By Andrea Paldy
Though much is still uncertain about the coming school year, Three Village plans to build on the success of this year’s full September reopening.
To achieve this, the administration has forecast a 2021-22 budget that will pierce the 1.37 percent cap on the tax levy increase. At last week’s school board meeting, Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, outlined a proposed budget of about $222.6 million, based on a tax levy increase of 1.85 percent.
The deputy superintendent said that in opening schools to all students five days a week last September, Three Village managed something that “almost no school district anywhere — not just on Long Island or in New York” has been able to do. “And it wasn’t that we just happened to get lucky.”
Pointing to the work of staff, students and parents, he added, “It was a real team effort, and it also cost a lot of money.”
That led the district to spend $6.5 million in COVID-related expenses this school year. About $4 million covered additional instructional staff for smaller classes, allowing students to keep six-foot distancing within classrooms, Carlson said. It also meant that over time, entire classes did not have to quarantine when someone was diagnosed with the coronavirus and that the district did not have to close down any buildings. The school district also increased spending for cleaning supplies, additional custodial staff, desk shields, Chromebooks and personal protection equipment, Carlson said.
The district also offered fully remote instruction for students who weren’t ready to return to in-person learning this year. The administration plans to offer “some sort of” remote program at least at the beginning of the upcoming school year, Carlson said.
Though the state aid package to the district decreased this year, state legislation allowed school districts and local governments to borrow from their reserves to pay for pandemic-related expenses. However, this same legislation also requires that the funds be repaid within five years. So next year’s budget also includes funds to pay back about $800,000 to the district’s reserves, Carlson said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) preliminary budget for next year proposes another reduction in state aid to Three Village. District officials hope, however, to receive an allocation of funds from the federal stimulus. Even so, the school board and administration are planning beyond the stimulus money, Carlson said. In the past, federal money has been temporary, he said, citing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. What followed from 2010 to 2016 was New York State’s Gap Elimination Adjustment, which took money out of school aid to help plug the hole in the New York State budget. Carlson said Three Village lost $32.4 million in state aid over those years and had to make a number of costly cuts to staffing and programs.
Carlson also explained that because the school board wanted to cover the costs of a full reopening and prepare for the future, it was willing to go above the cap as long as the increase remained below 2 percent.
The cap on the tax levy increase has often been called the “2 percent cap,” because the law was meant to cap tax increases at two percent, or the consumer price index — whichever was lower. However, the cap varies year-to-year and district-to-district, because it is based on a formula that also takes into account other criteria such as a district’s tax base growth factor and allows for certain exclusions that can push the increase above 2 percent.
While a budget within the tax cap would cost the average taxpayer an additional $164 a year, the proposed budget would add about $222 — $58 more — to the average tax bill, Carlson said.
Because the budget is above the cap, it must receive a supermajority, or 60 percent approval, to pass. The budget vote will take place Tuesday, May 18.
In other news, the board updated a number of policies in compliance with the state. Among them, said Alan Baum, executive director of human resources and secondary curriculum, is a policy making all public single-occupancy bathrooms gender neutral, as well as one that shifts learning standards to the Next Generation Standards and includes provisions for equity, inclusion and diversity. The new policies also provide guidelines for selecting textbooks — which now include resources that are not physical — that fairly represent the many ethnic, cultural and religious traditions that contribute to American heritage, Baum said.
Also adopted is an updated policy for safety plans to ensure continuity of instruction in case of events like a pandemic, as well as a new policy for pandemic planning. Professional development will shift toward “professional learning.” The policy also includes a provision for “culturally responsive professional learning” for staff.
Board president Inger Germano will resign at the end of the month to take the position of Three Village school district clerk. She is replacing Kathleen Sampogna, who is retiring.
Germano first ran for the board in 2011 and was pro tempore district clerk for nine years. In a statement she read to the board, Germano said it has been a great privilege to serve and that she looks forward to continuing to serve the community and the district in another role.