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Herricks School District Preps for Budget Re-Vote

It’s rare to see the small cafeteria of Center St. school filled for a June meeting of the Herricks Board of Education.  Following the one-vote defeat of the May 18 budget vote, it was easy to see why residents turned out last Thursday night to hear the latest news regarding what the board had planned for the revote which is less than five days away.

Budget Revote

Board President Richard Buckley announced that the school board learned that the state had approved a retirement incentive for “all its workers,” but little exact information is available.  

The bill was proposed by Governor David Paterson  as a way to close New York’s $9.2 billion deficit by helping to reduce employee costs on the state level and associated pension costs.  

“We are going to look into it and going to see what is best for our district, and we’ll go from there,” Buckley said.  When asked, Buckley acknowledged that the district is in negotiation with teachers and other staff over salaries as part of the effort to pass the budget at the second vote.  “The Herricks School Board is determined to press this issue because we are not only concerned about this year, but about years in the future,” Buckley added.

At the May 26 hearing the board made about $834,000 worth of cuts “which would have the least impact on students,” according to a letter being sent out to residents.  The first proposed 2010-11 budget was for $97,373,015, a 3.80-percent year-over-year increase from 2009-10, with a 4.83-percent rise in the tax levy (what the district will ask the community to contribute), or $84,598,126.  The revised budget now totals $96,539, 015, reducing the budget-to-budget increase to 2.91-percent, and lowering the tax levy to 3.80-percent, depending on the amount of state aid the district receives.  

The average property owner whose home was valued at $616,000  would see their taxes rise by $223 per year.  Herricks Superintendent of Business Helen Constigan pointed out that the district is missing adjusted base proportions (due sometime this summer) as well as state aid figures which are a part of the New York State budget, both of which factor into the final tax levy number.

Cuts to the 2010-11 budget include the reduction of four custodial/ maintenance positions, reducing the number of librarians at the high school from two to one, reduction of an English teaching position in grades seven through 12 by one, consolidation of academic support services at the high school, the reduction of substitutes at the high school to cover short-term one-day absences, elimination of three aide positions, three teaching positions, and almost all funds for the purchase of computer equipment and new musical instruments.  Reductions were also made to staff summer workshops other than those funded through grants.  Savings will also be realized through retirements of senior staff with lower-paid employees.  “All that’s here is programs and teachers,” Buckley said of the budget.  “That’s all we have left.”

If the budget were to fail a second time at the polls, the district would be forced onto a contingency budget and would have to cut an additional amount of about $2.6 million.  However, Constigan said that when unemployment is factored in, the final figure would be between $3.2 and $3.3 million.  The district must adopt a budget by July 1 as mandated by New York State law.

Several questions were raised by one resident in regard to some administrative line items which went up by about 5-percent, but Constigan explained that the raise in question was for a two-year period and not part of the 2009-10 budget since negotiations dragged on for such a period that they could not be included.  Another resident questioned the number of cooperative bids the District participates in, wondering if more could be added in order to save money.  Herricks Superintendent Dr. Jack Bierwirth explained that Herricks makes almost all of its purchases through such bids, but explained the difficulty in sharing services among districts to cut costs.

He said, “One such difficulty is that school districts are not allowed to share fiber-optic cable with Nassau County due to a state law which was passed in 1950.  It was antiquated then, it is even more antiquated now.” Bierwirth told the audience.  

School districts are attempting to get new laws passed which would allow such cooperation and the potential savings would also apply to villages, towns, water districts, etc.  Another issue is the amount of bussing which must be provided to all private and parochial students.  This year, Herricks is trying to bid all private and parochial school bussing in the county as a whole rather than district by district as part of a pilot program.

“It comes out to several thousand dollars per student,” Bierwirth said, explaining the current costs to send students outside the district to private and special education students and dividing them by the number of students involved.  “When bus companies bid, they put  things together rather than the school districts.”  

As a point of comparison, excluding textbooks, the district spends about $200,000 on supplies for all students in the district and about $1.7 million in bussing.

