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Budget Shortfall Looms

Massapequa School District officials say

potential deficit could be $5.9 million

There’s cause for concern, like possibly $5.9 million worth of concerns.

That’s the message delivered by Massapequa School District administrators about the upcoming 2013-14 school budget that will be presented for the community’s approval in May.

Superintendent Charles Sulc said that there are still many details to be worked out and that district officials will need to receive more information before a final budget is adopted. However, in a worse case scenario, there is a potential $5.9 million shortfall if all programs are left intact and the district presents a budget which adheres to the property tax cap.

“It is probably one of the most difficult budgets to develop,” said Sulc as he held his hands far apart indicating that the district is not close to having all of the information needed to finalize it.

However, Sulc did speak of what is complicating the budget process. First, he said the district only recently received information about what percentage increase is allowable under the tax cap, which for Massapequa this year is 3.19 percent. Although the tax cap is set at two percent, some items are exempt from the cap, which allows for a higher percentage.

Another concern is how much state aid Massapequa will be receiving. Sulc said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed executive budget calls for Massapequa to receive $1.3 to $1.4 million less in funding from Albany, although he is hoping that some funding will be restored when the final state budget is approved.

Retirement costs are another issue. The superintendent said that retirement costs are increasing by about 30 percent, and this will be one of the biggest factors in determining the budget.

“Virtually every penny of what we can increase our tax levy under the tax cap is being used to offset pension costs,” Sulc remarked.

Yet, another concern is declining enrollment. The district is estimating that next year’s enrollment will be between 7,300 and 7,400 students. This year’s graduating class has more than 600 students, while kindergarten registration for next year is at 399 students, Sulc said.

One more concern is the tax certiorari court case between school districts and Nassau County. A court recently overturned a decision that made school district’s responsible for refunds due to tax assessment grievances, which places that burden back on the county. However, Sulc said that the district was just informed that the county is appealing that ruling. Therefore, the school district will be budgeting $1.5 million in case they receive an unfavorable decision in that appeal, and the burden of refunds is transferred from the county back to school districts.

Deputy Superintendent Alan Adcock went over the current budget, line-by-line, and answered questions from school board members. The budget he presented does not call for any reductions in services, but also has that $5.9 million shortfall as currently constructed, if it does not exceed the tax cap.

Adcock also criticized Albany for failing to adequately fund Massapequa and thus causing the shortfall.

“Because we are considered by the state to be a wealthy district, most of our revenue comes from the tax levy,” said Adcock. “You folks send lots and lots of taxes up to Albany, but we as a region we don’t get it back. Our money goes to fund educational system in other regions.”

When presenting the budget, Adcock said that 79.2 of it goes to fund student programs. He said that 13.1 percent funds facilities and capital improvements, while the remaining 7.7 percent covers administration costs. Adcock defended Massapequa’s budget saying that Massapequa has the 10th lowest spending per student in Nassau County and is among the lowest in spending per student in administration costs.

Adcock said that the district was able to cut some costs from next year’s budget. He said that by switching from to natural gas from oil, the district will be saving $490,450 He also said the reductions in student busing costs will save the district $662,025 next year and that reduction in debt will save another $743,933 bringing the total savings to $1,896,408.

However, a reduction in Medicare Part D will cost the district $575,000 and the reduction in high tax aid, which Sulc spoke of, will reduce revenue by $1,425,184. High tax aid was enacted to help districts that have high property taxes relative to income, which is common on Long Island.

Salaries are increasing 2.94 percent for elementary teachers, and 4.8 percent for secondary teachers. Clerical salaries are increasing 6.8 percent.

In other news, the board approved a three-year contract for Lucille Iconis. She will be replacing Sulc who is retiring at the end of the school year. Sulc also announced that 11 teachers will retire at the end of the school year.