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2012 Budget Vote Successful; Focus Already On 2013

The board and administration expressed delight at the May 17 board meeting over the solid support behind the 2012 school budget that passed with a 69.6 percent yes votes. In the eerily quiet weeks prior to the vote, one of the very few letters to the editor on this subject began with the improbable “For the first time ever, the Manhasset Proponents of School Accountability (MPSA) and the Port Washington Educational Assembly (PWEA) are supporting the proposed school budgets in our communities, as both budgets are meeting the new tax cap limits.” Coupled with an uncontested trustee election in which Carlo Prinzo was re-elected and Ann Marie Curd-Fruhauf was elected for the first time to fill the spot vacated by retiring Cindy Cardinal, it was quiet indeed.

At the meeting, it was learned the administration is re-organizing in preparation for 1213 and beyond, in part to prepare for the implementation of state mandates: Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) for teachers and principals.

When assistant to the superintendent Bill Shine left, his position was collapsed into two positions. Anthony Ambrogio continued teaching the arts but added the position of assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Mara Steindam, administrator for social studies, also became administrator for human resources.

The administration now feels the need for an administrator dedicated to curriculum and instruction and they thanked Ambrogio and Steindam for stepping up to the plate when needed. Ambrogio has been re-appointed administrator for the arts and human resources and Steindam has been re-appointed to the position of district coordinator of social studies, both as of July 1. Returning to being coordinators in their respective disciplines is something, Superintendent Cardillo announced, that is important regarding the state mandates.

Charles Leone, assistant principal, Munsey Park Elementary School, will assume a three year probationary term as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, a position, Cardillo said, that reflects his passion and will also be effective July1. Leone has spent nine years at Munsey Park, now heavily enrolled at about 950 students. He had been employed prior to that by the Great Neck School District.

The position of assistant to the president held by Dr. Shine, Cardillo said, had no boundaries, no delineation. Cardillo explained further that due to the magnitude of challenges faced today resulting from the tax cap, the need to change the curriculum (CCSS) and the need to evaluate teachers (APPR) as required by the state, administrative changes had to be made.

The state continues, Cardillo said, to impose unfunded mandates on school districts, while legislating that districts hold budget increases to a 2 percent tax levy cap. Rosemary Johnson, deputy superintendent for business and finance, said under contingency, administration expenses cannot grow, the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum and APPR mandate (including the adoption of a new teacher evaluation rubric and principal evaluation rubric) required significant administrative attention diverting extensive administrative time away from the daily operation and supervision of the programs and buildings.

Johnson also explained the districts are getting hammered on unemployment costs, where substitute teachers who work three days for the district are filing for unemployment for the other two days. Additionally, Johnson said, the district is required to reimburse retirees on their share of Medicare premiums. When asked if that was negotiated with employees, Johnson responded, “We reimburse 100 percent for the retiree’s cost of Medicare and that’s required by New York State.”

That alone, she commented, is costing the district in excess of $500,000.

Johnson also said historically schools maintained reserves of 10-15 percent or even higher, but to remain under the 2 percent tax levy cap, 99 percent of districts used reserves. She said Moody’s rating agency is aware of the rules limiting school reserves and of the current trend of depleting them. The tax levy cap makes it very difficult, she added, noting the district had negotiated a reduction in the district’s debt service but, under the tax levy cap, that the money saved cannot be used to “offset other stuff,” such as increased pension and health care costs, and unfunded mandates like the Medicare reimbursements.

Johnson reported she has had discussions with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on how the tax levy cap puts pressure on school districts to spend down reserves and incur additional debt, and discourages prudent fiscal management. “The reality of living with the tax levy cap is reserves can’t be replenished,” Johnson said.

The next board meeting is Thursday, May 31, in the secondary school board room at 8 p.m.