Lowered tax levy increase allows district to deliver classroom upgrades, restored programs, positions
By Andrea Moore Paldy
It was welcomed news for Three Village residents when they learned the community’s school district lowered its projected tax levy increase for the upcoming school year. The good news continued with the balancing and lowering of class sizes and restoration of some programs that fell victim to previous budget cuts.
The announcement came at the district’s most recent board meeting, during which the Three Village school board adopted a $188 million budget for the 2015-16 school year. Three Village will be able to lower the tax levy increase because of a $1.65 million bump in aid — $830,000 more than previously budgeted — assistant superintendent for business services Jeff Carlson said. Originally set at 2.93 percent, the district’s new cap on the tax levy increase is 2.79 percent.
Aid from the state includes a $1.86 million restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a measure that deducts money from aid packages to fund the state’s budget. Three Village will still see a loss of $3.3 million to the state. Over the six years since the institution of the GEA, the district has lost $32,422,271 — the equivalent of $2,398 for the average taxpayer, Carlson said.
While the .81 percent budget-to-budget increase works out to about $1 million more in expenses, the tax levy will go up $3.89 million. This is because the district will be depending less on its applied fund balance, Carlson said. Instead of budgeting $6.5 million from the district’s reserves, Carlson said last month that he would budget only between $2 million and $2.5 million.
Decreases to major expenses like contributions to retirement systems and healthcare are also responsible for the district’s positive financial forecast. Next school year, Three Village will see a $3.6 million drop in its retirement contributions and a $1 million decrease — that’s 5 percent — in its health insurance costs.
Three Village also benefits from increased revenue from tuition for non-residents attending its special education programs and the Three Village Academy. This year’s tuition generated $1.2 million.
Though declining enrollment in the elementary schools would allow the district to shed seven to eight teaching positions, the administration is choosing to balance class sizes instead.
“We believe in the importance of balancing class size and lowering those class sizes that are in the 25, 26, 27 range,” Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said. “It is not helpful in any way to our younger students.”
Three classroom positions, along with the two positions from the Pi enrichment program that ends this year, will be converted to STEM specialist positions.
“Enrichment should be for all children in grades K through 6,” Pedisich said.
The appointed science and math specialists will be in each school to work with classroom teachers and provide both enrichment and remediation for students who need it, she added.
The administration is adding another .9 full-time equivalent (FTE) position, so that health — currently only offered to sixth graders — can be taught to fourth through sixth graders. And an additional .5 FTE social worker position is being added so that each elementary school can have a full-time social worker.
This move is “critical to issues such as bullying” and preventative work, Pedisich said.
There will be small staffing increases at the junior and senior highs to balance classes, decrease study halls and increase electives, she said. Carlson said the cost for these additions will be covered by retirements.
Departments that will benefit include technology, English, foreign language, guidance, health, math, science and social studies.
The American Sign Language class, which was popular before it was cut two years ago, will again be offered by the foreign language department, while a computer programming class will be added to the math department. The district will also add 1.2 FTEs for English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers — to comply with a new state mandate — and it will add another 1.3 FTE to guidance for counseling.
There will be additions to the clerical staff, as well as to maintenance and operations, in order to lower overtime costs and outside contractors, Carlson said. There will also be additional security during the day and for evening activities, he added.
The superintendent said that the district will restructure its current administration to create new roles without the need for additional staff. Some positions expected to be restored include the coordinating chair for music, an assistant director for health and physical education, an assistant director for pupil personnel services, coordinating chair for junior high foreign language and district-wide ESL and an assistant director for instructional technology.
The assistant director for instructional technology will help the district prepare for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, as well as help determine how to spend the money Three Village receives from the Smart Schools Bond that passed in November. The $2 billion bond is earmarked for pre-K classrooms, wireless and broadband systems, safety and security technology and classroom technology across the state. Carlson said the district’s share will be close to $3.4 million.
An approved government efficiency plan that shows a 1 percent savings to the tax levy — while also staying within the tax cap — will make residents eligible for another tax rebate check, Carlson said.
The budget vote will take place from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., May 19 at the district’s elementary schools.
In other news, the board voted to reappoint the superintendent for another three years.
“I have to say, never in all my years have we had a superintendent of schools as respected and beloved by this community as Cheryl Pedisich,” said school board President Bill Connors, who has served on the board for 15 of the past 21 years.
Pedisich, who started in Three Village in 1984 as a guidance counselor at Ward Melville High School, was visibly moved by the standing ovation she received.
“I really am very overwhelmed,” she said. “I have spent my entire career here and I could not think of a place I would consider going…. My heart and my soul belong to this community, and you definitely have me 110 percent.”