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Manhasset School District Fund Balance Analysis

The Feb. 17 school board meeting was conducted for the first time following the newly formulated bylaws which encourage greater community participation. Accordingly, the agenda is posted on the website and estimated times are provided for each agenda item. Another new feature is that residents can submit questions to the board to be answered at the meetings.

The second floor boardroom was filled to capacity with 11th grade students in Mrs. Untracht’s and Mrs. Kannengieser’s classes who had been declared regional winners in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards 2011 contest: Julia Comerford, Michael Domanico, Rachel Lii, Julia Smaldone and Emily Snedeker. Families of the award-winning students were also present, intermingled with members of the Manhasset Educational Support Personnel Association, (MESPA). Each group easily identifiable: parents by their cameras; employees by their circular, bright yellow buttons, “MESPA Without Contracts.” School board President Cindy Cardinal thanked those MESPA workers responsible for clearing roadways so well following the recent snowstorms allowing parents and buses to get through.

Before the special presentation on the fund balance, discussion revolved around bullying, and the guest appearance of Mr. Halligan whose son committed suicide after being bullied by classmates in school and on the Internet. That meeting was well attended by parents—and, surprisingly, it was said, by empty nesters too. The board mentioned CASA’s Cathy Samuels and Lisbeth Shibley for their input. Also mentioned was Halligan’s emphasis on the importance of educating the bully’s friends and bystanders as effective tools in combating bullying.

Fund Balance Analysis

The fund balance analysis was provided by Rosemary Johnson, deputy superintendent for business and finance. As she does each year at this time, Ms. Johnson presented the projected status of the district’s 2010-11 budget for revenues and expenses as of Dec. 31, 2010. Ms. Johnson cautioned that because the projections for 2010-11 revenues and expenses are based on actual results through Dec. 31, 2010, the projections contain estimates and assumptions that are subject to change and which could impact actual results for the year.

The district estimates that its actual revenues for 2010-11 will likely equal budgeted revenues of $83,512,677 and that its actual expenses for 2010-11 will likely be below budgeted expenses of $83,512.677 by approximately $1.65 million. Ms. Johnson reviewed the major components of the better than expected results: special education, compensation and transportation are all expected to come in under budget.

Ms. Johnson explained that Special Education remains the most volatile component of the district’s budget as the student population is always in flux, and as the needs of the students change. The district budgeted for 500 classified school-age students and 40 pre-school students to receive related services in 2010-11. As of October 2010, the district was servicing 478 school-age students and 31 pre-school students. The district budgeted for 42 special education students to attend out of district schools. The actual full-time equivalent student count is 38.

With respect to compensation, Ms. Johnson detailed the 2010 Retirement Incentive adopted by the district in late June 2010. She explained that in June 2010, NYS enacted a Retirement Incentive whereby teachers were offered service credits as an incentive to retire, subject to certain limitations. These limitations included the ability of the district to achieve savings of 50 percent over a two-year period on the total base salaries of the retirees against the replacement employees.

The district, through an agreement with the Manhasset Education Association, was able to achieve such savings. The MEA agreed that all teachers hired to replace retiring teachers would be placed on BA Step 1 of the teacher salary schedule, regardless of prior experience. If the replacement teachers are asked to return for a second year of employment, they will be placed on MA Step 2 if they have achieved a master’s degree.

The gross amount of salaries saved in 2010-2011 is $1,123,103. The estimated payment for service credits of $1,258,547 will be paid to the Teachers Retirement System in fall 2011. The district estimates that net savings resulting from its implementation of the 2010 Retirement Incentive will be $2.4 million over the period from 2010-11 to 2014-15.

Ms. Johnson reviewed employee benefits, where it is projected the district will spend about $77,000 more than the $16.1 million budgeted. Ms. Johnson highlighted that pensions, health insurance and unemployment benefits have all increased dramatically, and are expected to continue to do so.

Finally, Ms. Johnson reviewed the status of the district’s reserves. Ms. Johnson explained that the district actively utilizes its reserves to manage its capital needs and the tax levy, among other items. Reserves however, must be replenished each year to continue to support the tax levy. Funds such as those generated by achieving better than expected results for the district’s revenues and expenses as described above are used to replenish reserves. Active use of reserves has enabled the district to limit its tax levy the last two years to .45 percent and 1.23 percent.

Wrap up

Following Johnson’s presentation trustee Carlo Prinzo reminisced how he and co-trustee Regina Rule had served on the Citizens Advisory Committee for Finance “back in the dark ages” when the district had had a seemingly endless parade of budget officials resulting in no year-to-year financial memory. He congratulated Ms. Johnson for her years spent streamlining the budget, cautioning against the inclination, when all goes so smoothly, to take her for granted.

Most school districts, it was said, are experiencing declining enrollment, while Manhasset is currently bucking the trend. In the past the district hired demographer Lloyd Bishop who provided low, middle and high projections for future enrollment, at a cost roughly around $11,000. The projections are now being handled in house by Dr. William Shine, and the board declared it to be more accurate. Another board member underlined that Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget tax cap of 2 percent annually does not allow for enrollment growth.

The site preparation has been completed by Huntington Coach and buses began using the town facility near North Hempstead Beach Park (Bar Beach) in January, creating more space at the secondary school.

 Following the presentation, time was allotted for public comment.

Public comment was also encouraged later in the meeting on recommended motions on the consent agenda. Additionally, the public was invited to speak on any item that is, or is not, on the agenda during “Open Time.” At the Feb. 17 meeting that was calculated to occur at 9:50 p.m. and was pretty much on target.

The next BOE meeting is March 3 when Dr. Anthony Ambrogio will discuss Curriculum Overview: Fine and Performing Arts. March 5 is a Budget Work Session at 9 a.m. in the secondary school boardroom. The public is welcome.