The Island Trees School Board has adopted the budget for the 2009/10 school year. The proposed budget calls for a 2.95 percent budget increase from last year and a 3.98 percent increase in the tax levy.
Speaking about the proposed budget, Island Trees Superintendent James Parla said, "We've worked hard to achieve a balance in maintaining our educational programs while addressing the current economic situation."
This year most school districts across Nassau County have kept budgets below the 4 percent threshold with about half of the county's districts proposing tax levy increases in the 3 to 4 percent range, including Island Trees. For the past several years, the tax levy increases for Island Trees' residents have been among the lowest in the county. The superintendent points out that this year's tax levy increases from other districts are coming down to levels that are where Island Trees was the past several years. This is also the lowest budget increase proposed by the district in the last 10 years.
"We've enjoyed some of the lowest tax increases for the past few years," explained Parla. "This percentage increase is based on last year's budget which also had a very small percentage increase. Although our tax levy increase is not among the lowest this year, overall, taking into account the past several years, we have been successful in keeping the burden off of our taxpayers."
While preparing a budget that addresses the struggling economy, the district was faced with no increase in state aid from the previous year. According to the superintendent, the state aid allocated to Island Trees does not keep pace with the rising costs of goods and services. Therefore, in order to keep the tax levy increase below 4 percent, difficult decisions were faced and painful cuts were made. Nine and one-half teaching positions were eliminated, as well as one administrative staff position, one part-time dean position, 13 part-time reading aides, three library clerks, one library aide, one custodial position and one nursing position. Each school will have one full-time nurse. Some of these cuts were achieved through attrition. In addition, the Saturday Academy and the freshman baseball team have been cut. The Summer YES Program has been put on hold for one year. The superintendent stated that the district is working hard with officials from SCOPE to expand their child care services that are provided during the summer to include a whole day program and the details are being worked out. The school board has directed that the YES program be studied over the coming year and might be considered for reinstatement next year with possible modifications.
Parla said that while there were painful cuts, the board strived to keep other programs intact. The proposed budget maintains extracurricular activities and athletic teams with the exception of the freshman baseball team. Intramural sports, summer music, driver education, summer sports camps, academic support services, Science Olympiads and support for special needs students were also maintained. In addition, curriculum mapping, the mentoring program and staff development, special area subjects and services, support of the College Center at the high school, participation in Commerce Plaza and field trips are maintained. Additionally, the budget addresses upgrades for the two computer labs at the middle school and the high school as well as funds for continued building repair districtwide, additional calculators to support new curriculum, repair and replacement of musical instruments and additional equipment for the High School weight room.
Assistant Superintendent for Business Dana DiCapua added, "This is a budget that focuses on the education of our children. The board of education worked very long and hard with all of the district's administrators so that programs could be kept intact as much as possible."
Island Trees residents can vote on the proposed budget on Tuesday, May 19. Voting will take place in the gym of the Michael F. Stokes Elementary School from noon until 9 pm.