Written by Rich Forestano Wednesday, 19 February 2014 00:00
The Mineola School District will discuss disbanding its finance committee at its business meeting on Thursday, Feb. 27, citing inactivity and lack of consistent work. Talks were scheduled for last week’s school board meeting, but that was canceled due the blizzard that rocked the Northeast.
District officials say the board of education would either assign work throughout the school year to the committee, or disband the group and call on them during budget season, which is approaching. Mineola reps feel because of the 2 percent tax cap, the budget process is not labor-intensive unless districts are cutting staff or programs.
“There’s going to be a discussion about [the finance committee] amongst the board,” Mineola Schools Superintendent Michael Nagler said when reached by phone on Thursday, Feb. 13. “Basically, the finance committee keeps looking for direction of specifically what the board would like them to do. Other than the budget review, there really isn’t work for them.”
The committee is comprised of district residents with financial acumen. School board trustee William Hornberger is the school board rep for the finance committee. He was not available for comment.
“[The committee] reports to the board on what they find, which makes it independent,” said Nagler. “But the 2 percent levy cap makes it very simple. ‘Here’s the levy calculation and what you can spend. Are you going to stay within that number or not?’”
Established in 2006, the finance committee held numerous discussions and presentations with the board regarding budgets, school functions and district reconfiguration, which saw two schools close. Two years of inactivity has Mineola rethinking its place in the district.
“We haven’t utilized them for almost two years so I found that it’s unfair to have people sitting there with nothing to do,” School Board President Artie Barnett said. “They are volunteers. [The finance committee] really had its place when we were going through reconfiguration and when were doing five-year-out budgets.”
Budget season is around the corner and Nagler estimates that district’s teacher retirement system [TRS], a state-mandated program, will be tentatively budgeted at $400,000, but teacher salaries only received about a 1 percent increase. The district reached an agreement on a new teachers contract in November 2012. Teacher’s received 1.5 percent salary step increases for the 2011-12 year.
“The tax cap eliminates a lot of planning,” Barnett said. “We should discuss whether [the committee is] viable or to reconstitute it in a different form. It’s been kind of difficult to come up with a solid project for them. It’s just a discussion.”
For the first six months of the 2012-13 school year, teachers were at their 2011-12 salary, with the step increase deferred until last February. For this year and 2014-15, they will receive a 1.25 percent increase each year. Nagler stated the finance committee, like district administration, would not have control over TRS or other unwavering increases, like healthcare costs.
“I have no say if [TRS] goes up or not, but we have to budget for that,” he said. “What’s the finance committee going to do? If health and retirement went up, the only way for me to deal with that is to cut something. We have our contracts in order and that’s what we can control, and that’s evident by that 1 percent increase.”