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Heading Into The Final Turn

Last public hearing held for school budget

With the vote for the 2014-15 Garden City Public School District budget on the horizon, the board of education held its final public hearing on Tuesday, May 13. Superintendent of Garden City Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen delivered a presentation to review and highlight information before the upcoming public vote.

With a proposed overall 2014-15 budget of $109,407,138, budget-to-budget increase of 1.68 percent ($1.8 million), projected tax levy increase (with STAR) of 1.57 percent, which is also the maximum allowable tax levy increase, Feirsen spoke about the impact of a 2009 school investment bond.

“It has been asked of me that if we didn’t have the bond debt service, what would the budget-to-budget look like,” Feirsen said, explaining that without it, the decrease would be said the decrease would be 0.67 percent as opposed to an increase of 1.57 percent.

“That’s a simplistic explanation—debt service is an exclusion to the tax levy cap, so if removed, ours would increase significantly,” Feirsen said. “Also, the funds you save from debt service, you can't give them to any other program—it's not like you can take the money from debt service and give it somewhere else.”

Feirsen went over budget drivers, which found the district’s Teachers Retirement System (TRS) increasing by $705,002 and the Employee Retirement System (ERS) increasing by $95,771—a grand total of $800,771.

“About half of the tax increase comes from those two mandated increases,” Feirsen said, displaying the impact on the budget at 0.74 percent and the tax impact at 0.82 percent. The total budget impact of 1.72 percent and tax impact of 1.91 percent includes other benefits and debt service.

As for instructional staffing for 2014-15, there is a net proposed total teacher reduction of 10.5 full-time employees (FTE), and the budget also includes 1.0 FTE teacher position in general education and 1.0 FTE teacher position in special education to be held in reserve to address possible enrollment increases at any level.

Total staff reductions amount to 11.5 FTE, with the addition of 1.0 grade six teacher due to an enrollment increase.

The rationale for reductions of 1.0 teachers at Homestead, grade one; Locust, grade one and Stewart, grade four, as well as 2.0 fourth and fifth grade teachers at Stratford is decreased enrollment. Other reduction factors include scheduling efficiencies and an increase in grade two to five class size maximum to 26.

Examining a comparison of per-pupil costs from a list the district uses of comparative districts, Feirsen showed data gathered by Quester III BOCES, placing Garden City at $18,013, which is the 9th lowest compared to districts such as Great Neck ($28,801) and Roslyn ($20,952), and only above Herricks’ $17,256 per-pupil cost.

Feirsen shared a study by Seethroughny.net showing Garden City as slightly over $600 for administrative costs per-pupil, placing well below Bronxville and Locust Valley of nearly $1,200, and displayed a comparison of Nassau County tax rates ranking Garden City as no. 48 with $598.21.

Highlighting certain aspects of the budget, Feirsen pointed out that the budget is under the cap, therefore requiring only a simple majority for passage.

“We are preserving the robust high school academic program that prepares our students for college, continuing to provide resources for technology upgrades, maintaining the school board’s commitment to FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary School), and including funds for possible security upgrades,” Fierson said.

Feirsen pointed out that while the district is maintaining its commitment to FLES, a reduction of 2.0 FLES teachers is proposed in their instructional staffing, with the rationale of it being a program reduction as FLES will remain in grades four and five. The program currently operates from grades two through five.

Feirsen said the district's proposed budget is also maintaining special education services and reducing personnel costs.

Also from seethroughny.net, Feirsen showed that Garden City receives less state aid per-pupil than similar districts, admitting, “I don’t have a great explanation for that—the formulas for state aid are very convoluted.”

Garden City was displayed as receiving roughly $1,239 in state aid per pupil, while Herricks receives close to $2,500, Rockville Centre receives slightly over $2,000 and Syosset slightly over $1,500.

Should the budget not pass, Feirsen explained that the district will adopt a contingency budget, whereby under the new tax levy cap law, it would have a zero percent tax levy cap.

“This means we could not collect any more revenue through property taxes than is collected this year—this would require a reduction of approximately $1.75 million from the budget,” Feirsen said. “All contractual and debt service obligations for 2014-15 would remain in effect, and all contingent budget rules would still apply.”

With no questions from any school board members and a short clarification question from one resident attending, Feirsen closed the hearing by urging everyone in the district to vote on May 20.

“I’ve heard from people that there really isn’t much to do about the budget, it is what it is, and that could not be further from the truth—I encourage everyone to exercise their democratic right to vote and register their opinion through the ballot box,” Feirsen said.