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School Board Trimming Budget, Maintaining Level of Education

Holding Increase to 2.16 Percent

Due to extremely tough economic times, the Great Neck Public Schools Board of Education began the budget process very early this year, working diligently to trim a very lean budget while maintaining the level of education that is the hallmark of a Great Neck education. The preliminary working budget for the 2010-2011 school year is $189,547,240, a 2.16 percent increase over the current 2009-2010 budget.

For this proposed budget, $$178,676,226 will have to be raised by real property tax, which accounts for 94,09 percent of the budget revenue, a 2,89 percent increase over the current budget. Only $6,752,849 is expected from state aid, which now only accounts for 3.57 percent of the budget. The rest of the budget revenue, 2.34 percent, is listed as “miscellaneous.”

Once again, for the 2010-2011 school year, the major portion of funding goes to teaching —- 73.81 percent for instruction. Capital projects account for 0.86 percent of the budget; buildings and grounds receives 10.93 percent; adult education and recreation receives a 1.86 percent of the allocation of funds; 4.44 percent would go for general support; 6.57 percent of the budget would be for transportation; and 1.53 percent would go towards debt service.

Board of Education Trustee Lawrence Gross, chair of the board’s finance committee, offered a review of the budget and budget process, “an ongoing process.” Mr. Gross explained that the process begins in the schools, working its way up to the superintendent and the board. He noted how “everyone is involved … very hard-working …” due to a “very difficult economic environment.”

Again this year, budget increases are mostly beyond the control of the district. Reduced state aid, which is only a fraction of what it was in the early ‘90s, along with the state of the economy, along with state mandates, the MTA payroll tax, and the pressures of pensions and Social Security and such, are putting great pressures on school districts. All of this results in about a $4 million increase. However, Mr. Gross stressed that the school district prides itself on the right educational opportunities for each student and an education geared toward to meet the needs of each student. This, he assured, will continue.

At this point, Mr. Gross mentioned that the district’s collective bargaining units had “significantly” reduced their requests in order to help keep down costs.

Mr. Gross also spoke of community support, which he called “part of Great Neck.” The school district and community support are, he said, “what makes Great Neck, Great Neck” and a draw to the community.  And he promised that they would come up with a budget in difficult times that “maintains the essence of our educational program.”

Mr. Gross then noted the upcoming Saturday, April 10 budget meeting where the board will go through the budget “line-by-line.” This is a public meeting and he said that any opinions are thoroughly considered by both the board and the administration.

At the start of this process, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Dolan and the school board had stated that they needed to cut $6 million from the budget. So far they have proposed $5.2 million in cuts. Reaching for this goal, Mr. Gross said that the district had offered retirement incentives, which resulted in a $1.2 million savings. Additional, along with some other reductions, he said that there would be a “small reduction in teaching positions,” The district eliminated five-and-a-half teachings positions in Kindergarten through fifth grade, and 11-and-a-half teaching positions in grades six through 12.

Again, Mr. Gross emphasized that the budget “still represents the goals … the quality and quantity and value of a Great Neck education … for each and every student,” to ensure that this education “remains at the same high level.” And, he added, the projection is for next year’s school district population to remain as is.

Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz stated that the board has already met with many individual groups within the school district (such as the UPTC) and “not one has found areas where we can make more cuts.” Ms. Berkowitz added that “all cuts are painful and very difficult for us.” She also noted that the district has been able to “keep education and instruction consistent from year-to-year.”

Board Trustee Donald Ashkenase, also on the board’s finance committee, noted that the board had asked the administration to keep the budget increase “as close to 2 percent as possible.”

Dr. Dolan called the budget process “a listening process.” The administration and the board listen to the community, he said. And at that point, Dr. Dolan noted that the district now appears to have decided to keep some of the elementary school intra-murals and extra help, both only before school in the mornings. Dr. Dolan said that, in order to cut down the budget, they had to put in place “big cuts in very few areas,” even though there are some smaller cuts too. And, he too, assured that the educational program would still be “exactly what Great Neck has come to expect.”

Dr. Dolan explained how over $4 million in cuts have been accomplished. First, there were the retirement incentives. Next, Dr. Dolan said that the district will now “better manage” elementary class size. He assured that the limit on class size will remain stable, but it is possible that classes that are quite small could increase somewhat (but not beyond the limit). Dr. Dolan also said that some secondary positions will be reduced and the secondary index (dollars to spend on students) will be reduced 20 percent. There will be cuts in clerical and custodial positions, with some reductions coming from not filling some vacancies. Hourly teachers will be decreased at all of the schools, and there will be some reductions in before and after school activities. Some of these cuts will be decreases, as opposed to cutting programs, in order to more easily bring back the programs when finances permit.

The next board of education budget meeting, the second budget meeting, will be on Monday, March 22, 8 p.m., at South High School.