Written by Ronna Telsey Friday, 07 May 2010 00:00
On Tuesday, May 18, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., at the E. M. Baker Elementary School and the William A. Shine-South High School, qualified residents of the school district will be asked to vote on the: 2010–11 School District Budget (Proposition No. 1); 2010–11 Public Library Budget (Proposition No. 2); One Board of Education Seat (incumbent Fran Langsner is running unopposed).
Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz said, “Our school board is responsible for establishing a school district budget that provides the best education possible and, at the same time, is responsive to the pressures on all segments of our community. These are difficult days, never experienced in many of our lifetimes. Since July, we have been examining every cent and have come up with a tight budget that does not compromise educational programs and the value we place on them, yet is mindful of the economic downturn. Although painful, we are meeting the challenges head-on. As a result, we have found ways to cut more than $5 million from the budget without the loss of quality and services to children. Roughly three quarters of every dollar in the budget is allocated for instruction, which is our first priority. Class size will remain low and will not exceed the limits that were established in 1984. We have tremendous concern about the impact of taxes on our residents and we are grateful for their continued support of public education in our community.”
Board Vice President Fran Langsner added, “We have retained what is important to provide an excellent education. With creative thinking, we have kept the cuts as far away from children as possible.”
Board Trustee Donald Ashkenase said, “Natural inflation would have increased our budget by more than $9 million, which would not have been fiscally responsible. We asked administration to cut everything it reasonably could to bring the inflation increase down to the lowest possible level. This difficult process was a team effort that had the full cooperation of the school administrators and parents. It resulted in reducing what would have been over a 5 percent increase to a 2.16 percent increase, which is at the low end of year-to-year increases in the County. We’ve come as close to a zero-based budget as possible. The budget we are presenting reflects the balance between the economics faced by the community and the value we place on public education.”
After extensive public discussion and input, during a lengthy and open budget process that started in our schools, the Board has adopted the Proposed School Budget in the amount of $189,547,240 for the 2010–11 school year. The increase over last year’s budget is 2.16 percent—this budget-to-budget increase is the lowest in 11 years. The increase in the amount to be raised by real property tax is 2.89 percent.
Almost all of the budget increase is for mandated items not controlled by the school district, such as the hefty new MTA commuter transportation tax imposed by New York State this year, Social Security, pension funds, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, health insurance, and Medicare reimbursements.
The major reductions in the budget, totaling more than $5 million, will have the least impact on the instructional program (which remains at more than 73 percent of the budget). These include:
elimination of one position in central administration.
elimination of the position of environmental-safety consultant.
retirement of 34 long-time employees (Tiers I & II) who opted for a retirement incentive offered by the school district.
reduction of 10.40 elementary teachers and 11.46 secondary teachers.
reduction of hourly teachers, teaching assistants, paraprofessional monitors, clerical staff members, coaches, and cleaners.
reduction of elementary before-school enrichment and academic-enrichment programs.
reduction of elementary and secondary intramurals.
reduction of technology projects.
In addition, school district administrators initiated a voluntary wage freeze for the 2010–11 school year and wage increases by all other employee units have been held down significantly. Also, user fees for K-12 summer programs and the Adult Program have been increased.
In Nassau County, boards of education are not legally permitted to set actual tax rates and assessments of property. This is done by the County, based on its assessed valuation of property. To minimize the impact of the County’s shift of property tax burdens to homeowners and away from businesses and utilities, the Great Neck Board of Education has been proactive in promoting legislation to eliminate the shift or to cap the increases caused by the shift to 1 percent (rather than the 5 percent allowable by law).
While there is no meaningful way to predict what impact the tax-rate increase will have on an individual’s property tax, our Class I (homeowner) school tax rate continues to be the second lowest of the 62 school taxing districts in Nassau County.
An annual independent audit of every public school district is required by State Education Law/Commissioner of Education Regulations. The certified public accounting firm of Coughlin Foundotos Cullen & Danowski, LLP, our independent auditor, consistently presents extremely favorable reports on our management of finances, emphasizing our strong financial position, including wise investments and an excellent control system of checks, balances, and procedures supported by Board of Education policies. Ms. Langsner said, “Over the years, all of our external and internal audits have validated the extreme care our business department takes in making sure our tax dollars are spent wisely. Our books are always open for oversight by the taxpayers.”
The school district is required to provide a substantial number of mandated services imposed by the Federal, State, and County governments without sufficient aid to meet their costs. As a result, significant associated costs must be borne by the district. Ms. Berkowitz said, “The situation with regard to unfunded mandates is urgent. We are fighting them tooth and nail.”
Our State aid is far behind where it was 21 years ago. In 1989–90, State aid was 11 percent of our budget; next year, it is projected at 3½ percent of our budget, with many more mandates to fund.
The district is mandated by State law to provide transportation, textbooks, and health and other services to about 1,600 students who reside here but attend about 96 private, parochial, and special-education schools. Transportation, alone, is budgeted at a cost of about $4,620,000 for these students. Over the years, State aid to the district for transportation has plummeted from 90 percent of the total cost to about 4½ percent.
About $10 million in revenue other than property taxes is anticipated in 2010–11 from various sources, including tuition from nonresident students, Adult Program fees, driver education fees, summer program fees, rental of space in school-district buildings by community groups, interest on deposits and investments, and State aid.
The Great Neck school district participates in a number of successful, cost-saving, cooperative ventures with neighboring districts and with Nassau BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), particularly in the areas of insurance, transportation, and purchasing. The school district is in the second year of a recycling-program partnership with the Town of North Hempstead. It will continue its joint security arrangement with the Great Neck Park District.
Cost-saving efforts continue in many areas related to energy efficiency, technology upgrades, and communications. A fiber-optic Wide Area Network (WAN) connects 14 buildings, enabling the district to centralize information systems and consolidate voice, data, and video services in a cost-effective manner. The WAN facilitates a new Voice Over Internet Protocol phone system that provides modern features at a significant annual savings for phone service. The WAN also supports two important parent-communication systems: ParentLink and Infinite Campus Parent Portal. ParentLink enables the district to send mass notifications promptly in the event of an emergency. Infinite Campus Parent Portal provides parents with secure information about their children’s schedules, progress reports, report cards, attendance, and immunization records. The WAN will also support new video surveillance systems to monitor parking lots and entrances to our buildings for improved security.
Additionally, the school district reaps annual savings of up to 40 percent for all Internet, pager, local, long distance, and cellular phone service through participation in the Federal E-Rate program. Since 1996, when E-Rate was enacted, the district has received over $1.8 million in reimbursements.
Last year, a cost-effective, major energy-enhancing project replaced most district boilers (some 60 years old), added solar-electricity panels on our four large secondary schools, and renovated and improved all heating-system controls. This was accomplished entirely from energy savings, with a guarantee of no additional net costs for the improvements.
Copies of the 2010–11 Proposed Budget are available at the Phipps Administration Building, 345 Lakeville Road. Reference copies can be found in the schools and public libraries. It is also on the district Web site: greatneck.k12.ny.us. For more information about the School Budget, voter registration, absentee ballots, and voting, please call 441-4020.