport.k12.ny.us.

 

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By David Luces

Northport school administrators gave taxpayers their first glimpse at what potential issues the district will face as it starts to draft its 2019-20 budget.

Superintendent Robert Banzer gave his first overview of the Northport-East Northport school district’s preliminary budget for 2019-20 at the Jan. 24 board of education meeting. The highlights includes two large expenses to the district are expected to decrease based on his initial calculations, but the schools have a different challenge to contend with.

“I’m glad to see that the TRS went down and health insurance is less. Those two things escalated on us last year — and that was a challenge,”

— Robert Banzer

The superintendent said the district’s state-mandated employer contribution to the Teacher Retirement System is anticipated to drop from 10.62 down to somewhere between 9.5 and 8.5 percent, and health care insurance premiums are projected to decrease. 

“I’m glad to see that the TRS went down and health insurance is less,” he said. “Those two things escalated on us last year — and that was a challenge.”

For 2019-20, Banzer explained the district will be permitted to raise taxes by up to 3.22 percent and remain with the state-mandated tax cap. The number can raise above the often cited 2 percent for numerous reasons including tax-base growth and rollover from prior years.

The superintendent said the district’s officials will be mindful of trying to draft a budget that comes in at or below the cap.

“Potentially it will be 3.22 percent, but I hope that it is less and we save taxpayers some money,” trustee David Badanes said.

The district’s budget for the current year is $166,810,381. According to the superintendent, the budget amount has increased by around 1.5 percent each year since the 2013-14 school year. Over half the budget is attributed to personnel’s salaries, about a quarter of it is attributed to employee benefits, according to Banzer. 

Each year, the district’s budget is financed 80 percent through the district’s tax levy, which for the 2018-19 school year totaled approximately $146,0000. About 10 percent of the district’s revenue comes in the form of state aid, the district is currently projected to receive more than $16 million based on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) 2019 Executive Budget. Banzer noted that it is only a projected number, and one he hopes could be higher once the actual budget is passed.

There’s work to be done in between. There’s going to be opportunities for input.”

— Robert Banzer

One challenge the school district must face is how to deal with the continued declining enrollment. The superintendent projected the schools have lost nearly 1,165 students since the 2011-12 school year. 

“That’s pretty significant, a lot of it has been in the elementary level,” Banzer said. “Things are starting to level off there but now it seems like it is coming to the secondary level.”

Each year, the district’s budget is financed 80 percent through the district’s tax levy, which for the 2018-19 school year totaled approximately $146,0000.

The next Northport school board meeting dedicated to the 2019-20 budget overview will be March 7 at 7 p.m. in the William J. Brosnan School Building, located at 158 Laurel Ave. The district has approximately four months to refine the budget before the vote slated for May 21.

“There’s work to be done in between,” the superintendent said. “There’s going to be opportunities for input.”

Northport High School has replaced its wood bleachers, pictured above at a prior homecoming celebration. File photo

By Kevin Redding

The Northport-East Northport Tigers’ challenges this football season have given them a whole new perspective on why there’s no place like home.

On Saturday, Oct. 14, Northport-East Northport’s varsity football team will celebrate homecoming by stepping onto their own field for the first time this season after a recent announcement that the district has completed its thorough and long-proposed bleacher repairs.

The process of replacing the football field’s deteriorated wooden bleachers with new metal bleachers officially began in late August and ended Monday, Oct. 9. This was a period of frustration and uncertainty for many parents and players within the district as it forced the Northport Tigers to go to other fields for the first two home games of the 2017 season.

The team’s first home game in September was moved to Elwood-John H. Glenn High School. Their Oct. 1 game was relocated to Half Hollow Hills High School East’s field.

Northport High School. File photo

The new structures passed inspection with Texas-based LandTech Inc. at the helm of construction. Total cost for the project was more than $1 million, which came from the district’s general fund as well as state aid, according to school officials.   

“We’re going to be back on course for homecoming Saturday,” Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer said.

A former football player himself, Banzer claimed the stadium had the same wooden bleachers when he was there in the early 1980s. The upgraded bleachers are far less dangerous and were built in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I’m excited to have everybody see the work but, most importantly, to be at home,” he said. “It’s always a very fun time.”

