Written by Rich Forestano Saturday, 20 April 2013 00:00
The Mineola School District is floating a 2.20 percent tax increase for next year’s proposed budget, .33 percent below the state-allowed maximum. According to District Superintendent Dr. Michael Nagler, the board of education plans to adopt the budget at the April 17 business meeting for the Election Day/Budget Vote on May 21.
While the numbers are preliminary, the total budget currently sits at $86,143,656, a 2.56 percent increase from the 2012-13 budget.
Mineola will receive $5,405,748 in state aid, a $385,748 increase from last year. This comes after the state first reported that the district would receive about $4.4 million, which originally amounted to a .58 percent increase.
“I use the word increase lightly, because it’s year-to-year,” Nagler said. “If you recall, last year we lost money. So, if you were to go back to ’08-’09, we were much closer to $5.6 million. We still haven’t caught up in state aid. I’m certainly not complaining. That’s a good amount of revenue to come back to the district.”
Mandated increases from the state do not give Mineola wiggle room, but the district is confident that it can budget accordingly, despite getting a nearly flat aid rate year-to-year. Nagler estimated health and pension costs totaled $2.8 million.
“I still need some information before we can be definitive about some of the items here,” Nagler said. “Only $380,000 is not pension and health. So all of the other budget lines we have went up that amount to make up [health and pension costs].”
According to district officials, by deferring STEP increases stipulated in the teachers contract settled in November, the school district has a $250,000 fund balance surplus. Teachers are deferring STEP increases for the first six months, staying at a 2011-12 salary.
On Feb. 1, teachers moved up one STEP. Starting in the 2013-14 school year, teachers will get a .5 percent increase with STEP paid in February until 2014-15. The proposed budget has $217,000 allocated towards equipment at the middle school and high school.
“We’re proposing to take that $250,000 and give it back to the taxpayer and come in with an increase at 2.20,” said Nagler. “In my initial look at all of Nassau County districts, so far, that’s the lowest.”
Nagler recommended that 20 full-time aides be excessed. Mineola is the only district in the county that has co-teacher aides in all classes. The district started the co-teacher practice “many years ago” when the district received federal monies to offset aide costs.
“We don’t have those monies anymore,” Nagler said. “We employ a co-teacher model. I believe in that and I support it but I don’t think we need additional personnel.”
Aides receive a 3.5 percent STEP each year. The aide unit has received a 14 percent increase on average for every member during negotiations and has not been excessed. No aide has achieved the maximum STEP of 25, according to Nagler.
“We’re over budget in this unit by $300,000,” Nagler said. “We need to cap that. I’m not happy about [excessing] but to maintain the budget…we have to keep the staffing under control.”
The proposed budget includes installing “man-traps” in all the buildings as part of the security updates coming to the district in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. The district will choose between A+ Technologies and Intralogic Security to implement the new measures.
The tentative budget includes all educational and co-curricular, athletic and extracurricular programs. Mineola has pledged to maintain all programs years before the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap was enacted by the state in 2011.
Nagler is recommending an additional section of the 5-day 1/2-day pre-K program, something Gov. Andrew Cuomo touted before the state budget was adopted.
“We house them at Willis [Avenue School] because we don’t have a fair way to distribute the odd number between the two [elementary schools],” Nagler said. “By adding a fourth class, we can have two sections at [Hampton and Meadow Drive Schools] and have a lottery for each side of town and make it more equitable Cuomo’s pre-K proposal called for spending an extra $25 million to help high-needs school districts start programs for children age 4 or older, or expand existing half-day programs to a full day.