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Making The Tough Choices

Board adopts 2014-2015 school budget

Garden City’s Board of Education adopted a 2014-2015 proposed budget of $109,407,138, to be presented to voters on May 20, under an air of resignation concerning state mandates but an affirmation that the budget has been crafted to best meet the district's needs.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen called this year’s budget review process the most difficult and challenging he’s encountered in the nine years he’s been overseeing the budget. He confirmed that the budget presented was based on feedback from the board and community. He assured that the final budget reflected all discussions, comments, inquiries and last minute changes to state aid.

“The board and the community want the best for our students...on the other hand we find ourselves severely constrained in revenues that we receive from two sources—state aid and taxpayers," Feirsen said. “We are also limited by the tax levy cap. Our situation did improve somewhat and we made adjustments to the budget.”

The budget reflects an increase of $1,804,772 or 1.68 percent from last year and the projected tax levy increase is 1.57 percent. This is the maximum allowable with a 51 percent majority approval, anything higher than 1.57 would require a 60 percent supermajority.

Feirsen also commented that budget drivers have not changed, noting that pension contributions alone are responsible for about half of the tax increase.

The proposed budget reflects a net reduction of 10.5 full time equivalent (FTE) teaching staff due primarily to enrollment decreases and increased class size to 26; FLES program reduction (program offered to grades four and five only); .5 reduction in high school library staff; administrative, nursing, teacher aide and clerical reductions. Feirsen also advised that there will be two teaching positions, one general and one special education, held in reserve as he cautioned that the budget must cover district needs through 2015.

The nursing reduction, which has caused alarm for parents and the board, has been reconfigured. The current budget calls for 1.3 nurses in each elementary school (reduced from 1.5 staffing), 1 full-time nurse and .3 nurse at each school every day. The .3 is a part-time nurse to help cover during lunch periods and assist with paperwork.

Feirsen advised that there is “no wiggle room...no spare change in the budget and that the additional funds for the nursing change were derived from an anticipated retirement.”

“This is not a picture perfect budget but a responsible and prudent budget that preserves the district’s robust academic program, maintains all programs including FLES and includes security and technology upgrades,” advised Feirsen. “We are a labor intensive entity and the only way to control costs is to control personnel costs.”

If the budget fails, Feirsen warned that the board can develop a revised budget for a second vote; if the second vote fails the district would be required to adopt a contingency (austerity) budget. Under the new tax levy cap law, the district would have a zero percent tax levy cap. This means that the district could not collect any more revenue through property taxes than it collected this year. This would require a reduction of approximately of $1.75 million from the budget. In this scenario, all contractual and debt service obligations; agreements with vendors; and pension obligations remain in effect. Feirsen warned this would have significant impact on school district programs.

Feirsen closed his presentation citing remarks from an editorial piece. He expressed that the state seems to have usurped local control through implementation of Cuomo’s tax cap; reading from the piece, he stated: “Communities no longer get to vote up or down on budgets prepared by their elected representatives on the school board. Instead school boards are forced to come up with budgets that limbo under a tax cap established through a formula so complicated that no one can predict where it will be set...this tax cap measure took away from communities the foundation of democracy—majority rule—when it comes to deciding on their school district’s budget...”

“These are profound words and remind us and the board of the difficult position we are in,” added Feirsen.

Resident queries were minimal, with a resident inquiring whether class size could be reduced in the future. Feirsen replied that the proposed class size is only a guideline and that a reduction is possible in the future.

Resident Sam Myers also voiced concerning regarding class size and questioned whether savings from the district’s energy efficiency contract could be used to keep teachers and class sizes low. Feirsen replied that money can be moved from the capital to program side but capital improvements were necessary to maintain the safety and security of students.

“We had leaky roofs, students wearing rain hats and using umbrellas,” Feirsen said. “We made a choice because buildings were in need of repair and not energy efficient.”

“I’m worried about my kid’s education," Myers said. "Class size increase is not a good idea.”

Feirsen responded by stating that he does not believe that an addition of one student is significant and the numbers are consistent with the district’s philosophy.

The budget vote will be presented to voters on Tuesday, May 20 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Garden City High School. A copy of Feirsen’s presentation can be found on the district’s website. Taxes can also be estimated on the school website at http://www.gardencity.k12.ny.us/UserFiles/Servers/Server879883/File/Taxes2013.htm

News

North Shore-LIJ’s Cushing Neuroscience Institute (CNI) recently announced that Garden City resident Richard E. Temes, MD, MS, has been appointed director of the Center for Neurocritical Care at North Shore University Hospital and assistant professor of neurology, neurological surgery and internal medicine at the Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

“Dr. Temes is a nationally recognized leader in neurocritical care and we are delighted to have him on board to spearhead our efforts in further expanding the neurocritical care services program,” said Raj K. Narayan, MD, chair of neurosurgery at North Shore University Hospital and Long Island Jewish Medical Center and CNI’s director. For the past seven years, Dr. Temes served as director of the neurocritical care program he founded at Rush Medical Center in Chicago, Ill. He also served as the hospital’s medical director of the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit and as director of the Therapeutic Hypothermia Service. Under Dr. Temes’ leadership, he established Rush’s neurological emergencies transfer center, which grew to transfer 1,200 patients annually from over 30 institutions throughout southern Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and western Michigan.

‘Landscape-altering’ bug creeping north

It’s a cute little ‘bug.’ What it represents, however, is anything but cute.

An unusual-looking Volkswagen is toodling around Long Island this month. Painted to resemble the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), the VW Beetle is part of efforts by the US Department of Agriculture to eliminate the pest, which can destroy 70 percent of an area’s tree canopy, according to the agency. Initially, officials held hope for complete eradication from about 23 square miles of the Island designated as infested or at risk by 2016. Instead, this “landcape-altering pest” is spreading.


Sports

Garden City falls to Brentwood

after beating Farmingdale

The Farmingdale Baseball League recently capped off its fourth annual 9/11 baseball tournament with a series of championship games, to ultimately determine which Long Island town reigns supreme. On Aug. 16, teams from 8U to 14U fought tooth and nail for the ultimate prize.

One of the most exciting games was the evening 14U championship match-up between the Garden City Warriors and Brentwood Braves.

Fall Roller Hockey Programs Announced

The Garden City Recreation and Parks Department will once again offer various roller hockey programs this fall for both youth & adults who reside in the Inc. Village of Garden City. Whether you played in the past or looking to get involved, there is no better time to sign up and experience all the fun. All programs take place at the roller rink located at Community Park. Please note at this time, the recreation department is just announcing its programs. Fees and registration information will be announced at a later date.

This season, the roller hockey programs are broken down into grades. Please pay careful attention as grades and dates/times have changed:


Calendar

Alice in Nanoland

Thursday, August 28

Nature’s Nighttime Noises

Saturday, August 30

Art With A French Twist

Thursday, September 11



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com