Written by Margaret Whitely Friday, 21 January 2011 00:00
At the last Herricks school board meeting Herricks School Board President Christine Turner opened the meeting with the following statement:
“HASS ( Herricks Association of Administrators and Supervisors) has responded to the Herricks School Board and they are willing to listen to proposals by the board. Their members are just as concerned as we are and as everybody in the community regarding budget issues in Nassau County.
“I have met personally with Karen Hughes, who is the president of the HASS organization and we had informal discussions about the budgetary issues.
“As in all discussions regarding contracts, the details have to remain private until all matters are formalize.
“Many people want to know all the facts regarding the discussions that take place and that just can’t happen. As you know when we have negotiations for contracts or salaries or whatever we have many meetings and when they are finished we come back to the board table and divulge that those meetings have been completed.
“All I am saying is that they have been willing to work with us as we move forward in the budgetary process and they are looking for ways to save money and answer some of the concerns that we have.”
In a further announcement, School Board Trustee Paul Ehrbar announced that the Herricks Community Fund will hold its Annual Dinner Dance on January 28 at the Crest Hollow Country Club. For further information and for tickets, please call the Herricks Community Fund at 742-1946. Ehrbar pointed out that all the mini-grants given to teachers are funded by the Community Fund and urged all residents to support the dance.
• The Green Growers, Melanie Pavlidis-$500
• English Scholars Program Writing Retreat,
Denise Accardi, Tom Baer, Sarah Kammerdner,
Jon Lavas and Alan Semerdjian-$750
• CPAD: Continuous Pressure Analysis
With Deflection, Chris Connors-$765
• The Middle School Greenhouse Garden,
Jeannette Baxter and Diane McCabe-$1,000
• Elementary School Physical Fitness Assessment
And Evaluation, Diane Pasatieri, Deb Masterson, Madeline Maier,
Glenn Lavey, Tina Ortiz and Mike Lesak-$907
• Wildlife Nature Walk and Gardens, Susan D’Andrill and Sharon Judge-$799
• Digital Recording Studio, Frank DeCelie-$696
• Listening Your Way to Better Literacy, Anne Brusca-$800
• Bean Bags for Good Study Habits, Neepa Redito
Computer Lab, Linda Giorgi and Noel Forte-$743
• Further Development of Searingtown School Gardens and further Development of the Denton Avenue Courtyard School Garden, Sharon Judge-$615.
The meeting then focused on the presentation of the students who are involved in the High School Social Science Research Program. Melissa Jacobs who leads the program pointed out it was the 5th year of the program. She said that they have a working relationship with the NYU School of Global Affairs and they have been a wonderful resource for the students. She said, “Every student in his/her junior or senior year has had an internship with the School of Global Affairs. They had the opportunity present to the grammar school students, to NYU and NYU came to us as well.”
She then introduced the students who gave the details of the projects they worked on.
Each student, for the most part, received various other internships through the School of Global Affairs that they worked on and then returned to the Herricks community.
The students are totally engaged in their various projects and for the most part work on them through the summer months.
At the end of the presentation one of the college students said that the program helped her get into college and helped her with her ability to research projects and to speak in public.
Herricks Superintendent Dr. Jack Bierwirth added, “This program is more like a college seminar or a graduate seminar because relatively little time is spent in class and the class time is for discussion and it is what is done in the outside time. It’s not like a lecture course in high school or even a lecture course in college.”
Jacobs said, “I see myself as a facilitator and giving them the opportunity and then they take their projects and really fly with them.”
Bierwirth said, “I might add that this is very much the direction that the faculty and parents said seven or eight years ago that they wanted to go. Which was taking a number of AP course proves you can compete with any body, but the next step is go beyond and do the research programs and develop the skills you need in college and beyond.”
A resident of Williston Park who is concerned about his increasing taxes said he thinks the board should work on increasing benefits. He said he wanted to know if the board would ask the top earners, who all make over $150,000 a year if they would be willing to give back five percent because, he said, they wouldn’t be hurt the least. He said, “Not to say they are not good people or don’t do their jobs, but in looking over the figures in 2009 there were 33 people that made over $125,000 in 2010 there were 46 people who made over $125,000 and that results in $1 million and a half dollars. So I am asking, have you asked any of these top earners for any “give-backs” on their salaries.”
