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OB-EN Budget Revenue Discussion

The March 2 meeting of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich school board was the second budget discussion for the district. Held at the Vernon School, OB-EN Assistant Superintendent for Business Christopher Van Cott talked about revenues to the district as part of the budget preparation process. All revenue sources offset the levy, not the expenditure budget, said Mr. Van Cott.

The budget itself is a document that tells how much it will cost to run the district schools for that year – the revenues will be used to reduce that figure to the actual amount needed to be funded through taxation.

Revenues to the district come in the form of state aid and property taxes. The problem for the district is that while Long Island educates 17 percent of all the students in the state, it only receives 13 percent of the state aid package. Add to that, state aid has continued to fall since 1990, Mr. Van Cott said.

Making things more difficult for Oyster Bay-East Norwich District is that state aid is based on Combined Wealth Ratio (CWR). This district, he said, has a high property wealth figure but not a high income figure. While the perceived wealth of the district has it as second in the county, the actual wealth of the community doesn’t match the expectations.

Consider the CWR list. Locust Valley has a CWR of $5,010; Oyster Bay, $4,622; Manhasset, $3,972; Great Neck, $3,357; Lawrence, $3,352; Jericho, $3,030; Port Washington, $2,742; Garden City, $2,592; Roslyn, $2,509; East Williston, $2,369; North Shore, $2,340; Long Beach, $2,264; Island Park, $2,252; Hewlett Woodmere, $2,093 and Syosset, $2,058.

Presently the total estimated state aid for OB-EN is $2,219,016. Mr. Van Cott said currently the district has done well with its expenses from last year with items coming in lower than expected, for example in special ed – not all the children they expected are in that system – some are in the classroom setting which is less costly. He listed nine areas of revenue that give the district a total of $647,350 to offset the budget. There is still an unknown cost to pay the MTA payroll tax, he said.

The board has some decisions to be made in terms of “Should we increase the current appropriated fund balance of $590,000 to $925,000 to help offset the 2010-2011 tax levy?” asked Mr. Van Cott. The risk is, if we increase it for the 2010-2011 budget and we can’t appropriate $925,000 in the 2011 budget year, then we could face a tax budget spike next year. The additional $335,000 in appropriated fund balance is to offset the proposed state aid cuts which hopefully will be restored in the 2011 year.

Currently there is a projected surplus from the 2009-10 budget of $2,193,650 from various items. There was a negative number earned in interest with savings - with less interest on savings due to the economy than was expected. They had lower special ed costs; lower TRS rates; a special ed grant; lower health insurance rates than expected; lower ERS rates; used less BOCES than expected; reduced transportation costs; lower TAN interest; refinanced debt service; favorable labor contract settlements; and funds from about 425 other codes with a resulting surplus of $2,193,650. They are allowed to keep part of that balance, from between 2 to 5 percent according to the state. They have used a 4.6 percent retention figure previously.

At the Tuesday, March 16 meeting, the board will be talking about capital programs and reserves only, said Dr. Harrington. It will be a business meeting.

Mr. Van Cott said, “Every year we build the budget from zero. In special ed we go through it student by student and line by line. We look at the employee health insurance; we reduced transportation – it was budgeted low and turned out lower still,” he said explaining more of the workings of the budget tally.

Community Comments

Parent Mark Lublin spoke on the proposed cuts to bowling and golf. He said regarding Bowling, Coach Brady has worked with 20 kids and given them self-confidence. He said not every child is geared to sports like football and basketball, and that there should be diversity. He said working with coaches is a different kind of interaction for the students – they become mentors.

Mr. Lublin said he himself has run a bowling sports league. He said one of the young people never smiled. In talking to his mother, Mr. Lublin found out that the boy’s father died and he had just moved into the school district. He was one of Mr. Lublin’s best bowlers. He said the boys’ mother said it was incredible what being on the bowling team did for her son.

“So if we truly believe that no one gets left behind,” the program should be maintained, he concluded. Dr. Harrington said she would look at the numbers again.

Parent Jen Romeo added her voice to the cause saying that it was important to keep the older students busy. She said Mr. Brady really cares for the kids and through bowling they have learned sportsmanship.

Shirley Rodriquez said her son was at the high school and is taking golf. She said he had been in a private school until the ninth grade. She said he loves golf and for it to be cut is devastating to him. She said, “I believe in public education and we want the best for kids in academics and sports.” Her son is on the golf team and she said golf is important for getting into college. Not all children are involved in baseball, hockey and football. She hoped the golf players would not be disenfranchised.

Board member Keith Kowalsky said they would consider her recommendations.

Student Kelsey Gallagher, a senior at OBHS who is going to the Rochester Institute of Technology with a Presidential Scholarship, used American Sign Language to present her message to the board while her mom, Kathy Gallagher, read aloud her written words for the hearing in the audience. She explained that while she has had services for the deaf from BOCES - that it was only one day a week. She said that with teacher Nicolle Sisia on staff - she was always available to help the student through any difficulties in communication.

 Kelsey said she wanted the remaining two hearing impaired students in the district to have the same kind of caring atmosphere she has prospered under.

Currently, she said, the students have had cochlear implants which she said means that “the whole dynamic has changed for them.”

Mrs. Gallagher said one of the things Ms. Sisia is currently teaching Kelsey is idiomatic English so she can understand some of the phrases people use such as “It’s raining cats and dogs” and “You’re really on thin ice,” that don’t make sense in American Sign Language.

Parent John Quinn added information on golf that interested the board. He said golf has a minimal cost per student since they provide their own equipment.

“We do not pay to play on the private courses for our game matches. That is all donated. Piping Rock has been very generous. We have to pay for practice rounds and driving range fees at Cantiague and Eisenhower Park as well as the transportation cost. They also practice at Vernon which does not cost extra,” said OB-EN Media Specialist Tom Gould in answer to this reporter’s questions.

 Mr. Quinn said other sports have a higher cost per student. He called bowling and golf “orphan sports” in which the students only played the one sport. He suggested that with sports like football and baseball and others – those students play multiple sports. He said in the sense of fair play, the one sport students shouldn’t be left out in the cold. There are other places to cut the budget, he said.

Dr. Harrington said they will look at it again. She said if it were up to her everything would be in the budget.

Mr. Quinn added he supports the booster clubs but that “These students are one-sport kids.”

Louis Cohen, with a kindergartener and a first-grader at Roosevelt, wanted the community to realize it has a responsibility to educate the children.

Parent Margaret Hauser said she learned a great deal about what goes on at Vernon and said, “I appreciate all the efforts of the teachers and staff.”

OBEN Board of Education Vice President Donald Zoeller closed the meeting saying they would consider what the residents had said and will measure it. He said, “We are dependent on our taxpayers and we will do our very best.” He had chaired the meeting in the absence of Board President James Robinson. Ms. Longo also didn’t attend the meeting.

If you would like to take a more detailed look at Mr. Van Cott’s presentation, it is available on OBEN schools.org on the Internet.