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GC Residents Pass School Budget

Supermajority vote needed for passage is achieved thanks to 1,820-1,044 win

On May 15, the Garden City Board of Education kicked off its meeting with a mini-ceremony recognizing student accomplishments, including those who won medals at the Long Island Math Fair. The evening ended on a high note as residents voted to pass the proposed 2012-13 school budget by a tally of 1,820 approvals versus 1,044 rejections. Also, by getting the proposal passed by this margin, the 60 percent supermajority vote was garnered in order for the budget to pass as mandated by the New York State Department of Education. In addition, incumbent trustee Tom Pinou took over Hastings’ at-large seat with 1,571 votes. Newcomer Robert Martin received 1,424 votes approving his ascendancy to the East trustee seat.

Garden City residents went into the voting booth looking at a proposed budget of $104,215,528, an increase of $3,098,470, or 3.06 percent, more than the 2011-12 school year. This translated to a projected tax levy increase (with STAR) of 3.54 percent, a figure well below New York State’s maximum allowable tax levy of 4.2 percent. In having this increase approved, a number of budget goals will be reached including the ability to provide allocations to address mandates and obligations, including the new teacher/principal evaluation system (APPR) and recently-passed New York State learning standards (CCLS), as well as 2009 School Investment Bond debt service. First and foremost, the budget’s passing is hoped to ensure that current and future students enjoy the same opportunities that former students enjoyed and in Superintendent Dr. Robert Feirsen’s words, “maintain the high standards established by the district that have made Garden City a destination community; an area where people move to oftentimes based on the reputation of the schools.” Further buttressing this argument was the fact that U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Garden City High School 138, a gain of 60 places since 2010.

Budget Passage Upshot

In order to sway enough people to vote for passing its budget proposal, the Garden City Board of Education used the past few months to come up with numerous cost control efforts. First and foremost was the renegotiation of the Garden City Teachers Association (GCTA) contract, which represented an overall savings of approximately $675,000 for the 2012-13 year. Other strategies included the continued contraction and consolidation of positions, numerous reductions (advertising, postage), and the district’s continued membership in a number of purchasing consortiums ranging from technology and transportation to insurance and supplies. There was also a roughly 30 percent cutback in overtime from 2008-2009 to 2012-13.

Staff minimization was also factored into the final budget numbers presented to voters. Declining enrollment caused the elimination of one grade seven core subject instructor (social studies, math, science) while the dropping of one bus driver and 1.2 full-time equivalent (FTE) administrative-business office positions were strictly cost reduction moves. In addition, the athletic department felt the steel of the budget-cutting knife. The high school strength and conditioning (S & C) programs will be eradicated as will 31 staff positions (21 assistant coaches, four S & C coaches, six middle school intramural supervisors). Four teams will also be getting their rosters reduced.

Despite these sacrifices, the board’s proposals also include the preservation of numerous programs with no major changes proposed. Class size guidelines will be maintained, no buildings will close, special programs (FLES, Quest) will be retained as will full-day kindergarten/music, art and theater. Also, any used reserves were done in response to declining student enrollment. One of the considerations the board took in making its budget preparations was to respect that property taxes from individual homeowners remain the main source of revenue for the schools. This was addressed by making sure a fund balance was maintained, reducing the chance of a tax spike this year.