Board president Turner said, “It’s not that we can ask our top earners, we have to work with our union units. One is the HTA which is the Herricks Teacher’s Association and the other one is HASS, that is another bargaining unit and those people have contracts in place. Those two units have been approached.”
The resident continued, “If you had not submitted the budget for a second time last year would there have been a savings in the austerity budget?”
Turner said, “Just because it’s an austerity budget the people who are under contract remain, that doesn’t change. There would have been initial cuts in services.”
Bierwirth, said “There would have been much deeper cuts, if an austerity budget had been enacted, but the contracts and salaries would have remained the same.”
The resident said, “It’s upsetting to hear that there will be an eight percent increase in the budget and we don’t know that because we don’t know what the state aid will be.”
Bierwirth, “When we realized that this was the case, the board directed us to come up with two budgets. One budget maintaining the programs and services we have for students that we have now but taking out things we can afford to postpone like purchase of additional technology, perhaps new uniforms can be postponed in the Athletic Department. The second budget would be a two percent increase. Both those budgets will be submitted toward the end of the month. But the two percent budget would require cutting about five and a half million out of the budget.”
The resident wanted to know if the board tells the superintendent what they would like to see in the way of change.
Turner said, “Well, actually, the superintendent with assistant superintendents, with the principals of the schools will come up with recommendations for the budget. They present what their suggestions are to the board. At that point we will go through those various budgets, which will probably begin at the February 3 meeting. The process is that the superintendent presents the budget he receives from his various principals then they put the budget together and we review it. It is presented in a public area, but the board ultimately votes on what is put up for the public vote. But, it can change depending on the input from the public.”
The resident then inquired about the enrollment and whether or not it would increase.
Dr. Bierwirth said, “We were for about a decade one of the top growing districts in the county. But when the housing market turned down our enrollment stopped dead in its tracks and we have been literally stable since. Some district enrollments are driven by birth rates. We have not been that kind of community, we are driven by those who have moved into the district. Actually, one of my biggest fears is that the housing market will turn about overnight and all of a sudden families move into homes and we have to find space for a number of additional kids. But, it all depends on what happens in the housing market. But it doesn’t look like it will turn around that fast, so I expect there will be stable enrollment for at least another 12 to18 months.”
The resident said, “I am wondering why assistant principals and guidance counselors are not eliminated rather than Kindergarten teachers for potential savings.”
Bierwirth said, “I look at those positions both in good times and bad. It is not something that we do in times of emergency. We provide a very high level of programs and services for students and we do so at about two thirds of the cost of the districts that we compete against. We have eliminated many of those positions. They are gone. If we take out other things then we will change the level of services. We can take out guidance counselors, but we won’t be providing the same level of services.
The resident also mentioned a light to be installed behind the high school. Dr. Bierwirth said that he and Debbie Beer have been struggling to get that light for many years.
Bierwirth added, “A number of us have been working with Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel. We not only have to get out of this hole but we have to make some structural changes so that we are not looking at an equally bad situation 12 months from now. Last year the state budget really wasn’t balanced. They borrowed $3 billion from the pension fund, so in effect the state budget was $3 billion in deficit. They can’t keep doing that every year, plus the state has to pay that back. If you keep doing that you keep digging yourself deeper and deeper into a hole.
“Assemblywoman Schimel has been working on a package. While all of us who have been working with her do not necessarily agree with each and every element everybody supports the package as a whole. It is not quite yet finished, but our feeling is that we need to get out of this short and long term and try to do it in a way that does not decimate all the services that everyone needs and also not to pit communities against each other.
“Some of the things that are included in the package, right now, include a single vote on the school budget with an automatic cap of 2 percent if the budget is defeated.
“A freeze on all public salaries in New York State, all public salaries on municipalities in New York City everybody, school districts and not just state workers.
“A 3 percent contribution of all public employees to retirement systems. Not just a brand new tier that changes the benefits of one group. We tried to figure out how to get everybody to contribute a little rather than just a small number of people.
“Consolidation of all school districts in New York State with under 1,000 students and all districts that are not K-12. Most people don’t realize that the average school district in New York State used to be 450, but I don’t know what it is today.
“In Newsday, a few days ago it was reported that a fast growing school district on Long Island had grown from 11 to 21 students. This is not only inefficient but probably not the best education.
