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School Board President Patricia Rudd: “Senator Craig Johnson Lied to Us”

At the last New Hyde Park/Garden City Park School Board meeting president Patricia Rudd reported on a trip she made to Albany, with several other trustees, to meet with New York State Senator Craig Johnson. The purpose of the trip and the meeting was to plead with Senator Johnson to please not vote for the MTA payroll tax.

In their meeting with Senator Johnson he assured them not to worry, that he would not be voting for the MTA tax.

Rudd said that when she found out that in fact he did vote for the MTA tax she said, “He lied to us, I can’t put it any other way, he just lied to us.”

In a response to Anton Newspapers, the offices of State Senator Craig M. Johnson issued the following statement regarding his voting for the controversial payroll tax:

“Senator Johnson stood up and successfully fought for a plan that protects schools and taxpayers whose school taxes make up roughly two thirds of their property tax bill, preserves mass transit on Long Island, and puts the MTA under unprecedented scrutiny.

“The Senate Republicans had no problem burdening local governments with unfunded mandates over the last 40 years, and had no problem sitting on their hands throughout this most recent process.

“They refused to offer any solutions to a very real problem they helped create by giving the MTA a credit card, but never enough money to pay it off,” the statement concluded.

Prior to the beginning of the school board meeting, the combined chorus of the Hillside Grade School and the Manor Oaks School performed. The group had previously performed at Hofstra University at the NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) Festival. Superintendent Robert Katulak explained that most choruses perform at Level 1 for their first festival, the group’s music teacher, Sharon Pesenti, chose the more difficult Level 2 pieces to perform, resulting in the group receiving a Silver plaque.

Board president Rudd then asked to go out-of-order with the agenda and announced that the board had signed a retention agreement with the law firm of Lamb & Barnosky to be the legal counsel for the board due to the resignation of current board attorney Richard Nicolello.

The board also recognized Sharon Berlin, who will be taking over for Nicolello, who has held the post for the last 22 years.

Rudd said, “Berlin has been in the district for a while to help us out with legal issues and contract negotiations. We are really happy to have you aboard.”

Attorney Nicolello added, “I had the privilege of working with Sharon for many, many years and she has also been the attorney that I have gone to with difficult problems. She is an excellent attorney and Lamb and Barnosky is a tough law firm so I feel comfortable handing it over to them and to Sharon.”

Rudd said,”Thank you, Mr. Nicolello, and thank you for your time and if you feel comfortable with this firm and with Sharon, then I am more than comfortable and welcome, Sharon.”

During the report of standing committees trustee Joan Romagnoli commented that at the last Sewanhaka Board meeting she attended the athletic awards were given out to 130 students and she said it was a wonderful event.

President Rudd reported on the letter the Nassau/Suffolk School Board Association sent to Senators Craig Johnson and Brian Foley, pleading with them not to “Sellout for Bailouts.” However, both senators did vote for the MTA payroll tax.”

Superintendent Robert Katulak then gave his monthly report and that was in the Desk of Katulak in the Illustrated issue of May 15 in which he extolled the successful Math Enrichment Fair, plus he also mentioned in his column how proud he was of the combined chorus that performed earlier in the evening.

During the open portion of the meeting James McHugh, president of the Parks Civic Association spoke. He said, “First of all I want to commend the board and Superintendent Katulak, especially under the circumstances that you are under and you did a very prudent job with such a reasonable budget.”

He said, “I’m really concerned about next year. As difficult as this year was, next year is going to be really tough. Between the MTA situation and the stimulus money, which is a one-shot deal. So next year, how will we manage this budget and how will we manage our surplus. My guess is that it won’t be anywhere near what we have this year. I do feel that where we have positioned ourselves is a really good place because of our surplus.

“However, a couple of my questions are pointing towards next year. And, it comes down to three things: The funded balance, the un-funded balance and also what are we looking forward to as projected state aid compared to what we received this year.

“How are we situated for next year?” Superintendent Katulak said, “One of the things I want you and the public to know is that when we prepared this budget we were thinking of a three-year cycle. So, we were forward looking, we were trying to prevent roller coaster cycles when you have 10 percent one year, 2 percent the next year, 7 percent and 4 percent. So this is going to be a flat budget because we are looking to maintain those costs. We have also been told by Albany that we will not be getting an increase in our foundation aid for two years, not just for this coming year, but the following year. So, we are building our budget based on that. We are also working with our building principals and district administrators to look very carefully on what they could cut back, on such items as perhaps clinics, etc.

