At the last meeting of the New Hyde Park/Garden City Park School Board Assistant Superintendent for Business Michael Frank announced that the budget-to-budget increase for the district would be 3.02 percent.
Before he turned the budget over to Assistant Superintendent for Business Michael Frank, Superintendent Robert Katulak also commented on the budget. He said, "Just to give you some background information, this budget was a team effort of all the administrators who head up the various departments. They were all given the direction that they should look for a zero percent increase on most of their budget lines so that the budget would be fiscally prudent and sound.
"The driving force, in this district, as it should be in all districts, is student achievement. So whatever we are doing it is for that. Some of the guiding principles in the budget; the first thing we heard from were parents in our district and they asked us to please maintain the necessary academic services and support services that we have in place. They also asked to keep class size on average of 22 to 25 students. Our highest-class size is 27 and our lowest is 18. However, when you have two classes of 18 students in small schools like Manor Oaks or Garden City Park, it is impossible to divide those classes.
"The next thing is to maintain the concept of a highly qualified professional with the focus on staff development. Under the No Child Left Behind Act requires that every teacher must be qualified under the New York State all teachers who are recently certified must deliver 175 hours of professional development every five years in order to maintain their teaching license. Each district has a responsibility to do that and we are attempting to do that in the most fiscally sound manner by using our own staff and administrators.
"Next was to maintain our current staff. We are not looking to cut anybody who will help to foster our local economy and we will redeploy our staff accordingly to staff that is needed rather than additional hiring.
"One of the things that you read about is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so we are trying to keep our facilities secure and maintain to prevent future high-cost repairs. It is much easier to look at a roof and to patch and make sure it's not leaking, rather than put a new roof on which would cost up to $2 million.
"We worked as a team at the building levels all the way up to the central office to reduce as many of the expenditure lines in the budget without hurting kids and we kept the focus on improvement of all students.
"The other pieces that are included in the budget is that we have a five-year plan to bring us into the 21st century and this is how we are going to be doing it.
"One of the things we are looking at is to continue the implementation of the SMARTBoard technology in all grade three classes throughout the district. We started at the top with 6th grade so currently all 6th, 5th and 4th grade classes at the conclusion of this calendar year will be equipped with SMARTBoards.
"At one of the board meetings we talked about the instant feedback response system which teachers can instantly access whether students understand concepts and then regroup those students for instruction. Therefore, we are looking to obtain the documents, cameras and projection systems in each building so that the teachers and students can participate in multi-media instruction. That is one of the things that is key in all industries. Camcorders and web cams will help facilitate student's abilities to create their own multi-media contents across the subject area.
"Many of our computer work stations that are obsolete and we are looking to replace about 40 of those in all of the district and all of our specialists need to have computers in their work stations because now they are required to take attendance by computer, which is part of New York State law, as well as do their lesson plans on the computer as well as interaction by way of email. So, we will be supporting our instructional program with various software purchases.
"There were certain positions that we were going to put into the budget this year, but due to a $400,000 cut in aid from the state and the freezing of foundation aid from the state we are ending up with 11 percent less revenue. So because of that these are the things the board has decided that we will have to live without for another year. Those items include: An additional grounds man, Data input clerk, ESL Teacher, Early Intervention Speech/Language Teacher, Backstop at Hillside Grade, Expansion of Cultural Arts Program, Purchasing Agent.
"Due to not hiring a purchasing agent we have entered into a Inter-Municipal Agreement with BOCES in terms of transportation services and in ordering supplies such as Xerox papers. Now, there will be 49 to 50 school districts all doing that.
"However, what will we be looking to implement that will not cost us a lot of money but will be moving us forward. We are using what is called a Turn-Key Model and teachers and administrators in each of the buildings being trained in specific strategies. Since I am a certified trainer in these disciplines, I will be able to provide that training for the teachers and administrators without charge, which will save the district anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 a day.
"Administrators began training, this year, in what is called, "A Response to Intervention. This has to do with the way students come up when they are having a difficult time learning before they get referred to Special Education Services. We have to provide a program of Intervention and that through what is called a Pyramid of Intervention Model. There are three tiers of services. Tier I happens right in the classroom by the regular teacher. Tier 11 services happen through the specialist we have on staff, a reading, a math remedial teacher or an ESL teacher. Tier 111 Intervention Program does not exist in the district. So we are looking into the possibility, if the Federal Stimulus money ever gets here, because it has to go through 12 filters before it reaches an individual school district. The money that we are earmarked to get is only dedicated to one purpose and that is through IDEA funding and that is for special education services. We will be able to look at a program called Read 180 which is currently in the 7th and 8th grade at Memorial High School possibly that will get started in the 5th and 6th grade and a very specific multi-modality reading for students who have had difficulty in comprehension called Wilson Read. Those are two Tier 111 programs that we are looking at with that money, if we ever get it.
"For balanced literacy in our ESL we have invested in our Scott Foresman program and we will continue with that and lastly we will be doing math training in the program that will be selected for the pilot at our April meeting.
"Now I will turn over the meeting to Assistant Superintendent Michael Frank, who will take you through the budget."
