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Letter: CACF Supports 2013-2014 School Budget

The Citizens Advisory Committee on Finance (CACF) unanimously supports the adopted Manhasset School District Budget of $89,296,198 for the 2013-2014 school year. The budget represents an increase of $2,226,774 (or 2.56 percent) over the prior year. Over the past five years, the average annual increase in the budget has been 2.13 percent.

Employee compensation and benefits total $68,371,042 (or 77 percent) of the total budget. All other expenses combined account for 23 percent of the total budget. The largest factors in the increased expenses were an $854,636 increase in pension contributions to the New York State Retirement System, a $682,893 increase in healthcare and other employee benefit expenses and a $1,134,792 increase in employee compensation, which by themselves would have increased the year-over-year budget by $2,672,321 (or 120 percent of the total budget increase). The net impact of all other budget line items was a decrease of $445,547.  

Of the $1,134,792 increase in employee compensation, $395,696 was due to new staff positions in the 2012-2013 school year that were necessitated by last year’s unanticipated enrollment spike. Those new positions were not budgeted for in the 2012-2013 school year, but had to be provided for in the 2013-2014 budget. Over the past five years, Manhasset has added only 1.59 full-time equivalent employees while enrollment has grown by over 200 students.

The CACF was not able to identify any major areas of cost savings beyond those already taken by the board of education (BOE) and school administration. Therefore, the only way to reduce the budget significantly is through staff reductions. The CACF does not support further reductions in staff that would result in an additional increase in class sizes and negatively impact all programs.  

The property tax levy covers 92 percent of the proposed budget.  Therefore, the adopted budget increase will be paid for primarily by a $4,652,594 (or 5.98 percent) increase in the property tax levy. The reason the property tax level increase exceeds the budget increase by $2,425,820 is because in the prior year the district used some of its reserves to reduce the property tax levy. As noted at the time, those reserves would be reduced and are no longer available to pay for future expenses. Over the past five years, the average annual increase in the property tax levy has been 2.55 percent.

Under New York state law, failure to pass the budget will result in a zero percent increase in the property tax levy. A level property tax levy would necessitate a $4,652,594 reduction from the adopted budget (or a $2,425,820 reduction prior year budget), which could only be achieved through a significant reduction in staff and programs.

In this year’s letter, the CACF would like to address the broad issue of transparency. Transparency in the budget process has two components. Has all the relevant information been made readily available to the public, and have the BOE and administration made a reasonable effort to have an active dialogue with the community to exchange views and concerns? Approving the budget is an economic and a political process that requires transparency, calculation, education and compromise.

The CACF has looked at the available information, evaluated its content over the years, asked questions, participated in the public meetings and published its letters to the BOE. We felt that Manhasset’s website compares favorably to other school districts’ websites for its comprehensive coverage of budget information. We noted the BOE’s and the administration’s sponsorship of many public hearings in a variety of venues and their willingness to address issues voiced by the community. The CACF concluded that while some may disagree with line items in the budget, or even the total picture, there are no secrets here.  

The CACF, which is comprised of residents of Manhasset selected by the board of education, is responsible for advising the board on financial matters, specifically on the annual school budget.  

John H. Haberkern – Chair

Thomas Carroll

Erika Craven

Daphne Hildebolt

Dorothy Price Hill

Pedro Jimenez

Joel Levitin