The budget revote will take place from 7 a. m. to 10 p.m.  in the Herricks Community Center gym, 999 Herricks Road, New Hyde Park.

Other Board News

At the outset of the meeting the Board honored several retirees with a certificate for their years of service: Lillian Donnell, Jade Mo, John Conklin Sr., Mary Makarick , Jean Lule , Nancy Sanders, Fran Borsack, Angelo Gargano, Lorraine Vollrath , Ruth Masterson, Abbie Laskey, Frank Moss, George Scalise, Alice Bonnici, Ruth Hanshe and Thomas Brown.  

“Thank you for a wonderful life,” said Laskey, who has taught English in the Herricks Middle School since 1970.  “I grew up here at Herricks and it’s been my life’s work and it’s been a tremendous joy and a tremendous satisfaction.”

 Student representatives Grant Richman, Micheal DiBattista, Grace Oh and Rohan Ghee were honored with plaques for their year serving on the board.

An agreement has been reached with SCOPE Education Services to continue to provide a continuing education program until August 31 for senior citizens who are residents of the Herricks District.  SCOPE announced in April that it will no longer be running the senior program, but the board has been exploring ways to continue the program for next year and in years to come.  

“If the budget is defeated, we’re not going to be operating adult ed. programs of any kind,” Bierwirth said.  “We’re trying to buy ourselves time to continue to work on alternatives so that programs that people are counting on this summer are not discontinued while we work on it.”  Of the nine programs that SCOPE operates, the only one that broke even or turned a profit was the one at Herricks.  SCOPE, a private, nonprofit group similar to BOCES, had reportedly also been cutting back on support and their communication with instructors involved with the program as well.  Last March there were complaints from residents about SCOPE where information was not collected from those enrolling in the adult education program and a lack of phone calls being returned, reportedly due to turnover of SCOPE staff.

The board adopted an energy conservation policy which was in keeping with recommendations by the New York State Comptroller’s office, which has criticized some districts for not having such a policy.  

“It doesn’t change any direction that we’ve been headed in,” said Bierwirth.  “It’s just that we’ve never had a formal board policy that says we believe in energy conservation.”

A grant of $5,000 was accepted from the middle school PTA to purchase two 10’ x 12’ pergolas and other necessary items for the courtyard project.  Plans include setting up the awnings and an attached stage for small outdoor plays and learning stations to create an outdoor classroom.

Dr. Ilene Solomon was named a consultant for the 2009-10 school year to provide training for high school faculty members in understanding and working with students on the autism spectrum at a rate of $250 per hour, not to exceed 25 hours or $6,250.  The cost will be funded entirely through a Federal stimulus grant.  Superintendent Bierwirth explained that the District is expecting an increase in the number of students with Asperger’s and autism at the high school in the coming years.

The District will participate with 36 other school districts in a cooperative bid for the following items: A/C and refrigeration service, asphalt and concrete, boiler welding, boilers and burners, cafeteria/ kitchen equipment repair, carpet/ tile and installation, custodial supplies, drag mops, electrical service, electrical supplies, elevator maintenance, emergency generator service, fence installation and repair, field maintenance, fire extinguisher service, floor sanding, fuel tank alarm repairs, locksmith services, pest control, geese/ dog service, gym/ folding door/ stage rigging, irrigation-new/ repair/ service, lumber and masonry, PA, intercom, master clock service, paint and paint supplies, painting, parking lot sweeping, plumping service, plumbing supplies, pneumatic systems, pump repair, roof repair, scoreboard repair indoor/ outdoor, signs, split AC units, steam traps and parts, suspended ceiling, tree cutting and pruning, uniforms, venetian blinds and shades, wireless clocks, theatrical lighting.

The budget revote will take place from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the Community Center gym.  

The next regular meeting of the Herricks Board of Education will be on June 17 at 7:15 p.m. at the Community Cente., 999 Herricks Road, Herricks.