Written by Pat Grace Friday, 25 March 2011 00:00
It was a pretty good crowd for a school board meeting—including school personnel, upwards of 50 people—at the Shelter Rock Elementary School auditorium on March 17. Although she never spoke Linda Stampler stole the show. Stampler teaches business courses at the high school, some are destined for the chopping block, and her students lobbied articulately for reinstatement of those classes.
Dr. William Shine, assistant to the superintendent, likewise has his head on the chopping block, a preemptive strike, explained the administration, to eliminate that argument from those who would use his presence to vote the budget down.
“This is a hostile economic environment,” Deputy Superintendent for Business and Finance Rosemary Johnson said, “a budget to budget increase of 3.67 percent a few years ago would have been considered great, but not today, the world has changed. The past two years the increase year over year has been 1.23 percent and 2.98 percent—we used some reserves to keep it down. “Even so,” she recalled, “last year 3,100 voted and the budget passed by only 140 votes.”
The meeting began at 8:15 p.m. and was run by board vice president Carlo Prinzo. The board accepted a gift of $6,000 from the Manhasset PAL Baseball for Custom Clay Company to resurface the dirt portion of the East Baseball Field at Shelter Rock Elementary.
The special presentation by district architect John Grillo was a discussion of the Capital Reserve Fund Proposition. The board of education determined there is a need to undertake certain capital projects identified as a result of the District’s 2010 Building Conditions Survey prepared by John A. Grillo Associates, Architects, P.C., Port Jefferson, NY. The building survey broke down projects into priority 1, 2, and 3 items. Those projects now deemed Priority 1 are scheduled for repair if the community votes favorably on the proposition.
The 2010 Building Conditions Survey can be viewed at the district clerk’s office in the secondary school.
Proposition #2—Capital Reserve Fund Expenditure Proposition—sets forth that a balance of $2,118,734 remaining in the 2010 Capital Reserve Fund, established for the purpose of funding future district-wide improvements, renovations and/or alterations, be used for the following projects:
Storm drainage reconstruction—$80,000
Running track and field events reconstruction—$485,000
Library/ IT office mechanical ventilation—$88,000
Crawl space ventilation—$422,000
Munsey Park Elementary School
Exterior wall reconstruction—$468,750
Shelter Rock Elementary School
Catch basin and drywell installation—$70,000
Additional items for consideration—$75,000
Total construction cost is $2,038,750 with an additional cost of $366,975 for contingency expenses for a total project cost of $2,405,725. Proposition #2 stipulates the work will be done at a cost not to exceed $2,405,725, and will expend the monies remaining in the Capital Reserve Fund ($2,118,734) together with un-appropriated unreserved fund balances in the District’s General Fund ($286,991). Mr. Prinzo noted,“the district can only spend on the designated projects.”
Proposition #2—Capital Reserve Fund Expenditure Proposition -will be voted on by the community, along with the budget, on May 17.
The next order of business was an update on the budget. Both administration and board members encouraged residents to attend the remaining budget meetings to be better able to make informed decisions. The next one is Thursday, March 31, Munsey Park School at 8 p.m. The budget will be adopted at the Thursday, April 14, board meeting at the secondary school boardroom.
Initially the administration developed a working budget of $87,613,989 with a budget-to-budget increase of $4,101,312 (4.91%) representing a tax levy to levy increase of $4,137,913 (5.59%). Interim reductions of $797,408 were then taken, followed by further reductions of $238,169 creating a working budget of $86,578,412, a budget to budget increase of $3,065,735 (3.67%), representing a tax levy to levy increase of $3,102,336 (4.19%).
However, in these difficult economic times, the administration proposes cutting the budget further, approximately $950,000 more, while still, they said, maintaining the integrity of Manhasset’s academic and co-curricular programs. The current proposed budget now stands at $85,629,682 with a budget-to-budget increase of $2,117,005 (2.53%) representing a tax levy to levy increase of $2,153,606 (2.91%).
Questions from students on the condition of the track, including drainage and surface issues, were fielded by Mr. Grillo who said safety issues were also involved.
Superintendent Cardillo explained after the Saturday, March 5, four hour budget session additional reductions could be taken due to actual enrollment numbers, lower than projected, eliminating one class in each of the elementary schools, and retirements. The district also learned there would be some restoration of state aid, but, he said, if the districts even receives $100,000 it means the tax levy moves from about 2.91 percent to around 2.7 percent. He stressed the budget is a working document.
The middle school expects 50 or more seventh graders over last year’s enrollment to arrive in September. Superintendent Cardillo said he wants to focus on the positive, but, of course, if the district is on contingency, further reductions will need to be taken. They don’t want the next couple of months to be adversarial, he said.
State mandated pension and health care increases are burdensome, trustee Regina Rule said, noting if everyone in the district took a salary freeze the budget would go up 3.1 percent anyway. “Every municipality is facing pension increases,” she said, “the problem is bigger than Manhasset.” Rule added all Governor Cuomo’s talk about reigning in unfunded mandates in the end was worthless.
“I’ve been doing budgets for a long time and in the past budgets were not done as they are now,” Prinzo said. “There is flexibility too. We’re not married to anything. The budget should represent the community we serve.” Prinzo encouraged individuals to attend school board meetings and make their voices heard.
During questions from the audience several requested reinstatement of the business classes, and all stressed what a fine teacher Ms. Stempler was; how much they looked forward to her classes and how much they learned. Cardillo explained business courses would be offered, just not as many.
A resident expressed how disappointed she was that Dr. Shine was leaving, another believed the district was being penny wise and pound foolish by eliminating Dr. Shine, because, she believed, he was the force behind the excellent, intensely academic programming. She believed he had raised the bar at the schools—he brought in double accelerated science and math, middle school science, and the 8th grade challenge— an incredible amount of innovation and academic excellence. If you will recall, she said, a past principal who thought students should just have a good time, the district come a long way, and, she added, without Dr. Shine it will be great for a while but he was the impetus for all the change that she has seen over the years.
Dr. Shine responded saying, “School budgets are educational documents and have to satisfy a wide range of community interests. At the present time our governor seems to look at educational administrations as sort of a bad thing and one of the first things a board has to contend with is public perception. What you said warms my heart but I want to put that aside. And I don’t want to say that this is strictly a political decision because it is not; there has to be reductions. It is better the reductions don’t affect the core programs and don’t affect the life of the kids directly.”
“When you have this kind of onslaught against school administration and there are people out there who will say ‘see they didn’t reduce an administrator so let’s vote the budget down’ and that will punish the kids. The board has to make these tough decisions and frankly I was part of the recommendation for this decision. I believe it is a necessary step,” he said, “to get past these two years of vilification.”
Programs in place, will continue, he said, noting, “none of this was done by me alone.” Shine said the superintendent is totally dedicated, and that Anthony Ambrogio, Ed.D. administrator for Arts and Human Resources, is called “the resident genius” and he will manage school curriculum, that the district is in good hands. There is a level of expertise here that is beyond belief, but that should not be exploited. Shine believes tough times are ahead. “Eliminating the assistant to the president is necessary to move the district forward. It was a wonderful experience for me,” he said, “a great privilege.”
Cardillo commented “We don’t want a community that is torn apart. It is not healthy. We have given the proposed budget tremendous thought.”