Written by Melissa Argueta Friday, 11 June 2010 00:00
It was no surprise that every seat was taken in the high school library as residents gathered for the Garden City Board of Education meeting. After countless hours of discussions, comments and debates, the board of education adopted its revised 2010-11 budget proposal of $97,988, 490. With a reduction of $286,766, the budget-to-budget increase over the current year is 2.91 percent (reduced from 3.21 percent) and the tax levy increase is 4.18 percent with STAR (reduced from 4.52).
On May 18, Garden City residents voted down the budget by a margin of 1,662 to 1,459, with a gap of 203 votes. School Board President Colleen Foley spoke directly to the audience about the “myths and realities” that she and other board members have heard since the vote failed. “We, as the board of education, must and have accepted the decision. On the acceptance of that decision, a chain of events are now in motion. On May 19, the board of ed met and approved the action to not proceed directly to a contingency, but place a budget up for revote,” she said.
Foley also wanted to clarify that her absence during voting day, and that of Vice President Barbara Trapasso, was due to personal family matters. “The myth that I wanted to correct is that we did not care. We both care deeply and our 15 years of service should speak for itself,” Foley said.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Feirsen explained the purpose of the night’s agenda, which was to discuss numbers for a potential revised budget. He reiterated that the timetable for a revote was extremely tight and a decision for what budget numbers would be decided that evening. Dr. Feirsen prepared no formal presentation for the board, instead, he alerted members to the possibilities where additional cuts to the budget could be made. “There are no new lines to explain,” he said.
Dr. Feirsen pointed out that he, and the administration, were well aware of the community’s reaction to the budget vote and had taken all suggestions into consideration. “We have heard loud and clear the comments that have been made over the course of the budget discussions and, as you can imagine, my office has received a good number of comments by email telephone, letter, passing by on the street, the proverbial tap on the shoulder and sometimes comments without a tap on the shoulder,” Dr. Feirsen stated. He also noted that residents stressed their desire for ‘a reduced budget,’ as long as nothing is taken away from kids or programs.
With this in mind, Feirsen first outlined three areas to potentially cut from the budget. He said the state is interested in assisting school districts with their budget issues, so one of the pieces of legislation that was proposed was to reduce the maximum time that you had to wait for that payout from 30 years to 25 years in the teacher’s retirement system. According to Feirsen, educators call it ‘55/25.’ With the recently passed legislation, teachers can have only 25 years of service and, as a result, still get the maximum payout with no penalty. Feirsen added that the new legislation has caused more teachers to retire. Feirsen stated that with the teachers’ retirement initiative, the school district can “pocket the difference,” in salaries. Veteran teachers who retire under this plan would be replaced with teachers who receive a lower salary.
Additional cuts will also come from eliminating the purchase of new calculators. Dr. Feirsen explained that the state mandates calculators for mathematics classes. He said that many children end up returning them in good condition or purchasing their own instead. “We have gotten a good rate of return, kids are responsible. It’s not like they suddenly disappear. So, we feel that we can cut that and have a calculator for every child by a few thousand dollars. It’s not a lot of money,” he said.
The third major area of proposed cuts is the BOCES Summer Enrichment program. According to Feirsen, the program is a summer camp experience and does not do anything to advance children in their studies. He said the district normally provides one third of the payment and, by cutting it from the budget, the district can save up to $8,000. The cuts “wouldn’t preclude any student from going to the program,” Feirsen said. He added that parents who still want their children to attend the program would be able to process paperwork with the district, but would be responsible for paying the entire amount of the costs.
After Dr. Feirsen offered his recommended cuts, the board voted to accept the revisions and put the new budget up for a revote. If the budget is voted down for a second time, New York State requires that the board adopt a contingent or austerity budget for the 2010-11 school year. If so, the district would be required to eliminate 2.3 million from the budget, including all capital purchases, such as computer equipment and the school bus. In addition other cuts will come from eliminating continuing education; clubs and athletic programs; additional personnel and programs, field trips; and supplies and materials.
According to the district’s website, the estimated dollar amounts between a contingency budget and the proposed budget goes from $399.40 to $369.26. The difference in dollar amounts equates to 51 cents per day; $15.56 per month; and $186.70 per year.
Treasurer Al Chase explained that if the community votes down a budget for the second time, a contingency budget will be put into effect. Despite what some residents may think, he said such a budget would not mean a zero percent tax increase for residents, mainly due to allowances for programs such as special education. Chase stated “Even if we are in a contingent budget, that doesn’t mean that things will stay flat,” he said, adding that with special education costs, a contingency budget still “translates into roughly $183 a year on the average home.”
Foley concluded the meeting encouraging residents to come out and vote on June 15. She explained that the district finds itself as one of six districts in Nassau County to have a failed budget. “I hope parents can focus on the opportunities that we have here and not limit themselves by the programs that we’re eliminating. I can only hope the community takes a second look at the budget and endorses it. For without this endorsement, the programs in Garden City School District will change. And I hope that all the residents take the time to vote for the second time. The community has the information on what a contingency budget is and what it would mean to the students,” she stated.
The school budget revote takes place on Tuesday, June 15, at Garden City High School library, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information about the budget revote, visit www.gardencity.k12.ny.us/.