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Focus on Budget Items at New Hyde Park School Meeting

Prior to its last school board regular meeting at the New Hyde Park/Garden City Park School, the board set aside time for residents to comment on what they wanted to see in the budget and what they did not want to be removed.

One resident was very emphatic about the fact that she did not want to see the following programs eliminated from the budget:  Odyssey, Math Enrichment, Science Teachers, Band, Chorus and Strings because she said, “They provide a well-rounded education for the students and they develop and shape the students analytic and critical thinking skills.”

Another resident, Frank Cienski, listed his thoughts.  He said, “No programs cut, no layoffs. Plus, we would like to see a list of what could be cut.”

New Hyde Park/Garden City Park Superintendent Robert Katulak said, “The principals and the members of central administration are still prioritizing the cut list.  It was part of the school board work session, made public and it will be revisited for future board meetings.”

Cienski continued, “Eliminate the cost to taxpayers for clubs, membership fees, events and conventions and other obligation costs for district staff and employees.”

Superintendent Katulak responded, “In this budget we are scaling back many of these items and keeping those that are required or necessary for the effective running of the district.”

The next question asked was, “What are the costs associated with the school’s conditional surveys, the architect’s payments and are there additional costs related to this and the Capital Program and where is it listed in the budget?”

Superintendent Katlulak responded, “Buildings condition survey is required by New York State every five years.  It was paid for out of facilities code No. 1620.472 and the cost was $11, 402.  By utilizing the facilities existing funds from 2009-’10, we did not have to specifically budget for this item in the 2010-’11 school year budget since we paid for it out of that [2009-’10] budget.”

Cienski continued,  “What items would be imposed on the district if there is a no vote on the budget and the district has to move to an austerity budget.”

Superintendent Katulak said, “Items that are unfunded mandates include: pension contributions, medical benefits, auditor costs (three different ones) texting and scoring costs, special education, IEP management cost, AIS costs, RTI costs, health services costs, just to name a few. An increase in budget is allowed in austerity that equals the lesser of 120 percent CPI or a 4 percent.  For the 2010-2011 school budget the lesser is 120 percent of the CPI or a 1.92 percent.  When implementing a contingency budget the state is specific in terms of what can be increased by the 1.92 percent.  For instance, dept service would not be allowed in this increase.  Instead, whatever the actual dept service is, even if the increase is more than 1.96 percent is allowable.  Also, the state provides examples of “non-contingent” expenditures. A few of the examples are student supplies, certain equipment, capital transfer funding and the use of facilities. Allowable expenses on an austerity budget are referred to as ordinary contingent expenditures.  These expenses have been defined under law to include:  legal obligations, expenditures specifically authorized by statute and any other items necessary to maintain the education program, preserve property and ensure the health and safety of students and staff.  The school board is initially determining what items constitute ordinary contingent expenses.”

Another suggestion by Cienski was to do a total evaluation of the district’s staff and reorganize or re-engineer by either creating a committee or hire an outside agency. Further, eliminate the director of curriculum, directory of technology and the superintendent’s positions and create one position with an assistant for support.  

Cienski added, “If at sometime in the future we can afford these positions, they could be re-evaluated or reconsidered at that time.”

He also asked if the teachers, principals and/or district staff be willing to accept a salary or benefit freeze or deferrals.  This would be difficult to ask for without some type of commitment from the district and Board of Education presuming these things can be recovered at a later time, he said.

Superintendent Katulak said, “This is something that can’t be guaranteed for the future because we can’t predict the economy over the next few years.”

When asked if the district could go to a four-day school week in order to prevent layoffs, Katulak said, “We would have to get SED permission and this would cause additional hardship for working parents regarding child care.”

Mrs. Kuffer and Mrs. Bryant then came to the podium to address the concerns of the budget and they wanted to ask that the board do everything possible not to cut programs or staff.

Superintendent Katulak responded by saying, “Seventy-seven percent of a district’s budget is made up of salary and benefit costs.  We will look to cut all incidental costs before cutting positions or programs, but close to $500,000 in reduced aid is difficult to find.”

Another question by the ladies was, “What happens to excess funds at the end of the budget year?”

Katalak said, “The BOE decides as to where they will assign the fund balance.  They allocate funding to reserves that are to be used to offset future tax levies.  They also allocated a specific amount to be used in lieu of collecting additional taxes; this is called applied fund balance.  For example, the district has given $590,000 in applied fund balance toward the 2010-2011 school year.  If this amount was not given, then the tax levy would have been higher by $590,000 in the 2010-2011 budget.”

It was asked why some Capital Reserve Funds were not put back into the budget?

Superintendent Katulak said, “The 8.5 Capital Reserve budget vote is designated exclusively for those items designated in the proposition. The money cannot be put back into the general fund.  The reserve was created for a specific purpose and the funds deposited in that reserve may only be spent for that which was proposed.  We cannot utilize the funds for any other purpose.  Please understand that the building aid that we got from NYS when it is returned over the next several years will go back into the general fund to help keep cost down.”

It was also asked why the district can’t be more energy conscious and Katulak said that the director of facilities ,has asked all his cleaners to only leave the lights on in the classroom is being used or cleaned.

It was also established that the district does not charge a fee for the use of buildings or grounds because the groups using the areas are residents and are contributing tax dollars.  Katulak added, ‘However, if we went to an austerity budget, the district would be required to establish a rate for the use of buildings and grounds.”

It was asked what happened to the salary designated for the Director of Curriculum, (which is not at the moment filled) and could the money be put back into the budget?

Katulak explained, “The position is tied up in negotiations for the administrator’s contract.  As soon as it is settled the position will be posted and the intention is to fill this needed position due to all new common core standards, new state tests and new APPR teacher performance guidelines which must be implemented and monitored over the next few years.”

It was asked if the district an utilize undesignated reserve funds and Katulak said, “We do utilize these funds yearly by giving back approximately $600,000 to reduce the tax levy.”

The final question was, “Did the district receive the $150,000 that was promised by State Senator Craig Johnson?”

Katulak said, “We did not receive approval for the $150,000 grant, just like many of the other districts in our area that were promised.  Over $8 million in grants were promised area-wide from ex-Senator Johnson’s office. Newly elected Senator Jack Martins is working with us to try to get the payment of the first $100,000 grant project that is sitting with the Dormitory Authority, but has not been signed off on by the Senate Finance Committee to deliver payment.”

The board, having heard from all residents regarding the budget moved to the items on the agenda for the general meeting.

In that agenda was the announcement of the retirement of long-term teachers Grace Quinlan, elementary teacher Joanne Valrico, elementary teacher and Bruce Dedrick, music teacher.  Each teacher was then congratulated by the members of the board for their dedicated service.

Two class trips were approved.  New Hyde Park Road School for Skyline Cruise Lines and Manor Oaks for a Hudson Rover Sloop Clearwater cruise.

The board also gave permission for school bands to participate in the Merillon Little League Parade.

The very long meeting ended and the next board meeting will be held on March 14 at 8 p.m. at the New Hyde Park Road School.