Written by Pat Grace: firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 30 March 2012 00:00
The buzz prior to the March 15 school board meeting was which supermarkets sell beef containing “pink slime.” One woman had done some research on her own and found the store spokesperson’s answers confusing, tempting her, she said, to buy her own grinder. (Refer to the Manhasset Press’ special report on pink slime at www.anton news.com.)
As usual the school board meeting was poorly attended with only four adults, two Boy Scouts meeting badge requirements, school personnel and the Manhasset Press.
School board President Carlo Prinzo said the 2012 Student Senate seems very engaged, and the student representative to the school board explained the evening meetings are easier to attend for students involved in a range of activities during the day. She also announced that the food drive was very successful, that with the help of the elementary and middle schools about 1,000 pounds of food was collected, to be donated to LI Cares.
The administration praised the freshmen, sophomore and junior participants–two each, who attended the recent Coalition Against Substance Abuse (CASA) meeting, saying they were well-spoken and provided a direct connection to the content discussed at those meetings. They also stressed how much fun the Feb. 9 second annual Booster Club student-faculty basketball game had been, how middle school students lingered and that $5,986 was raised to fund a project to be announced.
Saturday, March 10, the school board held a public budget hearing and announced the proposed budget is an increase of 1.73 percent over the 2011 budget. Core and co-curricular subjects will continue to meet the needs of students from grades K-12, School Superintendent Charlie Cardillo said.
The proposed budget will be adopted on April 17 followed by the budget vote on May 15. The recent teachers’ contract will help the district stay below the 2 percent tax cap this year and next, Cardillo said. He added that the contract is for two years because in two years pension and health costs are expected to increase significantly, and then the contract could be renegotiated.
In the past, a majority vote was required to pass a school budget. New legislation stipulates that to override the 2 percent tax ceiling a district must have a supermajority or 60 percent of the vote. Last year was the first year in nine that the budget was approved by over 60 percent of the community. Communication was a key component Trustee Pat Aitken said, adding that last year the issues were explained well. Her hope is that this year the budget discussions will attract a large crowd that will ask questions. It was also noted people support a budget in response to their perception of fiscal responsiveness.
A resident commented that the budget process had a “top down feel” no doubt necessary, she said, to stay within the tax cap, and that perhaps to remain a superior school district a “bottom up” approach may be called for in future years, meaning a budget that would override the imposed 2 percent tax cap. Prinzo said he has served on the school board and on the Citizens Advisory Committee for Finance and that this year’s budget is a 68-page document. “It has become very important how we manage the money we have,” he said. “We now share a coach between the two elementary schools—a few years ago we never would have thought to do that.” The Citizens Advisory Committee on Technology, Prinzo added, is saving the district $300,000 this year. But, he added, “sooner or later the well will run dry.”
To underline Prinzo’s point, Board Vice President Regina Rule said that the amount of allowable reserves is governed by the state, and, as a leadership team they had been using the reserves but now, with the tax cap, the ability to build reserves would be a challenge. When flexibility within the budget is gone, she said, they may need to work toward a 60 percent budget approval vote to override the cap.
The same resident closed the discussion she had initiated suggesting that young parents with children in the schools for another 10 or more years might prefer somewhat higher taxes rather than taking their children out of the public school system and paying for a private school education. “They might have an appetite for higher taxes,” she said.
A gentleman in the audience asked, if reserves will be somewhat depleted this year, what remains? He was informed $1.3 million would be used for Employees’ Retirement System contributions; $450,000 for workers compensation; and $980,000 to reduce the tax levy. Unless replenished, the reserves for ERS contributions and workers compensation will be essentially depleted.
The same gentleman questioned a line in the budget regarding the “transfer of debt service” for the Manhasset Public Library and was informed the library is not a taxing entity; it does not have the right to tax people, while the school district does. He was informed that the debt issued for construction of the library was issued by the school district, as the library cannot issue debt. The library pays the district for the cost of debt service, and the district pays the debt.
See more information on the proposed 2012-12 school budget in the Superintendent’s Column on page 20.