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School Budgets

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Every day, as we watch the upheaval across the nation with protesters battling systemic injustice, it can all feel like society itself is embroiled in violence from Times Square in New York City all the way to the front lawn of the White House.

But here on Long Island, we have seen relative civility. We were happy to see the peaceful relationship between the Suffolk County cops on hand and the protesters in Port Jefferson Station June 1. We hope that peace continues into the future, but it also reminds us not to lose focus at the local level, as events could soon have massive impacts on local schools and could drastically impact the ability of residents to afford Long Island.

School districts will be tallying up budget and board of election votes June 9. This year, all residents will be required to send in absentee ballots, and their votes will likely count more than ever before.

This year’s school budget votes will set a precedent. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, voters will be required to complete a mail-in ballot and return to their school district’s official address by 5 p.m. June 9. Board of education and budget votes usually result in low voter turnout, but this year with everyone receiving a ballot in the mail and being able to cast their vote whenever they find the time, there could potentially be a landmark change in how many people vote.

The number of voters this year is something we’ll be interested in seeing. We and letter writers have expressed before on this page that voting for board of education members and on school district budgets are important in and of themselves as the cost of running schools accounts for a significant amount on local tax bills.

Our board of ed members are the people who make the decisions that not only affect students’ learning but also how they are protected as the pandemic leaves deep scars in the fabric of society. It seems like schools are constantly dealing with more and more issues. And now our BOE members will need to figure out how to best protect children and those who work with them from an invisible enemy, a virus that anyone can have and spread without even showing symptoms.

There will be tough decisions to be made this summer as to what our schools will look like this fall. Will there be a need for fewer children in each classroom leading to more teachers needing to be hired? Will there be more remote learning, and how can this virtual approach to teaching be refined?

Look at your school district to see how they are managing the economic impact. We have seen a myriad of interesting initiatives to lower the annual tax rate increase, but all residents have to understand that New York State may drastically impact district finances in the coming months with potentially drastic cuts to state aid.

What may seem like a small deed that can just be ignored is actually an important responsibility. Make sure you have received your absentee ballot for school elections — and stay home and vote.

SWR Assistant Superintendent Glen Arcuri talks to the school board about precautions the district has made toward COVID-19. Photo by Kyle Barr

With school district budgets and board elections on the docket for June 9 with an extension from New York State, this year’s crop of district spending and revenue plans have had to contend with many unknowns.

In fact, budgets may change from now until June 1, as the current pandemic holds much in the air. COVID-19, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) estimates, could result in approximately $61 billion less revenue for New York State from 2021 to 2024. The hope rests on the federal government supplying the state with emergency funding.

“It’s very, very hard to plan for the unknown,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations at the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District.

The governor has three look-back periods for revising state aid. The last period is Dec. 31.

Though one certainty is the start of next school year will weigh heavily on officials, as many still do not know when students will again walk through facilities’ doors.

Additionally, complicating this year’s votes is everything must be done outside of polling locations. Suffolk County Board of Elections, based on an executive order, will mail ballots to each residence with a prepaid return envelope.

There are still many unknowns, even as districts craft budgets. Nobody could say whether students will have a fall sports season, whether students would have to wear masks and remain apart in the classroom, or whether there will even be the chance for students to learn in-person, instead of online.

Numbers floated by Cuomo for state aid reductions have not inspired much hope. The governor said without state aid, school districts could see an upward of 50 percent reduction.

“A 50 percent reduction would be very painful for our school district, it would be insurmountable for any other school district,” said Port Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister.

All that comes down to whether the federal government will provide aid to the state for it to maintain current budget figures.

All budget information provided is the latest from the school districts, though if it does change based on any state decisions, an update to this article will appear in the June 4 issue.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai residents will see a marginal increase in budget but only a slight increase in taxes, despite the lingering question whether students will even be in school next September. The district voted to approve its budget at its May 18 board meeting.

The 2020-21 budget sees a $61,769,870 budget, a $760,100 and 1.25 percent increase from last year. The tax levy is set at $41,396,602, an increase of 1 percent and well below the 2.43 percent cap set by New York State.