“Our fund balance will keep us okay. We are going to look very carefully at how we will progress the following year and whether or not we will be able to maintain all programs. The initial word out of Washington, D.C. is that stimulus was supposed to be for two years, not just one. So, we are hoping that will help us somewhat.”

Trustee Joseph Bongiorno added, “We are really fortunate to have a superintendent that ‘really gets it’. Are we facing tough times, absolutely, but I think we have a team that really understands.”

McHugh said, “I agree with you and talking about roller coaster budgets, we have had in this district, not to rehash old history, we were always at the top cycle of that roller coaster. We now have a responsible way to govern the district. So, if I could just have an answer to my question about the fund balance, so we can get an idea of what we are looking at for next year.”

Assistant Superintendent for Business Michael Frank said, “Well when it comes to the fund balance, there area couple of answers to fund balance. There is un-reserved, un-designated and there is designated. Long and short the fund balance is really nothing but ‘rainy-day’ monies set aside for emergencies.

“Our un-reserved, un-designated fund balance is, by law, capped at 4 percent of the upcoming year’s budget. So, if we have four or five BOCES students move into the neighborhood and they could cost $100, 000 plus per student, we don’t build that into the budget now to try to take it from taxpayers. We have it set aside in that emergency fund.

“The other piece is the applied fund balance, how much out of our operations, in a given year, is what we are left with. Whether it is extra revenues that we generated via investing or surplus from the state aid, when they finally cut the check. It’s a rollover, we are taking $590,000 and instead of taking it from the taxpayers we will subtract that amount.

“The only other piece, of which we are all very proud of, is the reserve fund which is money set aside by law for a specific purpose. We set money aside for capital projects. That was created by voter authorization as a mechanism of avoiding having to go back out and ask for a bond. So money is being set aside for that. We have an employee retirement system reserve, which helps us avoid the market fluctuations associated with the retirement systems and those rates are going up and down and we can weather that storm because we have a reserve. Actually, we are applying a couple hundred thousand dollars of the reserves to keep the levy from having to go up.”

McHugh asked, “What do we have in the capital reserve and Frank said it was approximately $6 million. I basically ask the same questions every year to find out where we are. Plus, how much money did we get from the stimulus money?

Frank said, “Well, it hasn’t actually come in yet. They announced that they are going to be giving us the amount next year and it is supposed to be $384, 000.

McHugh said, “Well, I think that’s it. I think everyone is upset with the economy and we should all be upset about what is going on with the MTA bailout. I am disappointed with State Senator Johnson, and that vote landed him on the MTA Board which is very curious. When things like that happen, the public just shakes their heads.”

The board also approved the following dates for board meetings, but changed the meeting set for Sept. 7 to Sept. 14 The corrected dates are:

Sept. 14, Oct. 19, Nov. 9 and Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. at Manor Oaks School. Jan. 4 Garden City Park; Feb. 8, 8 p.m. at Hillside Grade, March 15, New Hyde Park Road School, April 12, Manor Oaks, May 10 at Manor Oaks and June 14 at Manor Oaks.

The board also approved the following Special Education and ESL Program to be held from July 6 to July 31 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The teachers are: Janie Bonura, ESL teacher, Christie Giarratani, ELL teacher, Joseph Iglio, ESL teacher, Hyunah Park, ELL teacher.

Staff-The four-week program for Kindergarten Readiness Teacher from July 6 to July 31 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Aides-Four-week program (Kindergarten Readiness) from July 6 to July 31 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Full time Professional Staff-6 week programs from July 6 to Aug. 14 from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Full-time aides/door monitors-6 week program from July 6 through Aug. 14 from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The board also declared various items as old and obsolete equipment and approved donations; some to be designated for various trips.

Further, the Universal Pre-K applications are due by May 30 at which time there will be a lottery drawing to determine who are the 55 children who will be chosen for the program. The meeting finally ended. The next meeting will be set for June 15 at 8 p.m. at the Manor Oaks School.