Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 15 April 2011 00:00
As you read this, the decision will already have been made on Tuesday night, April 12, on the Oyster Bay-East Norwich school budget increase. (Visit obenschools.org to see the official figures.)
As the April 5 meeting ended, the board was polled to see how they viewed the newly proposed 3.94 percent budget increase that Superintendent of Schools Dr. Phyllis Harrington presented to them, reacting to community comments and the resignation of Dan Friedman, the supervisor of fine and performing arts and technology, which added some wiggle room. The 3.94 percent increase restored items to the budget and is up from the previous March 15 proposal of an increase of 3.69 percent.
The final budget figure of 3.94 percent was reached after reviewing the personnel reductions and coming up with: one less administrator; eliminating one clerk at Vernon; eliminating three teachers at Vernon; eliminating the Roosevelt health teacher; plus various reductions throughout – that with an increase in revenue came to the 3.94 percent increase with no loss of programs.
Mr. Van Cott said when NY State finally adopted its budget they gave the district $46,000 more in funding than what was originally suggested. He said at the next meeting on April 12, the board would decide on how much of the Appropriated Fund Balance should be used to reduce the tax levy.
Ann Marie Longo proposed using funds from the capital reserved fund for technology. There was a concern because the board needs community approval to spend money from the reserve fund so there is a possibility it could be denied by the taxpayers. The decision was to try to do that, while also allowing it to be in the budget itself to ensure when needed - new technology can be obtained.
Mr. Kowalsky commented that using capital improvements for technology will be a good use of funds. Attorney Florence Frazer had said it was allowed to be in that reserve fund.
Ann Marie Longo added, “In the last eight years, and since 2006, using our capital funds we have done wonders and saved money for the taxpayers.”
Trustee Michael Castellano approved the idea of being sure the district can get needed technological improvements. He said, “If we miss technology, we can be a year behind. It’s a good idea. I’d be afraid to lose out on technology.” As far as supervisors, he was willing to have one less. On the issue of keeping the social worker position, he said the position should never have been created. It was funded by the state and the district didn’t project where the money would come from next. The position should have been sunsetted, he said, since it was never fully funded by the district.
[Later in the evening, a parent confided great appreciation of having Ms. Johnson on the staff. He said much of her work has been in preventing problems with the diverse school population and that students felt safe in the district. The word safe was a constant comment from the students during the meeting held in the PAC.]
Trustee Jim Mattel said, “I disagree. Now the position is there and so many people feel it is so important. It’s a good position to have back.” There was applause.
Mr. Castellano replied, “That’s what gets this district in trouble. Philosophically I am against it.”
Trustee Keith Kowalsky said the 3.94 percent seemed all right.
Mr. Mattel said when you go from 5.7 percent to 3.94 percent it seems reasonable – with athletics and clubs back and the needed 7th and 8th grade athletics back. He said it avoided 45 to 50 students being cut from teams and losing an important athletic opportunity.
Ms. Dando agreed with Mr. Mattel and said her daughter, 25, said if there were no sports, she might not have had volleyball in high school. “She was a great center and we won the championship. She was happy she was offered the opportunity. With clubs back too, let’s get this passed,” said Ms. Dando.
Keith Kowalsky agreed and said he didn’t want to reduce what the district has now. “I hope the community will support it and keep this great educational opportunity,” he said.
Trustee Donald Zoeller agreed that 3.94 percent was reasonable and a compromise on both ends. He said, “I’m hoping that 3.9 percent is down enough to get through. It should and I support it.”
Dr. Harrington, an effort to give full disclosure to the board said that other districts are first making those kinds of cuts that OB-EB has done before. She said, “But ours (the percentage of increase) will be higher because they are doing what we did before. They will catch up, but now we will look high.” She said Locust Valley was at about 3 percent and added others are 1, 2 and 3 percent. Ms. Dando added, “We’re a small district and we have to pay more to get these things.”
Trustee Zoeller expressed his concern as he said, “We have yet to hear comments from the public to see if there is a sense that the increase won’t sell.” He looked out at the audience for guidance saying, “If you think it will sell, you have to get together with the community to see that it passes.”
Community comments were next as was the discussion about Mr. Tweed that is covered in separate article.
Mary Ann Santos advised that in relation to other school districts, “I’ll vote yes, but the budget looks very hot when you look at other districts.”
A parent said to “cut administration and give services back to the children.” Lisa Iemmiti said “you can’t keep cutting at the expense of children.” Christina Verdi said the TR School is a very special place and that class sizes are very high, and standards are increasing and asked how to meet them with class sizes growing. She added, “The quality of the school drives property values up and attracts new people to come to love here.”
He said to at least minimize the increase to the 2.53 percent level. He said unemployment is high and that it is underestimated as people are not counted after they finish their payment periods – which have been extended twice. Added to that people are only finding part time jobs but health costs continue to rise.
Mr. Johnson said he personally will be paying the property tax twice as he assists a close family relative with two degrees but only a part time job.
He was not in favor of eliminating jobs in the district saying that only increases unemployment costs and increases state taxes. An excellent way to help, he said, is to have no increase in salaries. “Use reverse salary negotiations (cuts in salaries) and make the operating costs lower,” he said. “The board is not responding to the request for lower taxes and should set an example.”
OBHS Senior Andrew Kent was the last speaker, saying he was critical of the funds spent on technology and that those funds would be better spent on lowering the budget.