The largest increases come in the form of operations and maintenance by just over $84,000 because of contractual obligations, as well as oil and electric increases. Employee benefits increased by $272,695, mostly from employee and teacher retirement requirements. 

“Every participant in the retirement system is given percentages based on the market performances from the comptroller’s office,” said board president Robert Sweeney.

Though much of the budget remains the same in presentations from the past 3 months, officials said that this year’s budget has had to account for the fact many, many residents have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. 

“Our community is not in the same financial position five weeks ago,” said Superintendent Gordon Brosdal.

A second proposition the district will ask voters to approve $1.2 million for capital projects from the reserves. This does not increase the tax levy.

Current projects still include continuing the high school roof replacement for $865,000, replacing the middle school water heater for $100,000, among others for a total of $1,200,000. 

The district is currently set to receive $17,653,079 in state aid this upcoming school year, a some $135,000 decrease from last year. Brosdal said it was due to decreased building aid from continuing to pay off loans and bonds from building projects.

Brosdal said the question of whether the governor will cut state aid, that is still up in the air, could mean massive upheaval for the district.

“He has talked about a further 20 percent school aid cut, which would be devastating, devastating,” Brosdal said. “Things are not what they were, this is a brand new game.” 

Should the state budget change mid-year, that would also cause issues for the district, the superintendent said, as they would then have to revise the budget midstream, potentially leading to staffing cuts and program changes.

Brosdal, who in his time working from home has grown a mustache since the start of quarantine, also added, “I need to go back to school because I need to shave.”

Mount Sinai will host its budget hearing June 2 at 8 p.m. A link to the online meeting can be found at mtsinai.k12.ny.us. Votes must be received by June 9 at 8 p.m.

Miller Place

For a budget that was originally meant to be displayed and voted on earlier this month, not much has changed between then and the pandemic which has pushed the vote back to May 9. 

The district adopted its budget at its March 17 emergency meeting, but has reallocated resources in order to better meet the needs of students as they handle distance learning, and potentially when they are allowed back into school buildings.

“We reviewed all of our expenditures reallocated from areas that we can regress,” said Superintendent Marianne Cartisano.

The budget for 2020-21 is set at $75,713,895, a $1,755,288 or 2.37 percent increase from last year. Though the district also cites using about a million dollars in capital project funding, which would mean this year’s increase is $754,612, or just over 1 percent.

The largest increases come from the usual suspects such as a $390,137 or 2.38 percent increase in employee benefits and a $134,659 increase in health insurance budget.

The district’s 2020-21 tax levy, or the amount of money the district raises through area taxes, is set at $47,616,059, which sits directly at the state tax cap limit for this year of 1.46 percent. It’s an increase of $687,471 from last year.

Miller Place’s state aid was set at $23,144,911, but the district also has leftover building aid of $792,666 and will be receiving an additional $208,010 for 2020-21. Cartisano said that million or so dollars came in response to the high school gym floor, which was remedied last September. Now that aid, along with saved funds, will be used to help offset any potential reductions in state aid, should the state revise its budget somewhere down the line. 

“It’s not an advantageous place to be in to have a huge unknown, but we are fortunate that we can plan for it — the school district is very financially solid,” the superintendent said. 

In terms of programming for this upcoming year, the district plans to continue with all current classes and clubs along with adding more time to middle school math labs and new courses of AP Calculus BC and non-regents chemistry. These two new courses are being funded by reallocation of resources and will only run if there are enough students enrolled. 

The budget also adds elementary sections in an effort to lower class sizes in the third, fifth and sixth grades. These sections were seeing an average of 26 students before, but that will be reduced to 22 or 24.

The district is also adding an extra 10 minutes of “specials” time in the elementary school, or the daily activities where one day may be gym and the next day art. These activities are going from 30 to 40 minutes for physical education, art, music or library time.

The district has also allocated for a 1 to 1 technology initiative with each student receiving a district laptop or otherwise electronic device, which will also go towards distance learning if state mandates remain in place. Going along with this thought, the high school will receive an additional 3:05 p.m. late bus for students who stay after school for extra help. In addition, the district is adding two counselors to expand mental health options and assist with the transition back to classes.

This is alongside an overall enrollment that continues on the gradual declining trend. May 2019 saw a size of 2,581 students. Next year is projected to have 2,531.

