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Island Trees Schools Tries to Eliminate $170K From Budget

Murphy: We will present a 2 percent levy

On Monday, March 19 the Levittown Tribune sat down with Island Trees Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Charles Murphy to get some first-hand information on the district’s budget proposal.

Dr. Murphy said, “We started off last summer, really concerned about the budget because of the tax cap; at the time we were projecting some tremendous increases with the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and employees’ retirement system as well as their healthcare.” This would have put the district $1.8 million over the tax cap. But Murphy said that these things did not materialize this year, as projected.

“We think we’ll be able to present a budget to the community that will be affordable, it will be at the tax cap, which is 2 percent, and provide just about everything we provide this year,” said Murphy.

The Island Trees district’s goal for the tax levy this year is to stay at 2  percent. The district does not plan to use any of their allowable exemptions. Once the community has a better understanding of the tax cap, Murphy said the district would consider utilizing the exemptions.

Although Island Trees had a significant computer purchase last year, the district has a five-year purchasing plan to update and replace larger computer equipment and additional technology. Seven classrooms are scheduled to get new SMARTBoards; 70 percent of the classrooms at the high school already have the technology.

The superintendent said that the district plans to roll out an iPad pilot program next year for its 5th graders. The program will focus on how the addition of the iPad will enhance the curriculum and the learning process for students before the district makes an investment in iPads for the broader student population. A special education grant will help with the cost of the program as well as the purchase through BOCES.

Aside from salaries and benefits, Murphy says that one of the largest line items in the proposed budget is for the voting machines and equipment needed because of an unfunded mandate requiring the district to maintain paper ballots for each voting resident, even though, on average, only about 10 percent of residents in the district actually turn out for school budget votes.

One of the largest decreases in the budget is on the administrative staffing line, with two positions not being filled following the retirement of two employees. Since the addition of the sports marketing and SAT preparation classes, the district has noticed a decrease in the demand for electives in the high school, such as music and the arts.

The district may lose two elementary school teachers, due to enrollment numbers and not due to programming cuts, Murphy said.

The Island Trees school district is in negotiations for the custodial and administrative contracts, and has been in talks with the teachers’ union for a year. “In past years, the district has been very easy to settle with the teachers’ union, but now with the tax cap and dwindling state aid we have to be very careful in negotiations,” said Dr. Murphy. He said if the district settles with the union, they risk having to excess teaching staff; conversely, if they don’t get it settled, the district risks affecting programming.

The positions vacated by teaching and administrative retirements were collapsed to help protect programming cuts, he said.

To date, Murphy said the board and administration has about $170,000 to cut to get under the tax cap. He said, “No one wants to reduce middle school athletics, which was on the table, and no one wants to reduce the music program significantly.” He said that these two major areas combined could put the district under their tax cap goal. “We have two weeks to try to find it elsewhere,” he said.

A school budget did fail about 22 years ago but passed on a revote, Murphy said. He added that, to date, he does not recall the district ever having to rely on a contingency budget. “We’re confident with this budget; it’s fair,” he said. Last year the budget passed with 894 votes in favor and 520 votes against.

Murphy said the one thing he feels the community is looking for with this proposed budget is, “They want to see an affordable budget; people are struggling right now.”

The district has had two opportunities in the past to consolidate services with neighboring school districts, as a cost-savings effort, and each time the community voted against the shift.

Murphy concluded, “I think there is a unique identity at Island Trees,” he said, and one he expressed pride in.

A special Island Trees Board of Education meeting will be held for the purpose of budget adoption on Tuesday, March 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the Stephen E. Karopczyc School general purpose room at 74 Farmedge Road in Levittown. All past and future meeting dates can be found on the district’s website, including meeting agendas and copies of each meeting’s minutes. For additional information, contact the Island Trees Public Schools administrative office at (516) 520-2100.