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Cardillo Guest Speaker at Greater Civics Meeting

New York State Senator Jack Martins was at a meeting April 14 with Barbara Donno, his recently appointed Community Liaison for the Town of North Hempstead, and asked if he might accompany her to the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations that evening. The guest speaker was School Superintendent Charlie Cardillo, presenting highlights from the 2011-12 proposed school budget.

Martins indicated, after spending the day in Albany, that he appreciated the opportunity to meet the “Greater Council” members and to hear Superintendent Cardillo’s presentation.

Mr. Cardillo began by quoting a letter that appeared in the April 7 issue of the Manhasset Press, a letter that emphasized “state dictated contributions to employee pensions and rising healthcare costs are driving next year’s school budget up over 3 percent alone.” And “even if every employee took a freeze for next year, the budget increase would still begin at 3.14 percent—-an increase that the community as a whole may have difficulty embracing.” Cardillo commented that back in March when they looked at a true “rollover budget” it would have been 5 percent and the administration was realistic enough to know that was unacceptable to the community. The letter writer indicated Cardillo “is proposing reductions across the board which include administration, support staff, trimming of elective offerings at the secondary school and other spending reductions while protecting the core academic, co-curricular and athletics programs across the schools.”

“That, in essence, is the budget we are going forward with, “Cardillo said, “although it will probably be slightly less, closer to 2.49 with a tax levy of 2.79 percent.” He added that Manhasset’s tax levy three years in a row will end up being one of the lowest on Long Island—he cited these increases: 2009/.045 percent; 2010/ 1.23 percent; 2011/ 2.79 percent.

“We are reducing approximately 12 positions at a time when district enrollment is increasing; we are one of the few districts in Nassau County with increasing enrollment,” he advised. The highlighted position being reduced, he said, is the assistant to the superintendent.

Current enrollment is about 1,450 students and in a few years enrollment is expected to grow to a little over 1,600. Cardillo added that the population at the elementary schools is very high by any standard; Munsey Park/950 students and Shelter Rock/760 or so students. Cardillo credited school personnel for making it work and also credited the terrific families in the community whose well-behaved children make it possible to manage those numbers.

The administration, he said, felt the need to reduce administration costs in spite of the fact that since he has been here, since 2006, there have already been reductions in administration. He said they did a cost comparison recently of Manhasset’s central administration as compared to the central administrations of neighboring districts and found that in the period from 2004-05 compared with 2008-09 Manhasset reduced its dollar cost for central administration by 6.4 percent. Other neighboring districts, in the same time frame, he said, in dollars saw increases of 12 or 13 percent, in some cases far more. Manhasset, Cardillo explained, has collapsed positions over time. For example, Barbara Tancredi, director, performing arts, and Robin Mandor, director, personnel, both retired and the two positions became a blended position, an odd blend, true, he agreed, but one person assumed both positions. Also, during his first year, Bill Stark, high school principal, retired and they collapsed the middle school and high school principal positions. Back then, Cardillo added, the middle school had a lower enrollment—about 200-250 less students. Eliminating the assistant to the superintendent position in central administration is another significant reduction, Cardillo said.

And, he continued, current coordinator for social studies Mara Steinam, who has a background in personnel in her previous position, will have a blended position of administrator overseeing social studies along with human resources. Anthony Ambroglio, who had been in the position of administrator for the arts and human resources, will become the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the arts. “There will be a freeze in his salary—the third year in a row there will be a freeze in his salary, Cardillo said, “no different than me, I will be having a third year in a row of a freeze in my salary as part of trying to lead by example.”

There have been other reductions along the way, he said, all maintaining the essence of what Manhasset is, while maintaining the integrity of the academic programs 7-12 with comparable class sizes and comparable after school programs.

They looked at programs that in past years have historically been considered vulnerable, like the instructional technology program. In the last four years they have made major progress in instructional technology, both from private contributions from the community, the Tower Foundation, the SCA, combined with the district. There is a SmartBoard in every classroom and they have changed the landscape of instruction in the classroom.