Miller Place is hosting its budget hearing May 26 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Residents can go to the district website millerplace.k12.ny.us/District to find the link. All mail in ballots must be received by 5 p.m. June 9.

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point Union Free School District adopted its budget at its May 19 board meeting, though the 2020-21 budget has seen some significant reductions since it was last seen by board members in April.

Things have changed since then, with a reduction in New York State aid resulting in an even larger cut in overall budget by some $2.1 million to the new 2020-21 total of $84,586,600.

The reductions in budget coincides with a loss of state aid funds compared to last year, seeing a reduction of nearly $1.5 million. 

Expenditure decreases are across the board to reach the reduced budget. This is also to reduce the budget thanks to a tax levy cap of just 0.08 percent this year, a figure Christopher Van Cott, assistant superintendent for business, said was due to expiring debt service, which is no longer allowed as an exclusion. The budget sets the tax levy, or the amount the district raises in area taxes, at $52,483,059, setting itself directly at the tax cap, and is a very slight increase from last year’s figure. 

Van Cott said the district is “taking a very conservative approach” toward this year’s budget, adding there will be cuts in several areas while still being able to maintain current instructional programming, along with athletic and cocurricular programs.

“We looked at staffing and enrollment, and made decisions based on that enrollment, looking for different ways to deliver the same service in more economical ways,” Van Cott said. “Despite fiscal challenges, and lack of guidance and the numbers we need from the state, we were able to achieve budget goals.”

There are cuts across the board, though the biggest decreases are from administration and central services, as well as a $250,000 decrease in athletics and PPS. Van Cott said the district plans to reduce the number of sports teams at the middle school level. Though not removing any sports from the roster, multiple sports that have two teams will be reduced to one, Van Cott said. 

The district is also planning to use the capital reserves to repave the front driveway area in front of the high school with a cost not to exceed $350,000. Rocky Point’s current reserve balance is set at $1,590,368. In a separate proposition to the budget, the district will be asking residents to vote to gain access to the funds. The capital reserve does not increase the tax levy. 

The potential the state could further reduce state aid is real, and Van Cott said the district is looking to use its capital reserves, along with the described expenditures reductions, to plug any holes that come up. If state aid does not decrease, he added some of those staff positions expected to make reductions in might not have to be.

Rocky Point is hosting its budget hearing June 2 at 6 p.m., but residents will also be mailed a budget brochure and six-day notice shortly after. That same document will be available at the district website May 26. Ballots are due by 5 p.m. June 9. 

File Photo

Shoreham-Wading River

SWR’s 2020-21 budget boasts it will maintain all current programming despite looming fears state aid will be cut in the near or distant future. The district adopted the revised budget at its May 19 meeting.

The district’s $77,164,774 budget is a 1.6 percent increase from last year’s $75,952,416. The year’s tax levy, or the amount of funds raised from resident taxes, would stand at $55,391,167, a $1,013,510 increase from 2019-20.

This tax levy represents an overall decrease from what the district showed in its March presentations by almost $300,000.

Though the district boasts its maintaining its programming, the overall cuts to the planned budget have left an impact. Recent program initiatives, including several new art, wellness, jazz band and world languages clubs, have been axed. The planned SWR 101 class, which would have been a new kind of basic overview class for incoming freshmen, is no longer on the table for the year’s budget. Replacement equipment for the Wading River school’s gym wall pads and outdoor basketball hoops, as well as middle school smart classroom furniture and high school volleyball standards will not arrive as originally planned. In addition, travel and conference funding will be reduced by 50 percent if the budget is approved.

Assistant superintendent Arcuri said those funds are being redirected to applying additional “structural” support for distance learning due to COVID-19, as well as additional sanitizing equipment and supplies. He added, optimistically, there’s a possibility if funding stabilizes bringing in these proposed clubs mid-year.

The budget relies on a $12,789,308 state aid package, which would be a $112,843 increase from last year. To make room for the very real potential the state could make cuts to state aid midyear in the fall, the district has placed certain items in the budget that would not be purchased before Dec. 31, including multiple infrastructure projects at Miller Avenue elementary and the middle school, as well as work on the districtwide grounds and asphalt repairs.  

