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Superintendent Presents Final Refinements of 2011/12 School Budget

Superintendent of Garden City Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen wrapped up the final school budget presentations during the last board of education meeting in March. During the budget discussion, Feirsen proposed the restoration of the Junior Varsity Golf Team at the high school and said he will heed the board’s suggestion to reconsider his recommendation to increase class size at the elementary school level.

As in all the previous work sessions, Dr. Feirsen explained that every Long Island school district presents their budgets a little bit differently. He maintained that questions and comments from the board and community are an important and valuable part of the democratic process and said nothing is set in stone. “We do in this district a very thorough analysis… Nothing here is a fait accompli,” he explained. “We start working on the budget at pretty much the beginning of the school year,” Feirsen said.

Among the superintendent’s newest amendments was eliminating his previous recommendation to the board to drop a head coach for the JV Golf Team after questions and concerns arose from the community. “As I say this is an open process and we’re open to that process. When the facts change, we change our minds. The facts have changed,” he said.

According to Feirsen, one major fact that has changed is that the golf courses in the Garden City community have stepped up and offered to defray green fees and transportation costs. “That was a significant expense and that was part of the recommendation to eliminate the program because it was an expensive program for a relatively small number of students,” he said. He also offered thanks to members of the community who took initiative to help in the matter.

Board President Colleen Foley asked the administration to consider the impact of purchasing only two of the three 66-passenger buses that are slated in the capital projects budget. Feirsen said New York State has strict inspections for school buses. “We’ve been trying to keep our rolling stock in good condition, but they are subject to wear and tear,” Feirsen said.

Superintendent of Finance Albert Chase informed the board that six buses of the district’s fleet are more than 20 years old and out of those six, the administration is recommending to replace three of them. There are also 32 buses that are over 10 years old.

“They are maintained well,” Chase said. “I think it jeopardizes us for the future,” he added.

At a previous budget session this year, Feirsen recommended an increase in the class size guidelines of one at the elementary school level. Currently the class size guidelines require a maximum of 25 students to a section in grades one to six.

During a previous board meeting, Dr. Fino Celano, assistant superintendent for personnel, explained that increase in a class size cap will only affect next year’s grade three and next year’s 2011-12 grade four at Stratford. Total enrollment anticipated for next year would be 159 at Stratford Primary School. The average class size would be 26.5 with six sections. That would mean three sections of 26 and three sections of 27.

During the meeting, Board of Education members and residents asked Dr. Feirsen to reconsider the administration’s previous proposal. Vice President Barbara Trapasso stated that maintaining class size is something that is very important to the community. “I would ask you to look deep and see where additional cuts are to be made,” she said.

“I am thinking that maybe this year we have to forgo a bus and keep the class size small,” she said, adding, “It means a lot to the community and it means a lot to me and my board members.”

Foley also asked for clarification as to why there is a need for three FTE guidance counselors at Garden City Middle School. Gina Christel, the director of guidance at the middle school, addressed the board’s concerns by explaining the importance of each and every counselor at the middle school level.  “Our average caseload is 346 [students]. If we were to take a counselor away, our caseload would be 512 for one counselor, 513 for the other counselor. So the sheer numbers would be tremendous,” Christel said.

Christel maintained that there are many important issues that counselors are dealing with among pre-‘tweens and teens. “There are lots of different things that would happen that would impact the entire middle school model that we feel would be detrimental,” she added.

The 2011/12 preliminary school budget includes an overall budget of $101,117,058, with a budget-to-budget increase of $3,128,568 or 3.19 percent. The projected tax levy increase (with STAR) is 2.71 percent.

Residents still have a chance to participate in the budget process. A budget hearing will be held on Tuesday, May 10 and the budget vote will take place on Tuesday, May 17.