Written by Terry S. Hood and Jason Martin Saturday, 11 May 2013 00:00
On Tuesday, May 21, 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 vote on the: 2013–14 School District Budget (Proposition No. 1), 2013–14 Public Library Budget (Proposition No. 2) and one Board of Education seat (trustee Monique Bloom, who was appointed to the board in 2012, is running unopposed).
After extensive public discussion and input, during a lengthy and open budget process that started in our schools, the Board of Education has adopted the Proposed School Budget in the amount of $209,442,904 for the 2013–14 school year. The increase over this year’s budget is 4.85 percent. The increase in the amount to be raised by real property tax is 3.14 percent.
Nearly half of the budget increase ($4.43 million) is due to higher retirement system contributions, which are required by the New York State Comptroller. Other significant factors are health insurance, Social Security, contractual salary increases, and Medicare reimbursements.
Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz said, “These are tough times, and we are doing our best to maintain quality education in every way possible. For example, this budget maintains the Board’s guidelines for small class size that we have always strongly supported. We will continue to advocate on behalf of our children. That’s our promise.”
Thomas Dolan, superintendent of schools, said: “The 2013–14 budget has two powerful forces behind it. First is the district’s commitment to quality instruction for all students. This is seen in the continued emphasis on class size and on rich curricular and extra-curricular programs. The second powerful force can be found in the people who make up these programs. Our staff is one of the key reasons we succeed in the way that we do, and that includes every person who does anything in our schools.”
The 2013–14 budget includes $4.76 million in appropriated reserves, which are unspent funds from prior years. These reserves will be used to offset the increases in retirement system contributions, workers compensation payments, and unemployment insurance expenses, and for the anticipated cost of tax certiorari refunds. The appropriation of reserve funds allows the school district to satisfy budgetary needs while minimizing the impact on taxpayers.
Strategic personnel reductions will save the district about $2.5 million in 2013–14. The equivalent of approximately 40.5 full-time positions, including support and instructional staff, will be eliminated.
Dr. Dolan said: “This year’s budget compels us to reduce positions. Some of those people to whom we owe so much will be impacted. It is important that they and this community know that we regret every one of these reductions. Each loss diminishes us just a bit. The budget is printed in black and white, but there are real people behind these figures. We have taken them, and their contributions to our district, into account for every reduction we have made. They are not made easily.”
John Powell, assistant superintendent for business, said: “A school district is a service-oriented entity, one where salaries and benefits are our number-one cost, accounting for approximately 77 percent of our budget. Unfortunately, the only way to significantly reduce costs in a public school budget is to reduce personnel.”
The 2013–14 school year is the second in which school districts must abide by New York State’s tax-cap legislation. This law requires districts to limit their tax-levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation—whichever is lower. There are multiple exemptions and other factors, however, which affect the actual limit.
Mr. Powell said, “The tax cap is actually a calculation that does not necessarily result in a 2-percent increase in the tax levy. According to the state’s formula, the allowed increase in the tax levy for the 2013–14 school year is 3.14 percent. The calculation incorporates changes to the tax base, the rate of inflation, payments in lieu of taxes, debt payments, capital project expenditures, transportation equipment purchases, and pension increases above a certain percentage.”
Tax rates and property assessments in Nassau County are set by the County, not by boards of education. 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 either eliminate the shift or to cap the increases caused by the shift to 1 percent (rather than the 5 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 all school districts in Nassau County.
An annual, external, independent audit of every public school district is required by State Education Law/Commissioner of Education Regulations. The certified public accounting firm of Cullen & Danowski, LLP, the district’s independent auditor, consistently presents extremely favorable reports on the district’s management of finances, emphasizing a strong financial position, including wise investments and an excellent control system of checks, balances, and procedures supported by Board of Education policies. Also, a required internal audit of risk assessments was performed by the firm of Nawrocki Smith, LLP. The district again received satisfactory reports.
The school district is required by the federal, state and county governments to provide a substantial number of mandated services, without sufficient aid to meet their costs. As a result, these costs must be borne by district taxpayers.
For example, the district is mandated by state law to provide transportation, textbooks, and health and other services to more than 1,500 students who reside here but attend dozens of private and parochial schools. Transportation alone is budgeted at a cost of about $4.2 million for these students in 2013–14.
More than $11.3 million in revenue other than property taxes is anticipated in 2013–14 from various sources, including tuition from nonresident students, 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. In addition, district employees will contribute an increased amount towards their health insurance premiums.
The Great Neck school district participates in a number of successful, cooperative ventures with neighboring districts, the Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), and the county, such as the Nassau School and Municipal Savings Initiative. These efforts bring cost savings to the district in the areas of insurance, special education, transportation, information technology, telecommunications, and cooperative purchasing. An example of such purchasing is the Nassau BOCES “Bo-TIE” service, which enables the district to purchase bundled Internet, telephone, and wide area network (WAN) services with twice the bandwidth at a savings of about $50,000 per year.
Advances in technology also allow the district to communicate more efficiently while lowering costs. A fiber-optic WAN connects 14 buildings and enables the district to centralize information systems and consolidate voice, data, and video security services. This WAN is the backbone for a voice-over-Internet-protocol telephone system, which yields more than $100,000 in annual cost savings when compared to traditional telephone service. A Going Green initiative reduces expenditures on paper, envelopes, toner, and postage because notices previously mailed home—including report cards, progress reports, direct-deposit notices, letters, and flyers—are now delivered online or by e-mail.
The school district also participates in the federal government’s E-Rate program, which reimburses 40 percent of the district’s expenditures on Internet, local, long distance, and cellular phone service annually. Since 1996, when E-Rate was enacted, the district has received over $2.1 million in reimbursements.
Four years ago, a cost-effective, major energy-enhancing project replaced many district boilers (some over 60 years old), added solar-energy panels on our four large secondary schools, and renovated and improved all heating-system controls. This was accomplished entirely from energy savings, with a guarantee of no additional net costs for the improvements.
Copies of the 2013–14 proposed budget are available at the Phipps Administration Building, 345 Lakeville Road. Reference copies can be found in the schools and public libraries. The proposed budget is also on the district website at http://greatneck.k12.ny.us.
Registered voters who live south of the LIRR are asked to please note that voting at South High School will take place in the West Gym this year. This is a change in location from prior years.
For details about the Budget, voter registration, absentee ballots, and voting, please call 441-4020.