Banzer and the school board initially approved the bleacher repairs in the 2015-16 budget, along with a variety of infrastructure projects throughout the district. But the construction couldn’t move forward on it right away as it faced a lengthy state approvals process.

The first opportunity the school district could seize to begin repairs was in late spring of this year prior to
graduation ceremonies. Banzer said he didn’t want to risk the job not being done in time for a large event. By the time the district hired LandTech to build the bleachers, the construction company was booked for most of the summer and couldn’t begin the project until a couple weeks into August.

School officials projected the bleachers would be finished by the team’s second home game, but as that proved to be overambitious, the community grew increasingly anxious that the job wouldn’t be done in time for homecoming. Some residents made sure their voices were heard.

“It’s a disgraceful, embarrassing, hurtful situation that in my opinion could’ve been avoided,” Mike Gozelski, president of the Northport Football Booster Club, said during the Sept. 28 board of education meeting. “We’re halfway through the season and the athletes, marching band, cheerleaders and the community have yet to set foot on our home field. It’s heartbreaking for most of us. Part of our anger comes from the fact that work on the bleachers didn’t start until August with football season starting in September. It’s negligent.”

Gozelski, a former Tiger, said for many seniors on the team, including his son, this season is the last chance they had to show their school pride in the stadium.

A previous Northport running back rushes across the football field. File photo by Bill Landon

“These kids practice for two hours a day and work hard 12 months a year to be able to play on this field,” he said. “You have to understand how disappointing this is for them.”

Banzer responded, explaining the school’s side of the situation to Gozelski, as well as about a dozen parents and football players in uniform in the room.

“I know it’s disappointing,” the superintendent said. “But we also wanted to make sure we provided the best product going forward. We just want the job to be done right.”

At the end of the exchange, the board said it was hopeful the bleachers would be ready to go for the district’s pep rally Oct. 13 and Oct. 14 homecoming.

Gozelski said he received the good news from the school’s athletic department on Monday morning.

“Now we’re going to be out there and opening up a brand new, refurbished Tigers stadium,” Gozelski said. “The players get to play, the band gets to play, the cheerleaders get to cheer and the community gets to see a good football game … and hopefully a victory.”

Gina Macchia-Gerdvil, a mother of two students on the team and a member of the Booster Club, was equally upset over the situation, believing the district should have replaced the bleachers after the football
season was over. She said up until Monday’s announcement, nobody was certain if homecoming would take place at home.

“I’m excited for all the kids,” Macchia-Gerdvil said. “My boys are in their second year on varsity and they haven’t had a chance yet to step into their stadium and see the big crowd and all the festivities.”

File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Widespread concerns over indoor air quality will keep the K-wing of Northport Middle School closed for the upcoming 2017-18 school year, Northport school officials announced.

On Aug. 9, Northport school district held a community forum to address parents concerned over what health risks may be posed to students in the classrooms where an earth science teacher reported smelling gasoline fumes in April. The fumes were said to be coming from a petroleum-based warehouse located beneath the K-wing. The materials have since been removed.

The most recent air-quality tests, performed July 22 by Hauppauge-based J.C. Broderick & Associates Inc., an environmental and construction testing firm, showed no hazardous concentration of chemicals in any of the samples. But four chemicals commonly linked to perfumes, natural rubber products, air conditioners and refrigerators, thermoplastics and latex paints were found in high concentrations — above the 95th percentile — in the K-wing corridor, rooms 74 and 75. These results were reported to the New York State Department of Health, according to J.C. Broderick & Associates’ report.

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer said the wing’s closure will not affect scheduled classes other than moving their locations, as students can be readily accommodated by reallocating use of existing classrooms.

The district has a plan of action in place to continue air-quality sampling throughout the building.

The high school football field, which currently floods easily during games. Photo from Northport-East Northport School District.

The Northport-East Northport school district is set to roll up their sleeves and get to work, as the community recently voted to approve a nearly $40 million bond to improve infrastructure, athletic and physical education needs, classrooms and more.

Residents voted Feb. 28 overwhelmingly to support the bond, with 2,802 yes votes to 1,025 no votes.

Superintendent Robert Banzer was pleased the community was behind the board in this endeavor.

