At the last Herricks School Board meeting the draft of the 2009-2010 budget was presented to the board and to the public by Herricks Superintendent Dr. Jack Bierwirth. Dr. Bierwirth said that this budget presents a 1.57 budget-to-budget increase, one of the lowest increases in many years.
Prior to the budget presentation, Dr. Bierwirth said, "I would like to express my appreciation to all of the parents and staff members who participated in the budget development process. No school budget process is ever easy. Once a community has established the programs and services it wants for its children, the budget should be no more than is necessary to provide those in the most efficient and effective manner possible, regardless of economic circumstances. That is always what we have striven to do.
"In light of the economic circumstances, we did, however, approach the development of this budget, and to some degree, the next one or two years' budget in a somewhat different manner.
"Just as we have recommended restraint in good times, not implementing new programs which the district might not be able to sustain for the long term, we now strongly recommend figuring out ways, including ones which would not be considered in other times, to sustain programs and services desired for students for the long term through this period. We do so because the needs of the students remain, and because adding and then cutting or cutting and then adding is neither effective nor cost-efficient. To maintain these does, however, require some extraordinary measures."
Dr. Bierwirth went on to say that in developing the budget a number of general principles were followed including:
1. Protect the classroom and maintain core education services for all students.
2. Maintain reasonable class sizes.
3. Protect the health and safety of students, staff and all others using district buildings and grounds.
4. Attempt to maintain continuity of programs and services to students which are desired for the long term. Dismantling and then reassembling programs and services is expensive and ineffective.
5. Postpone or stretch out purchases where possible.
6, Do not cut short-term expenditures in a manner which would result in increased long term expenditures.
7. Maintain the structural integrity of facilities. Do not cut corners which will come back to haunt the district 10-25 years down the road.
8. One-time revenues should be used for one-time expenses. The use of one-time revenues for annual operating expenses should only be considered in dire circumstances and with a full recognition of the long-term ramifications.
Dr. Bierwirth continued with the presentation. He said, "This is one of the lowest budget-to-budget increases 1.57 percent- in many years. Part of this is due to luck, part to good long-term planning and part to actions taken specifically in response to the current financial situation.
"Since it is important for anyone participating in the budget process to understand all of the key parts of the budget and why each part is the way it is, a more detailed overview of the budget than usual has been prepared.
"During the course of budget discussion over the past several years, considerable attention has been devoted to the difference in per student spending in Herricks and the per student spending in most of the neighboring districts, as well as the districts with which Herricks is normally compared.
"Those differences, which are most pronounced in expenditures for general education students, are worth repeating yet again. Differences in expenditures, which seem relatively small on a per-student basis, can be seen in their true importance on a districtwide basis.
"Each $100 per student is the equivalent of roughly $420,000 on our budget. Each $1,000 per student is the equivalent of roughly $4.2 million on our budget. Since many other districts are spending $2,000-$6,000 more per student, this is the equivalent of $8.4 to $25.2 million on our budget. On a general education basis, Herricks expenditure per student is only a little over 9 percent higher than New York City and 13 percent higher than the statewide average, with no adjustment for the higher cost of living on Long Island.
"Herricks has provided high levels of programs and services in a relatively low cost by careful planning and close oversight of expenditures.
"In this context it is worth noting that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Suffolk County Executive Steven Levy recently announced that, in response to the current dire economic circumstances, employees would be asked to begin to contribute to their health insurance, something which Herricks employees were asked to do more than 10 years ago."
Dr. Bierwirth added, "During the past 18 months, Herricks has been part of a small working group, with BOCES and Nassau County, researching ways to save costs in on-instructional areas. Some will involve changes in law or regulations at the state level-changes, which we believe, have considerable likelihood of success given the current situation and the fact none of the proposals would adversely affect children. Others can be implemented without changes in law or regulation. Four areas were targeted for quick implementation. While we believe that some or all result in significant savings in '09-'10 and the greater savings in years thereafter, we have not included any savings at this point in the draft '09-'10 budget. If specific figures become available during the course of budget deliberations, we will include these adjustments. If they are not available in time, they will become part of the June 30, 2010 fund balance. The four targeted areas are:
"Internal Auditor- Prior to the scandals in Roslyn and elsewhere, each district had one auditor. Each district now has three external auditor, internal claims auditor and internal control auditor: The group recommended that there be one internal control auditor under the direction of the Nassau County Comptroller's office available for all Nassau County districts. This would save 30 percent to 50 percent in fees and, more importantly, ensure the best practices and new regulations are shared immediately with all districts. New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli indicated that he feels that the idea has considerable merit.
"IT/Telecom-Significant savings could be realized for school districts, BOCES, Nassau County and also towns and villages and other public entities if changes could made in laws and regulations. The most important would be (a) to allow BOCES greater flexibility in hiring 3rd party private contractors in high- tech areas to provide services to itself and interested districts and (b) to permit BOCES and Nassau County to consolidate IT/Telecon infrastructure and operations for themselves and for school districts, towns, villages, etc.
"New Purchasing System- Nassau County is currently allowed to use a purchasing system, which cuts down drastically in staff time. It does not reduce item costs, but there are significant savings in transaction costs. School districts are currently prohibited from using this by state law and/or regulation.
"Consolidation of bids for private and parochial school busing-participating districts will work together for a joint bid for routes currently serviced by private contractors in order to create more efficient routes at lower cost."