Superintendent Katulak added, "One of the most important things that I ask you to place attention to is the difference between what is considered a cash voted on budget and a contingency budget."
Prior to his presentation Frank made sure everyone in the very large audience had a copy of the budget, which was available and is available at the Administration office in the Manor Oaks Schools for those who wish to look at it line-by-line.
Frank said, "I just want to tell you that the board and the superintendent have all given me the same charge. That is to avoid the erratic budget increases. They don't want it to be relatively level. We are not 100 percent there yet, but that has been our goal.
"Superintendent Katulak mentioned a plan and we are actually working on a five-year plan for everyone of the departments in the district.
And the importance of having a five-year plan is that you focus on the direction and it lets me know what people intend to be purchasing in the next five years and planning for it now we will be able to accommodate those needs when the time comes.
"To understand the budget we have done it in terms of a line-item budget. We give you every single line item of the budget that exists here in this district. The lines are coded and everyone is a part of a uniform system of accounting codes. We don't up codes, they are given to us from the state. We adhere to their system."
He then went through describing each code on the left-hand page of the budget and how it responded to the right-hand side of the page that gives a detailed description of each code and how it is used.
He then said the codes break down so that they are easily read. He said, "For instance any code that starts between100 and 199 are salary codes. Anything that starts between 200 and 299 are equipment codes such as SMARTBoards, technology items. For whatever reason the state left out the 300 codes and nobody really knows why.
"The 400 codes are broken into three categories or three ranges. The 400 to 479 are all contractual codes; when it's a 480 code it's textbooks and the 490 codes are BOCES. The last of the items are the 500 codes, which are materials and supplies.
"We will be posting the budget on the website so that all the residents can read it or they can come and pick up a copy of it at our offices.
"We have come from double digit budgets to where we are today. In any given year we try very hard to propose a budget of between 3 to 5 percent.
"Just to give you a little background of what we have to work with, the number in the '09-'10 for salaries and benefits that number alone of $23.6 billion represents approximately 75 percent of our entire budget. So, 25 percent of the budget is everything else and that is what the budget builders have to work with and I think they came through with flying colors.
"If you look at the equipment line you will see that there is a $213, 000 reduction on that line. That is a little misleading because we are actually expending a little more on the BOCES line and the extra money is actually for equipment and the only reason we are doing that is that we get BOCES aid back for making equipment purchase through BOCES.
"The textbooks are going down by about $47,000 and that doesn't mean that we are not supplying textbooks for everyone that needs them, what it means is quite simple. The ELA and the math after this year have been rolled out and next year's proposal is to have Social Studies roll out which happens to be less expensive in terms of the ELA and the math books.
"The BOCES expenditure is for $834,000. We utilize BOCES as often as we can because it is a cooperative. We analyze it to make sure it is cost-effective and we get back some of that aid the following year. They handle our network maintenance, our financing and accounting systems are used through them and we utilize them for cultural arts. In fact there is a whole slew of services we use in BOCES.
"Transportation and we bid out those costs, but some of those items are done 'in house' and we have three bus drivers.
"The debt-service is associated with the bond we voted on years ago and there is very little we can do about that."
He continued to go through the rest of the budget explaining that Special Education costs are mandated and those costs must be met.
He then explained the tax levy. He said, "Basically the district has two budgets the expenditure budget and the revenue budget which has to equal the expenditure budget. In other words, the revenues have to equal the expenditures."
Frank continued, "In order to calculate what the tax levy is we have to look at all the other sources of revenue to the district. So we have to collect the sources of revenue and first is state aid, we have interest income and we have tuition from other school districts that send their children here. We have monies that we receive when residents from other districts attend Notre Dame school because we provide health services and we bill those districts for that. We take all those sources of revenue and take those amounts and apply them to the expenses and the amount that is left, the amount that is unfunded, the amount that is still needed to balance the budget that is the tax levy. Our ability to keep the tax levy down for this year was to go into the reserves that we planned for a few years ago. So by doing so we were able to have a levy-to-levy increase of 3.8 percent.
"The levy increase would have been 5.21 percent without using the reserves so if we had not planned ahead that is what we would have been presenting."
He then went on to explain what a fund balance is and he said it's really just a rainy-day fund.
He continued, "But it's actually broken into two parts. The reserved fund balance and the un-reserved fund balance. Those are the monies we put aside for the future. The un-reserved designated is the part that the district gives back to taxpayers to offset the tax levy so $590,000 will be applied to next year's tax levy. The un-designated fund balance is the one that is capped by law and that used to be 2 percent but then it went to 3 percent and then 4 percent and right now we are at 4 percent. I personally don't think that the percentage is really fair for a small school district like ours, but it is the law.
"The budget you will be voting is on the expenditure budget, not on the revenue budget. We provide you with the revenue information so that you have that. We don't have the governor's proposal or the legislator's proposal and until we have those figures this is our worst case scenario."
