Written by Ronald Scaglia Friday, 24 February 2012 00:00
A large crowd including parents and students attended the North Shore School Board meeting on Feb. 16 to hear a further discussion on budget cutbacks for next year. To adopt a budget that complies with the tax cap, North Shore Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick said that cuts to extra-curricular clubs and athletics teams are necessary.
“This is the first year we are faced with significant cuts,” said Melnick. “In making these recommendations they have not been made lightly. We’re trying to be equitable to all students and we’re maintaining a strong program for the students.”At previous board meetings, Melnick recommended staff reductions in order to stay under the tax cap. Clarifying previous information, district officials state that the current plan calls for 18 teaching positions to be cut. However, Melnick said further reductions are needed in addition to the personnel cuts in order to stay under the tax cap, including cuts to both clubs and athletics. This elicited concern from board members and the audience.
“I feel that cutting sports for the kids is not the way to go,” said Trustee George Pombar, who said he is concerned that children would then spend more time on the streets.
The recommendation presented by Melnick reduces the co-curricular activities budget by $60,000 and the interscholastic coaching budget by about $65,000. Melnick wouldn’t specify which clubs would be eliminated. However, he said currently there is a modified program for seventh- and eighth-graders that creates as many teams as needed so that all students who wish to participate in a sport may do so. Because of the cuts, Melnick said that only one seventh-grade and one eighth-grade team per sport would be fielded.
“Is there no other place we could make a cut without affecting so many students?” asked Trustee Amy Beyer.
“The answer would be no without eliminating another teaching position,” replied Melnick.
Board Trustee Anna Sharkey stated that while she hates to see programs eliminated, it would be worse to cut another English or social studies teacher and impact instruction. Board members agreed, and although unhappy with the cuts, were resigned that the proposed cuts are necessary and that the proposed reductions have the least impact on education.
During the meeting, a parent of a North Shore student read a letter written by her daughter that told of what a wonderful experience she has had in the theater program and how important it is to her. Others spoke up as well in defense of arts programs in the district.
Cutbacks in special education were also discussed with Melnick stating that two high school special education teachers would be eliminated based on enrollment. In addition, the district will be receiving a grant of $200,000. However, despite the staff reductions and the grant, the special education budget will still be increasing by more than half a million dollars.
“I’m concerned that special education is going up,” said Pombar. ‘I’m worried about the level we are going up every year.” He also added that there is this significant increase despite the grant.
Melnick said that special expenses are mandate driven. He also said that one reason why special education expenses are higher this year is because the state has increased the required contribution for special education maintenance for those students placed in residential programs from 20 percent to 38.424.
Board President Carolyn Genovesi said, “We’re not offering services students are not entitled to but at the same time we’re not depriving students.”
“The fact that we’re not being challenged could be viewed in another way,” said Pombar. “Maybe we’re offering too much.”
Thomas Korb, North Shore’s Director of Special Education responded that the district is committed to keeping costs as low as possible.
On the bright side, Melnick said the budget for computer equipment was reduced by about $176,000 by eliminating laptops and desktops in order to expand the iPad program. He said that next year, sixth-, seventh-, ninth-, tenth- and eleventh-grade students will have iPads as will middle school and the high school faculty. Board Trustee Tom Knierim reported that he has received positive feedback from parents about the iPad program. Also on a positive note, the district was able to successfully reduce transportation costs.
Later, a resident asked if the district’s reserve fund could be used to restore some of the cuts. Melnick responded that the reserve fund can only be 4 percent of next year’s budget and it is planned to keep it at that level. He further said that reserves are needed for emergencies such as a roof caving in or unemployment expenses.
Genovesi also requested that North Shore residents apply pressure on elected officials regarding the LIPA situation. She did not have any further significant information regarding the proposed legislation, which would gradually phase in the tax loss resulting from the LIPA phase-out and help to soften the impact on the taxpayers.
“We are fearful this could get lost in the Legislature,” said Genovesi. “We have been pushing to have a solution placed in the Governor’s budget. The chances are probably less than 50 percent.”
The district will look into forming an advocacy group to campaign for more relief from budget constraints caused by state mandates and the tax cap instead of spending money to be a part of the Nassau-Suffolk School Board. Board members believe that while that organization is well-meaning, changes in the dynamics of the tax cap make it more efficient for the district to represent itself.
The board approved increments for advanced study for personnel, approved additions to the per diem substitute list, approved extra-curricular activity advisors and coaches, approved music accompanists, approved health services, approved an inter-municipal agreement between the North Shore and Roslyn school districts, approved budget transfers, approved the disposal of inventory, approved special education services contracts and approved special education services (IEP).