Written by Rachel Shapiro Friday, 16 April 2010 00:00
The Island Trees School Board recently voted to approve a 2010/11 budget with a 3.5 percent tax levy increase, a little less than Superintendent Dr. Charles Murphy has recommended.
The board voted against the budget that called for a 3.9 percent tax levy increase, saying the 3.5 percent was a more fiscally responsible number and has more of a chance at passing in a district vote on May 18.
Board President Peter Ray voted for the 3.5 percent tax levy increase over the 3.9 percent because, “It will hold taxes down a little; its less for the tax increase,” he told the Levittown Tribune. “Next year’s budget is going to be as bad, if not worse.”
Murphy explained that although the board orally agreed to put forth the 3.5 percent budget at the April 7 meeting, they wouldn’t formally adopt the budget until the meeting on April 20.
Among the drastic changes to affect the school district in this budget are 20 teacher layoffs.
“Nobody wants to see someone lose their job but we want people to keep their houses,” Ray said. “The teachers that were excessed, some of the classrooms were only 12 or 13 to a class.”
Murphy said the teachers’ union in the district did not accept the offer to forgo their raises to prevent the layoffs.
Included in the budget is a plan to reorganize the elementary schools with the Princeton Model, where kindergarten and first grade students would attend Sparke Elementary School and grades 2-4 would attend Stokes Elementary School.
Early in the discussion of the Princeton Model, parents and board members were concerned with the confusion that could occur with differing arrival and dismissal times and locations.
“We were able to find a common arrival and dismissal area between the two schools,” Murphy said. The students would be bused together and then split up at that central arrival point and go to their respective school.
The two schools will have the same arrival and dismissal times.
Murphy originally said when he presented the idea that the model would save the district $450,000 every year. Without having to duplicate services and supplies for the two schools, among other things, the district would save money.
In the 2010/11 budget two guidance counselors will be cut, one from the elementary schools and one from the middle school.
The elementary schools currently have one guidance counselor each, Murphy said. With this budget, the two schools would share one counselor, working some days at Stokes and other days at Sparke.
The other guidance counselor will be cut from the middle school, which currently has three. None will be cut at the high school.
Ray explained that with the loss of guidance counselors the board expects the school psychologists to step in and do some of the work of the guidance counselors.
After the board finished discussion of the budget, Brian Kelty, an Island Trees resident who ran against Vice President Carl Bonsignore for the board last year and lost, addressed the board and superintendent.
Kelty, an outspoken critic of the board and Murphy, was belligerent in his delivery, accusing the board of ignoring student enrollment numbers. While Kelty shouted aggressively at the board and Murphy, Ray tried several times to calm him down as board members tried to address his comments. Kelty would not allow board members to respond in full and at one point, screaming at the board said, “I’ll bump this up to the next level,” while addressing Bonsignore.
When asked for a comment, Murphy said in an email, “The board of education and school staff have worked extremely hard at developing a budget which balances out the needs of the community and the children. The budget is educationally sound and taxpayer sensitive given the enormity of the challenges we had to deal with this school year.
“For example, significant decrease in state aid, a tremendous increase in our NYS-mandated Teacher Retirement System and Employee Retirement System contributions, a new mandated increase in our health care contribution, a new MTA tax levied upon school districts and a loss of lease revenue of $200,000 since BOCES is not renewing their Karopczyc building lease with the district,” he said.
The board will have had another work session on Wednesday, April 14 and will adopt the budget on Tuesday, April 20.