“I thank all community residents who took the time to vote today and for their support of the referendum,” Banzer said. “Through this support, we will be able to make improvements that will enhance our instructional learning, upgrade our physical education and athletic facilities for students and the greater community, and make needed infrastructure improvements that are long overdue. As we move through the process of finalizing plans and submitting them to the State Education Department for approval, we will continue to keep the community updated on our progress.”

One of the boys bathroom stalls with urinals that no longer work. Photo from Northport-East Northport School District.

The $39.9 million bond has been in the works for more than a year, with committees touring school grounds and facilities to see which areas are in dire need of improvements, meeting with officials and administrators from other districts to see how they’ve tackled upgrades and more. The school board voted to approve the scope of the work in December, and then worked to educate the community on the project with building tours and community forums.

Half of the funds — $19.9 million — will be going towards infrastructure improvement. This includes repairing and replacing asphalt pavement, curbing, sidewalks and masonry; renovating bathrooms; upgrading classroom casework; renovating classroom sinks and counters; replacing windows and some ceiling areas at several buildings; and reconfiguring the south entrance of Northport High School.

The other 50 percent of the bond will be divided for classroom and security enhancements and athletic improvements.

Ten million dollars will go towards renovating three outdated science labs at East Northport Middle School, five at Northport Middle School and 10 at Northport High School; constructing a security vestibule at every school building; upgrading stage rigging and lighting at East Northport Middle School and replacing the auditorium stage floor at Northport High School.

For the first two scopes of work, the majority of the ideas came from the Capital Projects Committee, created in 2016 to review district buildings’ conditions.

For the athletic and physical education improvements, the Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee, formed in 2015, suggested most of the work.

Projects will include replacing the track and reconstructing the baseball and softball fields at East Northport Middle School; replacing the track and tennis courts at Northport Middle School; and renovating and redesigning the athletic fields at Northport High School, as well as installing a synthetic turf field at the high school’s main stadium and reconstructing the track and reconstructing Sweeney Field with synthetic turf.

According to the board, approximately 90 percent of the projects included in the proposed plan are eligible for New York State building aid at a rate of 28 percent, which would reduce the cost impact to local residents. The cost to the average taxpayer in the school district would be approximately $122 per year. To ease the cost to residents, the board has timed the project so a portion of the new debt created by the plan essentially replaces debt that expires in the near future.

Northport-East Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport school officials are crafting a budget for 2016-17 that would maintain all programs from the current year.

Superintendent Robert Banzer gave an update on the $160 million budget at the board meeting Thursday night, explaining the reason for the $1.8 million increase over the current year’s spending plan.

The rising costs are due mostly to staff changes and inflation, not new additions or programs, Banzer said, calling the budget “essentially” a rollover. But the district is expecting eight teachers to retire at the end of this year, and he expects that will save Northport money moving forward because new hires replacing the staffers will receive lower salaries.

The state-mandated cap on how much Northport can increase its tax levy is only 0.55 percent this budget season, according to Banzer, so non-tax revenues such as reserves and state aid will fund a majority of the budget increase.

Northport’s projection of how much state aid it will get next year, $13.9 million, would not cover that deficit. In fact, the district is expecting a 0.39 percent decrease in overall state aid, because the current year’s total had included funding to implement a full-day kindergarten program — funding that will not be repeated in 2016-17.

And it’s unclear how much the state will restore to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a deduction it began taking out of all school districts’ aid a few years ago to help close its own budget deficit.

“There has been a lot of discussion that there will be full restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which for us would be an additional $840,000,” Banzer said at the meeting. “We’re anticipating that by the end of the month, we will have a budget where we know what [the GEA restoration amount] will be.”

Banzer added that the district would hammer out the finer details of its revenue streams “as the picture becomes clearer and we have more information from the state.”

Trustee Regina Pisacani asked the superintendent if any suggestions the Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee — a group she spearheaded — gave in December are being considered for inclusion in the 2016-17 budget. Proposals for capital projects ranged from turf fields to updated lockers.

“I can’t help but think about the Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee, and the recommendations that they just made,” she said at the meeting. “Were those things looked at and recommended for this budget?”

Banzer said the projects would all be discussed, and that savings realized from the upcoming retirees’ salaries could possibly be used toward projects like those.

The district will have further budget meetings on the next few Thursdays in March, including March 10, 17 and 31, the last of which will provide an opportunity for public input.