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Four Percent Budget Hike Likely

State mandates add to financial difficulties

The Garden City school board has proposed a budget that would increases taxes by nearly 4 percent for the 2013-14 year.

The board presented its first recommendations for the proposed budget, which is $107.9 million, an increase of $3.7 million from last year. The proposed budget carries a tax increase of 3.86 percent.

“This is not a budget that’s bursting with optimism,” said superintendent Dr. Robert Feirsen. “It’s a budget that reflects the tough time that we’re in. It’s a very difficult road for us to walk.”

The district must stay under a 2 percent tax levy cap.

District voters must approve, by 60 percent, an increase above the 2 percent levy.  

The district estimates tax certiorari liabilities will result in a budget increase of approximately $1.4 million that would equate to a 1.48 percent tax increase for residents.

“Although there’s been no formal shifting of function, there has been a shifting of liability,” Dr. Feirsen said. “It used to be in Nassau County that if the county made a mistake in the assessment, they would pay the penalty. The county legislature and executive voided that county guarantee and shifted that responsibility of tax certioraris to school districts. It’s something we clearly did not want and something we did not have time to save for.”

Tax certioraris, along with pensions for teachers and employees, are the biggest budget drivers. Together, they add over $3.5 million to the budget.

Another unexpected state mandated budget increase that is posing problems for the district is a move to online state testing. The state is asking that districts acquire the technology necessary so that students in third to eighth grades will be able to take their standardized tests online by 2015. Not only would this move be logistically complicated, as the district would have to acquire more computers, work out test security issues and standardizing the devices for tests, but it would also be expensive.

“They all require wireless which is a tremendous investment and upgrading our hardware. We have to be concerned with security protocols because there are so many more devices. We’ll have to hire additional support staff. So this all requires a significant commitment of district funds over a number of years,” the superintendent  said.

It’s expected that the large majority of the budget’s revenue, around 85 percent, will come from property taxes. Garden City is expecting to receive little help from state or federal funding. It anticipates receiving only about $4.7 million of state aid, which would amount for less than 5 percent of the budget. According to Albert Chase, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and finance, state aid is based on an aid ratio that takes into account relative wealth.

“The average wealth in the state, taking income and property value, is computed and the average is stated at 1.0. Garden City is at 2.5, which means we are two and a half times wealthier than the average district in New York State,” Chase said. “Districts who have a lower average will receive more money from the state, districts who have a higher average receive less.”   

While the state budget allows for $125 million in competitive grants, Garden City is not a strong contender to receive these as opposed to higher needs districts. The proposed state budget freezes the state grant Foundation Aid and reduced High Tax Aid, a form of assistance mean specifically for Long Island schools.

A vote on the budget by residents is scheduled for May 21. The next board of education budget work session is on Tuesday, Feb. 26 .