“One last comment, there were 25 or 30 pieces to this, the number one is unfunded mandates. State comes down with a new mandate and we are stuck with it. We are paying $185,000 for the MTA so we are trying to suggest that we get out of the hole by making some long term structural changes so that we are not looking at the exact same problems months from now and in the process have not destroyed communities by fighting over which services are going to get cut or whose jobs are going to be lost or whose contracts are going to be overturned. Part of this, I’ll be honest is by reading the Albany Times Union, which generally does a better job of what is going on in Albany than Newsday or The New York Times and the first two paragraphs report that the governor is taking a 5 percent pay cut and the remainder of the article was that all public employees taking a freeze. The governor said he was opposed to it because he didn’t want to interfere in local politics. Someone else pointed out that he was perfectly willing to implement a cap of 2 percent in property taxes interfering in local politics but you don’t want to tell everyone else to take a freeze because it might be interfering in local politics. I just thought it was a very interesting article.
“We don’t have a lot of time. The state never meets its budget. It is supposed to have one by April 1st. This board has to finish the process by mid to late March in order to present the budget to voters in May. So, we have to get moving. I think it would be great if everybody did a little. I have been doing it on my own. I have to give a lot of credit to Michelle Schimel for going beyond the screaming and yelling politics.”
A resident asked Dr. Bierwirth how Assemblywoman Schimel was going to use the document she is crafting.
Dr. Bierwirth answered, “I know she is trying to talk to legislative leaders and to Governor Cuomo and we have another meeting. I also believe she is talking to mayors and other school districts.”
Trustee Paul Ehrbar said, “Actually, she is meeting with the mayors of the area tonight about the same ideas.”
Dr. Bierwirth added, “I have told Assemblywoman Schimel that if she wants to call a press conference then I know everyone involved will attend. She is trying to get some good ideas and I believe in good ideas. If we don’t get anywhere we haven’t lost anything and actually we have gained a lot.”
A resident wanted to know if time and a half is a considered cut because she saw custodians on a Saturday cleaning up leaves. She added, “Have we considered cutting back this year instead of waiting for next year?”
Board president Turner said, “Anyone who is retiring or leaving the district this year, we are basically undergoing a job freeze. We are not hiring because if looking at the budget for next we year we don’t want to have to lay that person off and pay unemployment for that person.
The resident said, “What about right now, no time and a half, no overtime.
Dr. Bierwirth said, “We don’t do it now unless it’s totally necessary. We have a line for overtime in case of emergency relief, say a snowstorm but we do a lot of work during the course of the school year trying not to interrupt instruction and those things are being pushed to February break. We are paying overtime, but on a much more restricted basis. But, if we have a problem say with burners, then I will have to bring someone in and pay the overtime. I will look into why they were raking leaves on a Saturday.”
Assistant Supervisor for Business Helen Costigan added that organizations that rent out the space for weekends and when it is necessary for custodians to stay and lock up the building, those organizations pay for those overtime services.
Board President Turner also said, regarding work that must be done in the buildings that it is more economical to pay Herricks employees than to “job” the work out.
A resident said he would like to know what effect increased class size would have on the budget, what would have been saved and how many students would have been affected. I would like to know if this board is willing to make a statement regarding teacher layoffs at the next meeting. If they hear it from you I think they will believe it will happen,” the resident said.
Board President Turner said, “We are looking at $5 million worth of cuts, where do you think they are going to come from?”
Trustee Dr. Sanjay Jain said, “I don’t think we need to be happening prematurely. We are trying to be as forthright as possible and to tell residents what to expect and there are certain variables that we have no idea about.”
There was an outbreak of a discussion regarding AP courses and one resident suggested they be eliminated, but Dr. Bierwirth pointed out that students sitting in an AP class do not cost the district any more money than students in regular classes.
Trustee Ehrbar said, “The students in an AP class have to be educated the same as students in other classes so the cost is the same.”
A resident pointed out that there is nothing in the Herricks School District to offset costs, such as industrial or commercial business. All the costs are paid for by the Herricks residents.
The resident continued, “We all know that, but we can’t have all the little extra things I know the parents want. When you have to cut it has to come from some place.”
Dr. Bierwirth summed up the discussion by saying, “We are working like crazy. It is hard enough to have one budget, but we will have two and they will be presented on February 3.”
The board meeting on February 3 will be held at the Community Center at 7:15 p.m. and will include a regular meeting and a budget meeting and the meeting at the high school will be held on Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. with the regular meeting to follow at 7:15 p.m.