As is often the case at this point in the budget developed process, we do not have solid revenue projections. By law, the New York State budget is supposed to be approved no later than April 1. More often than not, state budgets are not approved until after that date and frequently several months later.
As of this date, the governor has presented a state proposal to the legislature, but no legislature proposals were public. Due to an error on the part of a private school in New York City, a large number of private school students in New York City were improperly coded to Herricks rather than New York City, distorting the projections for the governor's aid package
Consequently, the figures, which appeared in Newsday for Herricks, were incorrect. That package would actually result in an estimated loss to Herricks of $850,0000 to $900,000.
Dr. Bierwirth said, "As the budget progresses, we will provide updated revenue estimates. The possibility of increased federal aid to Herricks as part of the economic stimulus package has also been mentioned. No firm figures are available at this point. Any figures and the rules attached to them will be announced publicly as soon as they are obtained."
Dr. Bierwirth then went over various budget areas such as New York State Health Insurance. The district received a 1. 2 percent for the calendar year of '09. The amount helped the district in the current year, but also allows the district to start with a lower base for the '09-'10 school year and to anticipate a lower than usual increase for 2010 of 6 percent. He added, "We are confident, at least for 2010 that NYSHIP will continue their efforts to offset premium increases by using funds in the premium stabilization reserve. As a result of lower premiums and a 20 percent contribution by the employees, we were able to reduce the health insurance budget by $312,045 for 2009 and 2010." He also reported that the rate for the Teacher's Retirement System is lower than the prior year. The rate dropped from 6.63 percent to 7.000 percent. The rate is lower because it is based on a five-year moving average of the stock market. Although there have been recent losses in the market this number reflects the prior five-year period in the future we can anticipate higher TRS rates.
The Employees Retirement system is projecting a small decrease in the average rate and for that an 8 percent factor is being used, which results in a modest decrease of $2, 095.
Dr. Bierwirth said, "As discussed for many years the $11.3 million bond borrowed in 1990, and the $2,623,200 bond, borrowed in 1991 have been fully paid in the 2008-2009 school year. The Capital Committee established in 2006 reviewed Herricks long-range facility needs. As a result, the community approved a $7,799,110 Capital Project in May of 2008, to address the needs of the district. This new debt was timed to coincide with the full payment of the other bonds. Projects are currently being reviewed by New York State for approval. It is expected that work will begin in the summer of '09. As a result, a project amount for the new bond has been added to the debt area of the budget."
Dr. Bierwirth then touched upon the fact that enrollment has been fairly stable, so staffing looks like it will hold, but he said there is no way of telling what will happen over the next few months; there could be an enrollment surge. However, the current budget reflects staffing at the current levels with no addition for contingency positions.
Dr. Bierwirth then explained in detail the Levittown program which is a half-day occupational education program, which offers non-academic coursework, primarily in the trades to students for whom the traditional academic programs of high school are not appropriate or sufficient. Guidance counselors work closely with parents, students and the administration to determine which students are appropriate candidates for this program. The number of students in this program varies from year to year based on individual students' needs at any particular time and the number of students accepted by the program. Therefore, the budget line can vary from year to year. For the coming year, guidance counselors have estimated that an increased number of students will be applying for this program. The number of students in the budget is just an estimate because the students do not receive their acceptance until late April.
Per capita spending has been held to a zero percent increase for the 2009-2010 budget. This figure represented the allocation, based on enrollment, which each school received to provide for textbooks, supplies, equipment, professional development and instructional materials. Each year some of these lines increase while others decrease, according to the anticipated needs of the school for that year. For instance, due to state mandates, purchase of new math texts have been necessary for each grade level. So instead of directing schools as to where their money should be spent, the district leaves code allocations to the discretion of each school. Therefore, while the overall amount budgeted to each school will remain the same, the individual school codes show increases or decreases based on anticipated needs. Further there is a zero increase in supplies, and no new vehicles are budgeted. Replacement vehicles are needed, but Dr. Bierwirth said he believes that purchase can be delayed.
Two budget lines were cut by 50 percent. The original budget lines were in line with past expenditures as well as with long-term expectations. However, Bierwirth said, "In light of the current circumstances, however, half of these budgets were placed in the draft 2009-2010 budget and half in items for Special Consideration. Two items are:
"Districtwide technology-$117,500 to be used for additional SMARTBoards, laptop cards, etc. in each of the five schools.
Districtwide music instruments $11,450. The Music Department provides instruments for many students, particularly the very large and very expensive ones. Our nationally recognized music program continues to grow and improve. A number of years ago instrument replacement fell behind schedule and if it wasn't for a special grant from the then- Senator Michael Balboni and several years of "catch-up," that we were able to get back on track."
A number of parents were at the meeting to plead for Herricks Swim Teams at a cost of $40,846. They felt that it was necessary to include in the budget, but after a very long discussion the board said they would take their suggestions under advisement.
Budget discussion will continue at board meetings for next meetings including the March 5 meeting and then on March 12 the board will adopt the budget.
At the meeting the board announced that it has been awarded, in the amount of $10,000, from the New York State Education department, a grant for the purpose of conducting a child safety program.
It was also determined that YelloDyno is uniquely qualified and experienced in providing instruction in this area to teachers and the community and they will provide for the materials and instruction for both teachers and parents.
The board also approved an agreement between the Herricks District and the Herricks Teacher's Association and they also approved the agreement between the Herricks Teachers' and health insurance.