Three Village starts budget talks with open seat

Three Village starts budget talks with open seat

Jeff Carlson outlines budget figures. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

As school districts begin to move into budget-planning season, the Three Village board will be making decisions with one less board member.

Susanne Mendelson, a trustee since 2010, resigned Wednesday night, saying she wanted to focus on her master’s program in speech language pathology. Her term expires at the end of June.

As far as the budget goes, the forecast looks good and will include staff increases. Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services, told school board members that there will be no reductions to programs and services in a bid to meet the cap on the tax levy increase.

While the cap for the 2016-17 year is 2.41 percent, state aid will increase by $4.4 million, Carlson said. Of that increase, $2.9 million is building aid that is tied to the district’s construction bond, which was passed in 2014. Carlson said that the final number on state aid usually increases with the approved state budget.

Even so, New York school districts are still losing aid to the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a measure that deducts money from aid packages to fund the state’s budget. Though the State Senate has voted to eliminate the GEA, the Assembly has yet to vote on the bill. Three Village expects to lose $2.3 million to the GEA for the coming school year. This is down from last year’s $3.3 million. Since the inception of the GEA, the district has lost $34.7 million in aid, which is about $2,576 for the average taxpayer, Carlson said.

He said the plan for next school year includes decreasing dependency on the assigned fund balance, money left over from the previous year and used as revenue to balance the current budget. Currently, $2 million is being used from the fund balance, a decrease from the previous year. Carlson explained that by decreasing the sum allocated from the assigned fund balance, the district will save more money to handle budgetary issues that might arise due to “tax cap issues.”

At the end of the 2015 fiscal year, the district had $17.4 million in its unassigned fund balance — a “rainy day” fund for emergencies — and restricted funds — money designated for specific uses such as workers compensation and unemployment insurance funds.

The continued decline in enrollment at the elementary level — the district anticipates 110 to 120 fewer students — means that 3.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) teaching positions will be reassigned to math academic intervention services (AIS), based on need, at the five elementary schools, Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said.

The secondary level will see an increase of 1.6 FTE positions to rebuild the business department and put back courses such as virtual enterprises and web design. Those “reflect 21st century learning,” Pedisich said. There will also be a .4 increase for American Sign Language.

Additionally, the district plans to add computer science instruction and writing centers at both junior highs. Pedisich said the approximately 60-student decline will mean that existing staff can cover the new programs. The writing center at the high school will get additional staff, a .4 FTE increase. The district will also bring in a technology lead and a special education mentor/behavioral consultant.  Neither of those positions will require additional staffing.

Other staffing changes include a floating nurse — one FTE — an assistant director of facilities, and an addition of 2 FTEs for clerical staff.

Carlson explained that improvements to buildings and property are excluded from the tax cap so that they don’t compete with educational programs. Proposed projects for the next school budget year include reconfiguring the Setauket Elementary School bus loop for better traffic flow, adding air conditioners to the elementary school auditoriums and junior high cafeterias and a generator at W.S. Mount Elementary School.

The budget is set to be adopted on April 13 and the hearing is scheduled for May 4. The public will vote on the budget and select a replacement for Mendelson on May 17.

Mendelson read her resignation letter early in the meeting.

“I have always valued public education and have worked enthusiastically to help ensure that the students of today and tomorrow will have at least — if not more than — what my peers and I were privileged to experience here in Three Village,” she said as she read her letter.

“I must lead by example, and make my own education paramount at this time.”

Mendelson, who has a son in junior high, promised to remain involved with the district as both a parent and a member of the community.