Written by Chris Boyle Thursday, 17 October 2013 00:00
Money and grades were the main focus of last Thursday’s Herricks Board of Education meeting, ranging from taxes and health insurance premiums to the results of recent state-wide student assessment testing, and the board did their best to cover all the bases for the many concerned parents present that evening.
Board of Education President James Gounaris first addressed the district’s financial situation as it pertains to their current health care system for employees.
Since New York State’s health insurance program, the Empire Plan, runs on a January to December calendar year basis, school districts, including Herricks, prepare budgets based on actual premiums for the first half of the school year and estimated premiums for the second half, Gounaris said.
But while initial estimates for Empire Plan premiums for the second half of the 2013-14 budget showed a ten percent increase, new developments have occurred that have had a positive financial impact on Herrick’ bottom line, according
“With new estimates for January to June of 2014 indicate a premium increase of only four percent, which is less than half of prior estimates,” he said. “As a result, we have been able to reduce the budget line by $194,478...that’s money we can now put to use elsewhere in the district.”
Gounaris said that the main area the district is considering using the additional funds saved from the new, lower health care premiums is in addressing pressing class size issues on the elementary school level. At the moment, the proposed new hires are being considered (all to be used on an as-needed basis):
• One full-time teaching assistant in grade 5 at Searingtown
• One full-time teaching assistant in grade 3 at Searingtown
• Ten 3-hour aides in Kindergarten classes throughout the district’s three elementary schools
“The board recognized that the health insurance savings were insufficient to solve all class size issues, however, the board was as concerned about these issues as the parents involved,” Gounaris said. “New staff will hired as soon as possible if the Board approves.”
Another issue addressed by the board that evening was the new proposed 1.66 percent tax cap to be imposed on New York State school districts in the upcoming 2014-15 school year. With districts already feeling the pressure with the recently-mandated 2 percent tax cap on their budget calculations, Gounaris spoke about a letter he recently wrote and sent to many politicians, including State Senator Jack Martins and Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel.
“Over the past three years, Herricks has had to cut roughly 300 positions. It has been tough; class sizes are larger, services and programs have been reduced, and everything squeezed,” he said. “We have lived within the two percent tax cap, and that has been tough...the difference between 1.66 percent and two percent is over $300,000, which is the equivalent to three full-time teachers, and losing them would adversely affect close to 300 students and their families.”
Gounaris called upon Martins and Schimel, in addition to a great many others, to provide whatever help they could in making sure the proposed 1.66 percent tax cap does not come to bear.
Also, the school board spoke on the recent heightened tax bills received by Herricks residents; many homes saw in increase of 6.98 percent in their school taxes, and Gounaris went to great pains to inform parents in attendance that this large tax hike had nothing to do with the Herricks and everything to do with Nassau County.
“There is a difference between the tax levy increase requested by the school district and the tax rate change calculated by the county,” he said. “This is known as ‘Sticker Shock,’ and the result of the increase in tax rates is the responsibility of the Nassau County Assessor. If any homeowner has a school tax bill increase greater than the increase in the tax levy proposed by our district, we urge them to contact Nassau County to find out how that happened.”
Finally, Superintendent of Schools Dr. John E. Bierwirth gave a brief presentation addressing the recent round of English Language Arts (ELA) and Math student assessment testing for Grades 3-8 under the new Common Core Learning
Standards, and the subsequent drop in test scores nearly across the board, something that Bierwirth attributed to the raise in cut-points.
“We knew this once we were told that grades 3-8 cut-points would be tied to new, much higher definitions of college readiness,” he said. “However, Herricks still scored among the highest schools in the state.”
The next meeting of the Herricks Board of Education is scheduled for Oct. 24 at 7:15 p.m.