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BOE Opposes County’s Assessment Cost Shift Plan

The Nassau County Executive’s proposal to shift a portion of multi-year tax certiorari settlements to school districts met with opposition at last week’s special meeting during a work session of the Garden City Board of Education. The school board unanimously passed a resolution formally objecting to the county’s action in repealing the Nassau County Tax Refund Guarantee, which holds school districts harmless from payments of property tax claims.

As one of only two counties that perform assessments statewide, Nassau County received permission through a special act of the New York State Legislature to perform property assessments in 1938, according to Garden City Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen. As a result, the county assumed responsibility for paying the claims of any successful certiorari suits, which are initiated to say that an individual or property owner’s tax assessment is wrong. Feirsen maintained that the bulk of the claims go to businesses that file as being over assessed. “The county, over the years, has accumulated a substantial amount of debt trying to payback assessment taxes that are refunded to individual business as a result of over assessments,” Feirsen said.

Dr. Feirsen noted that the assessment issue was used as a “major part of the political campaign for county executive last year.” He said the current county executive came into power on a platform of fixing the broken assessment system. “Apparently from my point of view, the way he [Mangano] has decided to fix it is by getting rid of it and putting off the entire burden onto municipalities and school districts,” Feirsen said, adding “What that means if the county can do this and get out from under its debt by forcing them, school districts will be responsible for paying tax refunds and certiorari suits. This could be millions of dollars. Our school district does not have any reserve funds set up for this and the danger to school districts’ budget is significant.” Feirsen further stated that it is the school districts that will bear the majority of the financial burden. “The resolution puts the board squarely behind other school districts that have said this is really a cost shifting. We spoke about this during budget time there have been attempts by the state and the county to cost shift on the school district, saving no one any money, just putting the bill in a different place,” Feirsen said.

School Board Vice President Barbara Trapasso voiced her concern that the amount of debt would fluctuate from year to year. “That money has to come out of something from the budget to put in this fund that has to be established,” Trapasso said. She inquired how the school district could set up a system to pay for the debt. Dr. Feirsen said that none of the Nassau County districts have ever had to face this and Garden City School District would need to begin accumulating funds if the legislation passed.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Albert Chase said that the county makes assessments and the County Board of Assessors sets the rules and makes the decisions on the assessments and appeals. Chase also stated that there would be little impetus for the Board of Assessors to deny an appeal if the school district will pay for it. School Board President Colleen Foley also commented the issue. “It politicizes the process even further if they’re not accountable for the money,” she said.

In other school news, the primary school report cards have been revamped in order to bridge the gap between the instructional practices and what the school was reporting. Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum/Instruction Dr. Teresa Prendergast explained why the new documents were needed. “The purpose of a new reporting system is basically to give parents more accurate feedback in terms of their child’s performance as well as behaviors with regard to areas that support the learning process,” she said.

Hemlock School Principal Audrey Bellovin and Dr. Suzanne Viscovich, the principal of Homestead School, presented an overview of the primary report card changes, comparing the current report card and the revised report card. Bellovin told the board the last time there was a change to report cards was 10 years ago and said the process began by collecting samples of report cards from comparative districts and by forming a committee consisting of parents, teachers and administrators from all schools. Bellovin went on to say that the committee then identified constituent groups that needed to be informed of the progress and determined the venues to articulate the development of the document.

Subcommittees for special area subjects were created and language was refined in content areas. This past spring, the Committee communicated the expectations of the Garden City instructional program to the parents and developed a curriculum guide that was distributed to parents.

On the revised report card, the overall level of performance is graded as 1. Beginning; 2. Developing; or 3. Proficient. The proposed report card offers levels of performance 1. Below the Standards; 2. Approaching the Standards; 3. Meeting the Standards and 4. Exceeding the Standards. It also offers a separate category for Effort: I is for Improvement Needed; G for Good; and E for Excellent.

Science and Social Studies were not previously reported on for kindergarten. The system will include those subjects and provides parents with a more detailed description of their child’s understanding of art, library, music and physical education. Personal Growth and Work Habits categories will provide additional remarks on a child’s social emotional development and behaviors.

Changes will also be implemented for reading with a new four level rubric with descriptors at each level. The new report cards will look at literacy as a continuum and not a random set of skills. The four levels will be determined as follows: Level 1. Emergent; 2. Early Beginner; 3. Advanced Beginner; and 4. Early Independent.

Dr. Feirsen said the new report card system was one of the district’s goals that was established 18 months ago. He noted that the process of revision was complex and took a lot of time and commitment from the committee. Feirsen explained that the new and improved product makes the process of accessing student progress a little bit easier because now there is a well-defined standard. He said, “It tends to even out the playing field across grade levels and across the school district.” He further added that parents can be reassured that students at both Hemlock and Locust Schools will now be evaluated by the same criteria. Dr. Feirsen added that elementary school report cards will be next to be revamped.

Presentations of the new report card will be shown at both daytime and evening PTA meetings at the primary schools and at joint Primary PTA meeting on Oct. 27. Instead of two times a year, report cards will begin being distributed three times a year starting on Dec. 10, 2010.