“These are not items that are absolutely essential,” Arcuri said. “They are important to get completed, but they are not more important than losing instructional support or any student related program and/or any staff within the district.”

Of course, with so much still unknown, the district does not know if the approximately $5,235,229 of a $24,114,734 five-year contract with bus company First Student will even be used.

The district is planning to host its budget hearing presentation May 26. For mail-in ballots, all must be received in the clerk’s office by 5 p.m., June 9.

Comsewogue and Port Jefferson high schools. File photos

With school district budgets and board elections on the docket for June 9 with an extension from New York State, this year’s crop of district spending and revenue plans have had to contend with many unknowns. 

In fact, budgets may change from now until June 1, as the current pandemic holds much in the air. COVID-19, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) estimates, could result in approximately $61 billion less revenue for New York State from 2021 to 2024. The hope rests on the federal government supplying the state with emergency funding.

“It’s very, very hard to plan for the unknown,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations at the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District.

The governor has three look-back periods for revising state aid. The last period is Dec. 31.

Though one certainty is the start of next school year will weigh heavily on officials, as many still do not know when students will again walk through facilities’ doors.

Additionally, complicating this year’s votes is everything must be done outside of polling locations. Suffolk County Board of Elections, based on an executive order, will mail ballots to each residence with a prepaid return envelope. A household may contact the district clerks for more information about ballots.

There are still many unknowns, even as districts craft budgets. Nobody could say whether students will have a fall sports season, whether students would have to wear masks and remain apart in the classroom, or whether there will even be the chance for students to learn in-person, instead
of online.

Numbers floated by Cuomo for state aid reductions have not inspired much hope. The governor said without state aid, school districts could see an upward of 50 percent reduction.

“A 50 percent reduction would be very painful for our school district, it would be insurmountable for any other school district,” said Port Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister.

All that comes down to whether the federal government will provide aid to the state for it to maintain current budget figures. 

All budget information provided is the latest from the school districts, though it is currently subject to change. If it does, an update to this article will appear in the June 4 issue. 

File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson School District

The Port Jeff School District is for the most part staying to the course established by previous budget presentations. 

Next year’s budget is looking at a 1.83 percent increase from last year for a total of $44,739,855. This year’s tax levy, or the amount raised through property taxes, is $37,356,454, a $457,630 or 1.24 percent increase from last year.

The district is expecting to receive $3,863,212 in state aid, a marked increase of 2.54 percent from last year. However, district officials said while the amounts have been set, there is no word on whether the state will reduce those amounts midstream into next school year. 

“We’ll be working under a lot of uncertainty, from month to month to quarter to quarter,” Leister said. 

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said the district has been watching the “political push and pull” of state aid reductions closely. 

“The swing in what that state aid is, is concerning to us, and the difficult part is it’s an unknown,” she said. “I think that needs to be drawn upon. There is a lot of advocacy happening to make sure there is some federal money to help with this large deficit.”

Leister added that legislation allowing the district to put aside unspent money from this year into next year’s in excess of legal reserve limits would also help.

Leister said this year’s budget increases are mainly due to the standard labor agreement increases, an increase in the retirement contribution rate and a decrease in debt services. Continuing building improvements included in the budget are the second part of the security vestibule capital project, a new replacement retaining wall to the technical education building, a replacement to the middle school heating system. 

This year’s capital reserve will also be used for some of these projects, including $2 million for continuing work on the high school roof replacement project. 

In terms of reserves, the district expects to use $3.4 million, leaving $14.5 million in reserve at the end of next year. This could be used “to help offset a reduction in state aid,” Leister said. “This is our rainy day funds, and I would definitely classify that as a rainy day.”

Because of the ongoing glide path due to the LIPA settlement, the district will experience a 3.5 percent loss. This is compared to last school year, where the loss was 6 percent. As a result of this smaller loss, there will be an extra $48,185 in power plant tax revenue at $1,477,185.  

Enrollment is continuing on a downward path. In 2014, total enrollment sat at 1,197, which became 1,115 in 2018 and turns to 1,052 in 2020. Along those same lines, Port Jefferson is reducing staff by three teachers, and a total equivalent of five full-time employees overall. That is subject to change as scheduling goes on.

