A wide range of topics were discussed at Garden City's Board of Education meeting on Monday, August 3, including everything from adding first grade classes to setting the tax levy.
Several recommendations were made to the board on a variety of subjects at the work session, but no decisions were made.
Superintendent Dr. Lee Wilson brought up the need for additional first grade classes in both Homestead and Hemlock schools, a topic that has concerned parents for some time. According to Wilson, there are 128 students registered for first grade classes in Homestead.
"Our recommendation is to add a section in grade one," he said. Wilson did not recommend making changes at the kindergarten level, because the bulk of kindergarten time is spent in small group session, he said.
"It's our belief we could function in kindergarten, but in first grade serious problems [could occur]," he added.
Most of Wilson's recommendations are made on what he calls "firm figures," or a reasonably solid estimation of the number of students involved. Wilson said that a first grade section could be added at Hemlock, meaning that the final numbers will reveal a total of six first grade sections in Homestead and five first grade sections at Hemlock, with no changes recommended for Locust.
"These numbers can change yet," he warned. "But this is what we're looking at. If we add these sections as we're proposing, there is space to add without using trailers."
Wilson said more definite numbers will be announced later.
The Board also discussed its goal for the upcoming year, which, according to Board President Linda Leone, include the capital improvements plan, the budget, improving communication between the Board and the public, and forming a stronger policy review process.
While the Board is concerned with approving the bond resolution and capital improvements plan in December, several ways to improve communication were discussed.
In addition to utilizing press releases, Leone suggested developing a brochure in addition to the Board's meeting-by-meeting agenda. The brochure would help community members become more familiar with how the Board works, Leone said.
The policy review process, according to Leone, would be helpful for the Board and the community by linking the actions of the Board directly to policies, "so that when we take action, there is a clear policy that we are referring to," she said. The Board agreed to follow up on its proposed goals at a September work session.
The Board also heard recommendations on a variety of other subjects, including the tax levy, which the Board controls, and which has a direct effect on how much citizens pay in property taxes.
After discussing the reasons behind the system's structure, Superintendent for Business Dan Bryan and Dr. Wilson both recommended that the Board hold on to 2 percent of the budget, as the law allows. Because Nassau County and New York City are the only areas in New York State with four different tax classes, the system is complicated, Bryan explained. In addition, Garden City is comprised mostly of Class One homes that wind up paying the most for property taxes.
By holding on to 2 percent, the Board should be able to bring Class One into more average numbers.
Trustee Jim Ryan expressed his anger at the system. "It is a system that is archaic and doesn't represent market value at all."
The Board also discussed the proposed traffic changes for the Stewart and Clinton Avenue intersection, agreeing to both get more input from the schools involved and to continue its own discussion at the September work session.
The Board also heard recommendations to raise the salaries of school monitors from $7 to $8 an hour, and to leave the district's free and reduced meal programs unchanged.
No action is taken at work sessions, rather issues are discussed and recommendations made.
Following the Board meeting, the district issued the following press release:
"Last month the Nassau County Legislature and NY State Office of Real Property Services took action that shifted more of the school tax burden to Class I taxpayers (residential homeowners), from Classes II and IV (commercial property owners and condo residents). The issue concerns assessed valuation of properties, which has decreased for Class I in Garden City, equalization rates, and base proportions -- the factors which are used to determine the tax rate. Although no school district has any control over these decisions, the effect is a negative impact on the school tax rate for residential homeowners. Our district's projected tax rate increase of 6.79 percent, based on a budget approved by the voters in May, would have increased to 9.75 percent. However, this drastic increase will not occur in Garden City. The tax rate for residential homeowners will remain in line with the projections made in the spring, due to prudent budgeting and several circumstances which unfolded in the district's favor over the last year.
Actually, 'If not for the increase forced upon Garden City residential homeowners by the actions of the county and state, our taxpayers would have realized a 3 percent lower tax rate increase than we had projected last spring,' said Board of Education President Linda Leone. 'In this case, we are pleased to note that sound fiscal management of the 1997-98 budget enabled us to realize an unexpected fund balance which allows us to keep the increase where we said it would be back in May.'
The school district's auditors have determined that conservative budgeting on the part of the district administrators and the Board of Education resulted in a saving of $1.2 million more from last year than was projected to be available to reduce the total school tax for the 1998-99 school year. This would have resulted in lower taxes for Garden City residents. Instead, it will be used to offset the unexpected Class I increase forced on Nassau County school districts.
This amount was realized due to the following:
*a favorable settlement with the teachers' union, with salary increases at 2.5 percent instead of the 3 percent which had been budgeted, along with a related decrease in costs of fringe benefits. This resulted in significant savings.
*more employees retired than expected, replacing higher salaries with lower salaries for new staff;
*our non-medical insurance premium was reduced to a lower rate;
*districtwide staff overtime was drastically reduced;
*comprehensive modifications in our transportation program were implemented;
*more students with special needs were serviced in-district, rather than out-placed, through implementation of our inclusion program;
*the mild winter we experienced last year contributed to an overall reduction in energy costs.
'No one is happy that unused funds from the previous budget can't be returned to our taxpayers in the form of lowering the tax rate for 1998-99,' said Superintendent of Schools Lee Wilson. 'But on behalf of the district, we're pleased that our careful controls on spending enabled us to prevent any additional increase for next year.'"