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Final Push Made For School Budget

Merits of proposed $107 million budget stressed,

along with district’s standing compared to others

It’s two weeks and counting until Garden City residents will head to the polls and vote on the proposed 2013-14 school budget. May 21 is the date, mirroring the rest of Nassau County’s public school districts.

At a public hearing at the high school on Tuesday, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen once again gave a detailed explanation on the proposed $107 million budget, explaining why voters should say ‘yes’ on the 21st.

“[Passing this budget] will help give students the skills, understanding and habits of mind that they need to be confident in their studies, and go on to great things when they leave us and become good citizens,” Dr. Feirsen said.

To recap, next year’s proposed budget stands at $107.6 million. That is a roughly $3.3 million increase from this year’s, reflecting a 3.19 percent tax levy increase. Over 74 percent of the budget goes directly to programs benefiting students, with the rest going toward administrative and capital costs.

“The challenge is to develop a budget that balances the desire to maintain the excellence for which our school district is known... address the changing needs of the 21st century, while at the same time produce a proven budget that’s within the community’s ability to support it,” Feirsen said.

Driving the budget increase are increases in pension and health insurance costs, and to minimize the impact, the district has undertaken many cost control initiatives. These include the reduction or consolidation of several positions, green initiatives, and seeking the continued support from the PTA, SEPTA, and other community organizations. Also, the plan is to apply a $2.8 million fund balance at the end of the year to the new budget to offset property taxes.

While highlighting the proposed budget, Dr. Feirsen made it a point to stress just exactly where Garden City schools stand compared to other districts, and how the district will continue to provide a strong return on the community’s investment.

Some of the facts highlighted at the meeting:

- 98 percent of students go on to higher education, with 90 percent attending a four-year college.

- The district is ranked number one in the state for percentage of students enrolled in AP courses.

- The high school, middle school, along with Stratford and Stewart have all been honored by the U.S. Department of Education as a “School of Excellence.”

- The high school and middle school have been designated as reward schools by the state based on academic achievement.

Financially, it was explained that Garden City schools provide more bang for the buck, with a per-pupil cost of $17,521. That’s significantly less than the likes of Locust Valley, Jericho, and Great Neck, to name a few.

In terms of state aid per-pupil, Garden City receives less than many neighboring school districts, coming in at $1440. Herricks, for example, receives over $2500 per pupil.

A simple majority is required for the budget to pass on May 21. Should the budget fail to pass, the board could ask for a second vote, or go to an austerity budget, meaning less money, and hence, cuts in vital programs districtwide.

The amount residents would have to pay in school taxes varies. The district has set up an online tool to better help figure what one would pay, available at the Garden City School District website.