“When I became superintendent I inherited a district coming off austerity and instructional technology was impacted, so were facilities. We made decisions on repairing facilities that were badly in need of repair and the community was very supportive, supporting a bond and several capital projects, capital reserve fund propositions too. We have been able to add more money for facilities and our facilities look good. More always needs to be repaired and we are establishing another capital reserve proposition to manage those inevitable repairs,” Cardillo said.

Cardillo commented that this year a few more residents attended the March open budget hearing, probably due to Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget cuts and his proposal of a 2 percent tax cap.

Most Manhasset students graduate with 26 or 30 credits while the State requires 22 credits. Jane Grappone, guidance, has studied course offerings (some still offered but now on a more limited basis) on an individual basis to see how actual students are impacted.

Students are still required to perform community service to graduate but the moderator, a social studies teacher, will no longer allocate time to run the Community Service Program; she will teach social studies full time negating the need to increase class size in social studies. Administration will oversee the community service graduation requirement.

 “The contingency budget this year is 1.92 percent,” Cardillo said, “so at 2.49 percent we are not that far apart. We tried to put a budget out there that would not act as a lightning rod. All budget information is available on the website and is being accessed—there have already been 1,000 clicks on it. It is user friendly and constantly updated.,”

Asked about how they account for the increased enrollment and if all students in the schools are from Manhasset, Mr. Cardillo explained residency is a strict requirement and taken seriously. Increased enrollment is, in part, a result of the poor economy, because fewer students attend private schools. Separate from the economy, Cardillo said they have been experiencing greater retention of students electing Manhasset schools over private institutions.

The fifth and sixth-grade in both elementary schools have peak enrollment and that carries through. The current fifth- through eighth-grade, maybe even the fourth, he said, constitute the bubble. Kindergarten at both elementary schools has dipped down, around 80 at Shelter Rock this year was a significant difference. But next year the middle school will have the highest enrollment ever, 290 in seventh-grade and 290 in eighth-grade for a total of 580 students in the middle school. The proposed tax cap of 2 percent does not take enrollment growth into consideration.

Cardillo said the district saved one million dollars for next year by taking advantage of the state retirement incentive relative to teacher compensation, or teachers taking early retirement.

A parent of a second-grader said his child will be in the system 10 more years and he sees the big picture: the budget goes up every year, while some services and programs slowly disappear. Over 10 years, he said, that will be scores of programs cut, and at a 2 percent increase each year, over 10 years, taxes will increase by another 20 percent. Is it unrealistic to think that will ever switch and there will be little or no taxes and programs will be added? Is that unrealistic?

Cardillo reminded the group that Suozzi had talked about a tax cap, at that time a 4 percent tax cap. Obviously there is meaningful discussion taking place and there may be a tax cap imposed in 1213 and if that happens, as regards your question, he said, it is intended to control tax increases.

Cardillo said they have not spoken against the tax cap but, there has to be some significant mandate relief that goes along with it. He doesn’t want to act now in ways that put the district in a vulnerable situation in the future. District reserves are targeted reserves, and limited reserves, he indicated, “we don’t want to act recklessly, using them to offset the tax levy for one year.”

Asked about the status of the teachers’ union agreement he said it expires June 30, 2012 and there have been extensive discussions with the teachers union from January to March of this year and “we made a decision not to settle where there would have had to be a significant concession.” The district did not want the situation of other districts where there was a quid pro quo. A better situation, he believed, was an expired contract that now, due to the extraordinary times, is more likely to emerge with something that shows greater fiscal prudence. The non-instructional group, MESPA, their contract expired June 30, 2010. There have been ongoing negotiations, mediation, and there will be another mediation session. The quality of their work is exceptional, the superintendent said, and has not been undermined by being nine months without an agreement. Administration contracts expire June 30 of this year.