He went on to say, "So, what is a Contingency Budget, and it is really nothing more than a state imposed cap on how much we increase the budget line if the budget fails two times. If the budget fails the first time the board has to make a decision and that is whether or not to go out for a second vote. If they choose to go out for a second vote they can put back the same budget or they can choose not to go for a second vote and go straight to a Contingency Budget. There is a formula and it is mandated to be followed. In a Contingency Budget the capital projects come out, can't take care of building and can't expend money on equipment. The district would have to charge fees for all facility usage and/or the board might choose to not have the facilities used at all. The last piece, either way the budget and the levy go up. A lot of people think that if you vote no on the budget the taxes will stay the same and that is not the same. The state imposes a cap because they understand the district will have increased costs. One way or another the budget and the levy will go up.
"The tax bill of this year's budget to the average taxpayer, for just the elementary school would be $ 2, 601.05. Under the Contingency Budget it would be reduced to $2, 564.08 The difference between these two budgets is $36.97, Remember one way or the other the budget is going up. Keep in mind if it does go up in the proposed budget are all the equipment items proposed and they will hold true to the 5-year plan, but that won't be in the contingency budget."
He ended his presentation by saying, "Don't forget the Central High School District is completely separate from ours. Thank you for your attention."
Superintendent thanked Assistant Superintendent Frank and his staff for their hard work in putting together the budget.
The board then opened the meeting for questions from the public.
One man said, "Why can't the 75 percent of the budget be reduced. President Obama said we all have to feel the pinch so why don't the teachers feel that pinch. Who is paying the money to the teachers, we are paying that money and why can't there be a decrease of cost to salary and benefits. I would like to know why we can't all get together and feel that pinch."
Superintendent Katulak said, "The teachers right now have a contractual agreement, however, in the future the board will be looking at just what you are asking us to reduce. The state, on the advisement of all the Nassau Board of Educations is looking to come up with a Tier 5 level of pension system. That would create a system that all new employees will contribute 50 percent to their pensions. We are listening to the taxpayers, but like any bureaucracy it takes time. But one good thing this recession is doing is that it is making all districts look at our operations and make sure we are working effectively and efficiently and I think eventually all the bargaining units will do that as well. And, thank you for your input.
Another resident said that the classrooms are too warm but Superintendent Katulak said that the state requires that they must be kept at a certain degree and another said that the teachers don't like the Smart Boards, but the superintendent disagreed with that statement.
At the outset of the meeting All County Music Students gathered to sing God Bless America. They came from all four schools and included: Garden City Park Students: Danielle Gerbe, Emily Park, Kirsten Rivers, Amanda Mirabile, Julissa Osorno, Kyra Siton. Hillside Grade Students: Sachin Jacob, Kevin Keenan, Grace Lee, Andrew Polito, Jay Shah, Emilee Abel, Kaajal Ahuja, Taylor Alvarez, Sabrina Balducci, Lorenzo Focarino, Kaila Hasenflue, Mackenzie Lynch, Kiarra Nayyar, Jason Padilla, Daniella Malliae. Manor Oaks Students: Michael Orlik, Joshua Rajan, Michael Rhindress, Marc Yuricic, Priyanka Algu, Kyle Bangug, Jessica Fox, Gabriella Kesner, Gregory Kothesakis, Ryan Sanudo, Sara Seper, Camille Bangug. New Hyde Park Road Students: Sophia Anuth, Natalie Cullen, Loren Moon, Kevin Rice, Jaclyn Williams, Christopher Yeom, Amanda Peralta, Rebecca Rayappa, Laura Roantree, Jenny Thomas, Victoria Mooney, Lauren Torrisi.
After the students sang New Hyde Park Road School Principal Peggy Marenghi explained that the New Hyde Park community was responsible, through various fundraisers at the school, for the rebuilding of a school in Slidell, Louisiana that was destroyed due to tsunami. She then showed a film of the school and how delighted all the students were to have their school back, due to the efforts of Principal Marenghi and the folks in New Hyde Park.
School Board Trustee Ernie Gentile reported in the stimulus package is the fact that there is money for the MTA for the third track, which would be detrimental to the New Hyde Park School district.
Trustee Joan Romagnoli said that they had protested about the unfunded mandates and Trustee Annette reported that the state wants to shift the responsibility of funding for this program of Pre-School Special Education from the state to the individual local school taxpayers. She said, "This was an action that the district opposed because it would result in a $37 million price tag for Nassau County, which would be totally unacceptable and it would have to be shared by the school districts.
"In addition, there was a deficit reduction assessment and I am sorry to say that was passed. This penalizes Long Island. People in Albany think everyone on Long Island is very rich and we can support the higher tax rate, which amounts to 42 percent. We asked our legislators since we are taxed at 42 percent then we would like our fair share back. All Nassau representatives advocated for that. What we tried to drive home to all our legislators that balancing a budget on the backs of the local taxpayer is totally unacceptable. As Gentile said, 'We, too, have a cap, and its our annual budget vote and that is so true."
Trustee DelSanto said that the Sewanhaka Central budget-to-budget increase is going to be 1.4 percent which translates to about a 4.8 percent increase in the tax levy. He said that $3.6 million was cut from the budget. On the chopping block were Summer School and the additional counseling that goes along with that; Driver's Education Program, A 20 percent reduction in inter-mural sports. He said, right now it's a very lean budget.