Written by Melissa Argueta Friday, 24 February 2012 00:00
On Valentine’s Day evening, the Garden City Board of Education convened for its regular meeting and second budget work session in the high school library. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen presented his second round of budget proposals regarding the non-instructional areas of the school budget.
During his presentation, Feirsen noted that this session was the second step in the budget review process and the expenditures discussed are merely recommendations to the board of education from the administration.
The Garden City School District’s proposed 2012-2013 overall budget is $104,976,751, which represents a budget-to-budget increase of $3,859,693 or 3.82 percent. The projected tax levy increase (with STAR) is 4.25 percent and the maximum allowable tax levy is 4.3 percent.The night’s discussion focused on the capital components of the budget, representing 14.84 percent and the administrative budget, which makes up 10.83 percent of the total budget.
Feirsen detailed what the most significant budget drivers are and how the district is implementing cost-saving measures to offset taxes. By law, the school district must contribute to NYS pension funds for all employees, which increased from 11.11 percent to 12.3 percent for teachers and administrators, and from 16.3 percent to 18.9 percent for all other employees.
Also driving costs are health care increases. Feirsen pointed out that Garden City employees contribute more than almost all other districts to health care but costs continue to rise with rates increasing 2.9 percent for individual policies and 3.3 percent for family coverage.
Another significant budget driver is the district’s debt service, which includes payments for bonds approved by the community and issued in 1998, 2005 and 2009, which he said will decline beginning in 2015. Also factored in the budget are contractual salary increases and special education costs. He noted that the district is not scheduled to receive a significant increase in state aid to offset these increases.
Despite these factors, Feirsen maintained that the key budget design principles are aligned with the district’s mission and goals. He said the district ensures the health and safety of its students and provides funds to maintain the physical plant in a safe manner. He also said the budget respects the fact that property taxes from individual homeowners remain the major source of revenue for the budget.
He emphasized that the budget balances the needs of children in the district with the fact that resources are limited in these difficult fiscal times. “We want to ensure that current and future students, children who are in our community or who will be in our community, enjoy the same rich opportunities that former students, or students now about to leave us, have enjoyed and we want to maintain our community status as what our demographer called ‘a destination location,’” Feirsen said.
The district is implementing overtime controls; and the expansion of cooperative bids and participation in consortia, including the new BOCES IT network to save monies. Feirsen said the district has also put forth energy saving measures; conducted a review of all bus routing to increase efficiency; reductions for advertising, printing and mailing and photocopying costs; reductions in personnel due to lower enrollment numbers among others; and established an insurance review task force.
One of the most significant cost-saving measures this year is the use of worker’s compensation reserves and Employee Retirement System (ERS) reserves strategically to reduce the burden on taxpayers, Feirsen explained.
In a previous work session, Assistant Superintendent for Business and Finance Albert Chase explained the district will be using $1.1 million in reserve funds to reduce the tax bill. “The idea really is that we put money away and the idea is to use it and when we have to use it we go to those funds. It is not to be kept forever as a pocketbook because that money ultimately came from taxpayers and ultimately should go back,” Chase said.
Looking ahead, the capital projects include replacing a number of common doors and refinishing classroom doors at the high school; replacement of eight toilet partitions; locker replacement and new instrument locker cases at the middle school; and renovating faculty toilet, replacing auditorium seating and adding whiteboards at Stewart School. Other projects include installing lighting along front building and walkway at Hemlock; and improving lighting at Locust.
Feirsen explained that the allocation capital funds are needed for the maintenance of district buildings’ infrastructure, walks and driveways, snow and ice removal and implementation of projects. “You know the old adage, ‘pay me now or pay me more later.’ If we don’t keep our buildings maintained, things don’t get better by all by themselves. Water damage does not heal itself; pipes do not heal itself,” Feirsen said.
The proposed 2012-13 budget preserves programs and proposes no major changes, according to Feirsen. He said the budget proposals call for zero building closures; maintains class sizes guidelines; retains special programs such as Quest and FLES; maintains high school guidelines; preserves most co-curricular/athletics programs; and retains full-day kindergarten. It also utilizes reserves but does not deplete accounts and reduces staff judiciously as a result of reductions in district enrollment.
Due to a perfect storm of factors, Feirsen concluded his presentation saying that the district is at a point where it has to make very difficult choices. “On the one hand…we have the need to make a budget that makes sense for our community that people can afford and support. On the other hand, we have programs that are really important to our community, that are central to maintaining the status of this school district as one of the leaders nationally, not just locally, but nationally,” Feirsen said.
The board of education’s adopted budget will be presented for vote on Tuesday, May 15. To learn more about the Garden City Board school budget, or for a list of upcoming budget work sessions or for more information, visit the website at www.gardencity.k12.ny.us.