On Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., at the E. M. Baker Elementary School and the William A. Shine-South High School, qualified residents of the school district will be asked to vote on the:
2008-09 School District Budget (Proposition No. 1),
Capital Projects Fund (Proposition No. 3),
EXCEL Aid Project (Proposition No. 4),
Lease of Unused School Property (Proposition No. 5), and
Two Board of Education seats (incumbents Lawrence R. Gross and Susan Miner-Healy are running unopposed).
Also on the ballot will be Proposition No. 2, which is the 2008-09 Public Library Budget.
The Great Neck Board of Education is responsible for establishing the school district budget. After extensive public discussion and input, during a lengthy and open budget process that started in the fall in our schools, the board has adopted the proposed school budget (also known as the General Fund Operating Budget) in the amount of $181,130,094 for the 2008-09 school year. The increase over last year's budget is 5.35 percent-this budget-to-budget increase is the lowest in the last five years. The increase in the amount to be raised by real property tax is 5.98 percent.
The budget increase is primarily for (1) mandated items not controlled by the school district, such as social security, pension funds, workers' compensation, health insurance, and Medicare reimbursements; (2) contractual increases for all current staff members; (3) new staff members who will be providing education for our children in the future (an increase in K-12 enrollment is projected for next year); and (4) inflation.
In Nassau County, boards of education are not legally permitted to set actual tax rates and assessments of property. This is done by the county, based on its assessed valuation of property. For the past several years, the county has changed assessments and tax rates for virtually everyone. To minimize the impact of the county's shift of property tax burdens to homeowners and away from businesses and utilities, the Great Neck Board of Education has been proactive in promoting legislation to cap the increases caused by the shift to one percent (rather than the five percent allowable by law).
While there is no meaningful way to predict what impact the tax-rate increase will have on an individual's property tax, our Class I (homeowner) school tax rate continues to be the second lowest of the 62 school taxing districts in Nassau County.
The 2008-09 school budget supports educational programs and provides services that are essential for achieving excellence in our school district. Board President Barbara Berkowitz said, "Board members take their fiduciary responsibilities very seriously and go over every line item prior to the adoption of the budget. Three-quarters of every dollar in the budget is allocated for instruction, which is our first priority. The budget provides the resources and programs we require to provide the best possible education for all children while being mindful of financial pressures. We have tremendous concern about the impact of taxes on our residents and we are grateful for their continued support for public education."
Superintendent Ronald Friedman said, "We know it's a tough economy. This is the lowest budget-to-budget increase in five years. Teaching and learning drive our budget. We put the dollars where they are needed for our kids. We work out arrangements that help children and are also cost efficient. For example, our new SEAL (Supportive Environment for All Learners) Academy enables us to successfully educate students here, in their home district. These are high school students who would have dropped out or needed out-of-district schooling. At the same time, the district benefits from substantial savings by reducing out-of-district tuition and transportation costs."
An annual independent audit of every public school district is required by New York State Education Law and the Commissioner of Education's Regulations. The certified public accounting firm of Coughlin Foundotos Cullen & Danowski, LLP, the district's independent auditor, presented an extremely favorable report on our management of finances at the Nov. 5, 2007, public meeting of the Board of Education. The report gave our school district the highest level of approval, emphasizing its strong financial position, including wise investments and an excellent control system of checks, balances, and procedures supported by Board of Education policies.
Both the Capital Projects Fund (Proposition No. 3) and the EXCEL (Expanding Our Children's Education and Learning) Aid Project (Proposition No. 4) have zero tax impact. As the result of excellent financial management, the school district will undertake essential improvement projects in all of its buildings using unreserved and unappropriated fund balances from its General Fund and Capital Fund, as well as EXCEL aid from the State. These monies will be used for critical infrastructure needs of our buildings, which range from 43-91 years old, at no additional cost to the taxpayer. The specific projects are described in the district's "Capital Project Report: 2008-09," available from the Office of the District Clerk, 345 Lakeville Road. Voter approval is necessary to authorize the expenditure of these funds.
The school district is required to provide a substantial number of mandated services imposed by the federal, state, and county governments without sufficient aid to meet their costs. For example, although state-mandated testing is required, there is insufficient funding from the state for this purpose; as a result, significant associated costs must be borne by the district.
The district is mandated by state law to provide transportation, textbooks, and health and other services to about 1,700 students who reside here but attend about 100 private, parochial, and special-education schools. Transportation, alone, is budgeted at a cost of about $5,400,000 for these students. Over the years, State aid to the district for transportation has plummeted from 90 percent of the total cost to about four percent.
Our state aid is far behind where it was 19 years ago. In 1989-90, state aid was 11 percent of our budget; next year, it will be four percent of our budget, with many more mandates to fund.
About $11 million in additional revenue is anticipated in 2008-09 from various sources, including Adult Program fees, driver education fees, summer program fees, rental of space in school-district buildings by community groups, interest on deposits and investments, and State aid. The Lease of Unused School Property (Proposition No. 5) would allow the school district to enter into long-term lease agreements with current tenants who are occupying space that is not needed for school-district purposes. This revenue-producing measure has zero tax impact.
The Great Neck school district participates in a number of successful, cost-saving, cooperative ventures with neighboring districts and with Nassau BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), particularly in the areas of insurance, transportation, and the purchasing of equipment, food items, and supplies. The school district anticipates partnering with the Town of North Hempstead in a recycling program. It also will continue its joint security arrangement with the Great Neck Park District.
Cost-saving efforts continue to be pursued in many areas related to energy efficiency, technology upgrades, and communications. A fiber optic Wide Area Network (WAN) connects 14 district buildings, enabling a variety of centralized data services to be provided in a cost-effective manner. The WAN will also support new video security systems to monitor the exterior of our buildings with cameras installed at entrance doors and parking lots. Another planned use of the WAN will be a new digital phone system that will provide modern features at a much lower cost for phone service to the district. WAN also supports parent communication systems, including ParentLink, an important, cost-effective, new system for prompt mass notifications in the event of an emergency.
Additionally, the school district reaps savings from the Federal E-Rate program, which reimburses 40 percent of the district's Internet, pager, and local, long distance, and cellular phone service. In the past 10 years, since the E-Rate program's inception, the district has received over $1.5 million in E-Rate reimbursement.
A cost-effective, major energy-enhancing project will replace most district boilers (some 60 years old), add solar electricity panels on our four large secondary schools, and renovate and improve all heating-system controls. This will be accomplished entirely from energy savings in the budget over 18 years, with a guarantee of no net additional costs for the improvements.
Copies of the 2008-09 proposed budget are available at the Phipps Administration Building, 345 Lakeville Road. Reference copies can be found in the schools and public libraries. For more information about the 2008-09 School Budget (Proposition No. 1), Proposition Nos. 3, 4, and 5, and/or about voter registration, absentee ballots, and voting, please call 773-1413.