At the last meeting of the New Hyde Park/Garden City Park School Board the board voted to approve the proposed budget with a few adjustments as presented by Superintendent Joseph Rudaitis prior to the vote.
Superintendent Rudaitis said, "There are just a couple of changes in the budget but those changes are essentially out of our control. The assessed valuation in New Hyde Park came in at $250,000 down, rather than $250,000 up, which the assessor's office told us they thought it would be. My initial take was that it was due to reassessed valuations of homeowners, but it turns out that the entire amount is due to a drop in Business Class No. 4 in New Hyde Park."
Rudaitis continued, "The consequence of that, is that the tax rate has to be higher. So it comes to a 98.95 cent increase."
At that point, Trustee Joseph Cilia wanted to know how much that would mean, in the terms of dollars, to the average taxpayer, for the new year and Rudaitis said that would amount to $53. 44.
Rudaitis said that the other item, that has been changed from the last budget hearing, is that the architect took a closer look at the roof at the Manor Oaks School where there is a leak in the library media center.
Rudaitis said, "After receiving the architect's report, I am suggesting a revision in the budget. Not to increase the budget, but in light of the situation, I am recommending that we lower the Technology Plan. So, instead of purchasing three computers for each second grade classroom, we will only purchase two and the money that is saved, which is approximately $25,000, be shifted into capital projects so that we can replace a portion of the Manor Oaks roof. The portion will be directly over the computer and library media center."
Rudaitis went on, "In the future, the board might want to discuss whether or not it might be more prudent to lease rather than to purchase and to see if in doing so we might get more for our money, but that would not have any budgetary impact this year."
Trustee Gail Keyes said, "I know that we prepare a budget that is going to be financially acceptable to our community. I have only one problem with eliminating one computer in the second grade classrooms. If we are so concerned with remediation in grades one through third in reading, my feeling is this. This board made a commitment to provide technology support starting in the sixth grade and going down to kindergarten and I think parents in this district are expecting that their children, when they get to a certain point, be able to take advantage of the materials they were promised and that we have supported as a board. In addition I believe that second grade is where reading and phonics plays an integral role in the classroom."
Keyes continued, "So, going now to two computers in a classroom, I can only relate what I have heard from the teachers in this district in terms of the use of the computers. That in the classroom there is always a desire to use them and a long line to wait to use them, plus they are a motivational tool. Further, I feel computers are extremely helpful in teaching children to read."
Keyes added, "I understand why you are doing this, but I have a difficult time accepting this as a board member and retracting what we have given our children. I would hope that leasing is something that is feasible. I really have a problem taking computers out of the classroom."
Rudaitis answered, "Gail, I understand your point, but I want to add one thing that may make it more palatable to you. The 1996 Technology Plan did call for us to move into the second phase with two computers. We were ahead of the plan when we recommended three, but we are still right on target with two computers in the second grade. Next year the plan calls for us to add one more."
Superintendent Rudaitis then called for a vote by the board on the 1998/1999 budget. The vote was Trustees Gail Keyes, Helen Gilmartin, Martin Cernese and Joseph Cilia in favor of the budget and Board President Suzanne Wenz and Trustee Larry Montreuil against.
After the vote School Board President Suzanne Wenz made the following statement: "We spent a lot of time, a lot of Saturdays and a lot of evenings on this budget. I want to thank the people in the community who came out to give us both positive and negative thoughts on what to take out and what to leave in the budget. A budget is always a compromise. I think we saw that tonight, with the superintendent changing his decision on the computers in the second grade, to put more money into the buildings. I think that Larry and I still feel, however, that the budget is a little too high for us to support."
Wenz continued, "I also think the other trustees made comments that are very valuable. The fact that this is a complete budget and that we are not a district that floats surprise bond issues two or three months down the line, are some of the comments. Now, that the budget has passed, it becomes this board's budget."
In other board matters, the District Wellness Council has recommended the superintendent explore Character Education as a curriculum for the district. Rudaitis said, "Character Education is something that is being talked about. Some districts, as we are, are doing a fine job. For instance, I commend Hillside Grade with its program, 'Character Counts.' Plus, the Road School, Manor Oaks and GCP are all doing things that respect character education. However, since this is a request, I will be raising the issue with the District Advisory Team, which includes representatives of the BLTs (Building Level Teams) and I expect to be coming back to the board asking for an initiative in Character Education."
In other business, Superintendent Rudaitis reported that the Space Utilization Committee, that the board appointed, has met twice as a large committee and in addition the sub-committees are meeting and they are exploring some "nice" options. He said he will eventually come to the board with recommendations.
Rudaitis also commended the children of both the public and parochial schools for exhibits at the fourth, fifth and sixth grade Enrichment Fair.
He also mentioned the upcoming Wellness Fair that is taking place at Hillside Grade School on April 30 from 7 to 9 p.m. which will include a lot of booths relating to wellness as well as activities.
The board then approved the Summer Program, which this year will be slightly higher in cost. Last year the cost was $195 for a full-day and this year the cost is $212 for a full-day. Last year the cost was $95 for a half-day and this year the cost is $105 for half-day. The program runs from June to July.
The board then approved the names of teachers in the Summer Recreation program as follows: Kathleen Callaghan, director; Carolyn Magoulias, assistant director; Richard Vaccaro, Carol Burnett, Cathy DeGloria, Gina Gaudioso and Patricia Swendenberg.
Next, contingent on the budget being passed, the following summer primary reading teachers were approved: Isabelle Herbrich, coordinator; Maureen Cullen, Angela Fiorillo, Leslie Rose, Laura Ferrera, Rosellen Picciano and Lisa Matteace.
Trustee Lawrence Montreuil reported that he met with John Grillo, the architect for the proposed boiler at the Hillside Grade School.. He said that he requested the meeting because he wanted to be "comfortable in my own mind that what we are doing is appropriate as far as the right way to go vs alternatives in regards to the boiler."
He said that he had, prior to the meeting, sent Grillo about twenty questions. Plus, he said that a few community members who are in the trade, were present at the meeting. Montreuil commented, "Generally speaking I think we are going in the right direction. We investigated whether other alternatives might be the way to go such as forced hot, or a hot water system or a combination of both and maybe only replace one boiler instead of two, but it seems at this point this is the best approach for right now."
He added that he still wanted Grillo to answer some of the questions submitted and further he said he wanted to pursue LILCO to see what kind of incentives they have to offer. He commented that he had invited a LILCO representative to the meeting, but he couldn't make it, but he has spoken to him since and asked for incentive proposals.
The next school board meeting for the New Hyde Park/Garden City Park School Board will be held on May 11 at the Manor Oaks School at 8 p.m. The Budget Vote and trustee elections will take place on May 19 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Manor Oaks School.