The district also provided estimates for tax rates based on a property’s assessed value. A home with a $12,500 assessed value could expect a $20,466 bill at the 3.5 percent tax rate. On the lower end, a home assessed at $1,600 would see a $2,620 bill. The budget hearing will be hosted May 12 at 7 p.m.

Ballots must be returned to the district clerk’s office no later than 5 p.m. June 9.  Should additional ballots be required at a residence, the district clerk can be contacted by either email at [email protected] or by phone at 631-791-4221.

Comsewogue High School

Comsewogue School District

Comsewogue district officials said they are taking their savings from not operating to the same extent the last few months and, instead of putting it into the fund balance, are carrying it over to next year, boasting that doing so results in a 0 percent tax increase.

District residents will be asked to vote on two propositions, one is the budget of $96,635,581 and the other is take $1,500,000 from the capital fund and use it for high school improvements including two synthetic turf fields for baseball and softball, high school boiler room HVAC repairs and otehr classroom renovations. 

Associate Superintendent Susan Casali said the district is allocating an additional fund balance from operational savings from the closure of the buildings to this year’s budget, resulting in the no tax increase. Last year’s $57,279,755 tax levy, or the amount the district raises from area taxes, will then be this year’s as well.

Despite this, the budget largely remains the same from the district’s March presentations. The $96.6 million budget is an increase of 2.8 percent or $2,660,826.

“We still have to plan,” Casali said. “We’re assuming currently we’ll be opening on time in September.” 

Overall, programming is set to remain the same, the associate super said. The biggest budget increases come from instructional costs, with $819,111 extra going to regular school instruction and an additional $803,412 for special education. The district is adding one full-time psychologist/social worker and one other full-time employee to the technology department.

The district is also adding an additional section to the fourth grade at Boyle Road Elementary.

In terms of state aid, the district is seeing a planned reduction of approximately $150,000, or -0.5 percent to $32,550,000. Last year the district received $32,700,000.

The question of whether or not the district will even receive the full amount of this reduced sum still depends on whether or not the state will hold onto its current budget. 

Due to the rampant change in schedules for the actual budget and board of education vote, this year Comsewogue will be hosting its budget hearing June 1, with the actual vote scheduled for a week later, June 9.

Ballots must be given or posted for receipt by the clerk’s office in the state-issued return envelope by 5 p.m. June 9. Casali said it’s best for residents to catch the mail by June 2 to make sure it arrives on time.

This post was amended May 26 to better clarify the mail in ballots.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai parents will begin to see portions of the school district’s 2020-21 proposed budget figures in the next few months. At a Jan. 15 board of education meeting, district officials unveiled 12 percent of the budget, which included central administration, insurance, central printing, BOCES, transportation, technology and debt services among others. 

The tentative total budget figure for 2020-21 looks to be $61,009,700, a slight increase from last year’s number. 

Board of education/central administration costs would be increasing by $19,000 in the upcoming school year. 

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said the chunk of that increase would go into costs for an additional budget vote and cover the translation of all documents/public notices into Spanish. That would cost the district $14,000. 

“It is a state mandate that hit us and other districts this year,” he said. “Any election/public notices has to be translated into Spanish. The state says we have to do this, but they are not giving us any money to do this.”

Another mandate that will be implemented is the addition of a data protection officer in response to a number of school districts experiencing hacks last year. 

Purchasing cost will increase by $2,050 in 2020-21 due to the district utilizing a co-op organization that assists in securing materials and supplies. 

“We have been using Educational Data Services — they do a lot — they work with vendors and we don’t have to do the bidding,” Brosdal said. “In the long run it will save us money.”

Technology will see an increase of over $65,000, in part due to the district getting rid of antiquated equipment as well as adding sets of laptops, replacement items like projector lamps, printer repairs, iPads and smart board parts. 

Tax Anticipation Notes for 2020-21 are estimated at 3 percent. Debt services would decrease by over $6,000. Central printing, insurance, BOCES administration will increase collectively by $22,000. 

The next budget meeting will be Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. Topics discussed will be pupil personnel services, building principals, instructional and adult ed/driver’s ed.