Written by Pat Grace, firstname.lastname@example.org Friday, 22 March 2013 00:00Every year at this time the school board and administration hold meetings and workshops to educate the community on the current budget that it will vote on in May.
On March 2, the school board held its annual budget work session beginning with Superintendent Charlie Cardillo holding a one hour PowerPoint presentation on the 2013-2014 preliminary budget. He outlined the issues influencing the district’s ability to maintain the current programs in the “4 A’s” such as academics, the arts and athletics, and activities in the co-curricular program, while dealing with challenges including the district’s inability to allocate already depleted reserves to the budget, the significant increase in pension and benefit costs, continued increases in enrollment, the continuing loss of state aid—all exacerbated by the requirements of the tax levy cap legislation.
With one major exception, Cardillo made the same PowerPoint presentation March 13 to a standing room only crowd at the Greater Council of Manhasset Civic Associations. That presentation had an interactive feature. Following specific points made by the superintendent, the crowd was asked to vote “yes” or “no” facilitating the collection of valuable information from those who actually did vote.
One fact hammered home by the superintendent has been that for the past five years-between the years 2009-10 and 2013-14-the average budget-to-budget increase was 2.53 percent and the average tax levy was 3.11 percent. A clear majority voted that, looking back, they would have agreed with implementing those averages.
Elaborating further, as stated in Newsday, across Long Island (but not in Manhasset) there has been an enrollment decrease. From 2009-10 until 2012-13 the district’s average 4-year tax levy increase has been 1.69 percent with an enrollment increase of 8.15 percent while the average for Nassau County was a tax levy increase of 2.90 percent against a decline in enrollment of 2.36 percent.
Another chart showed that for those four years the reserves/fund balance in the amount of about $8.5 million was used to keep the budget-to-budget increase and tax levy lower. The administration is no longer able to lower taxpayer responsibility by using reserves. For 2013-14 the proposed budget-to-budget increase is 4.61 percent with a tax levy of 8.78 percent.
Cardillo asked, “Are we to be viewed by one year or a body of work over five years?” He then asked for a vote on, “Do the increases of the past four years positively influence the way you view the 2013-14 increase in the superintendent’s preliminary working budget?” “Tough crowd” he muttered, when a definite majority voted “no.”
The superintendent then covered spiraling pension contributions, mandated by NYS law that, coupled with health care costs, total $2,969,112. Pensions, Cardillo said, dominate the budget increase.
He covered the unanticipated enrollment increase this year as a result of approximately 40 St. Mary’s students switching to the public school, and the decision to add classrooms. When asked if they agreed with the decision to maintain class size guidelines, as specified in school policy, the answers were pretty evenly split. However, further answers revealed the responders wanted the administration and school board to be selective—lower grades should have smaller classes.
Special education expenses, as per the presentation, are up over $700,000 due to staffing and out of district tuition and transportation costs.
In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook costs for security are up $128,043.
Taken as a whole, to maintain the “4A’s,” Cardillo indicated the proposed budget-to-budget increase is $5,470,059. Debt service reduction of $1,455,910 leaves an increase of $4,014,149.
Cardillo and his cabinet have stressed over the years that costs would eventually climb higher. Now, reserves can’t offset increases. And, he added, the sequester will cost the district $45,000 that has not been factored in anywhere. On March 22, the superintendent indicated, they should know the amount of state aid the district will receive.
The 2012-13 tax levy was $77,842,136. The maximum allowable 2013-14 tax levy (simple majority vote) is $77,955,039. The 2013-14 tax levy to maintain the “4A’s” K-12 (supermajority vote) is $84,674,516. If the current budget goes down twice the allowable tax levy is $77,842,136.
A super majority vote requires a 60 percent “yes” vote. It allows a school district to exceed the maximum allowable tax levy cap.
A simple majority vote of “yes” requires a reduction of at least $5,720,950 from the superintendent’s 2013-14 preliminary working budget.
Cardillo asked, “Where’s the outrage?”
Requiring a supermajority vote, he said, is punitive. People are tired of increases and the simple majority vote gives “no” votes greater power. His next slide illustrated that if 4,000 people vote and 2,399 vote “yes” while only 1,601 vote “no” the budget would be defeated.
“We’re painted into a corner by the legislation,” Cardillo said. The school district is being attacked, he continued, by outside forces destroying the core offerings.
Throughout the presentation, in the follow-up questions the yes/no votes were close enough, until the slide explicitly enumerating what would be under consideration for cuts should the budget that pierces the tax levy cap be defeated.
• Eliminating all interscholastic athletics at the middle school, JV and Varsity levels. Very simply, no sports at all in grades 7-12.
• Eliminating all before- and after-school programs and activities K-12. No clubs, no elementary enrichment programs or before- and after-school fine or performing arts activities.
• Reducing up to14 FTE’s (full time employees) at the elementary level, resulting in increasing K-6 class sizes.
• Reducing up to 14 FTE’s at the secondary level, increasing 7-12 class sizes, reducing course options or, in some cases, eliminating course offerings all together.
The “yes” votes increased considerably with the impact of the above slide. The question asked was, ”Do you support the board in maintaining the current level of opportunities offered in our before and after school programs (various clubs, academic enrichment programs, music, drama, etc.?)
However, responses were pretty balanced again when the crowd was asked, “Do you support the board in maintaining the current level of opportunities offered in interscholastic athletics at the secondary level?” Cardillo reminded the audience that the school enjoys a participation rate of about 75 percent in its athletic programs.
The proposed budget will be discussed at a number of board meetings during the months of March and April (specifically, March 7, March 21 and April 4), culminating with the board adopting a proposed budget on April 17.
Additionally, two positions are open on the school board. Petitions to run for trustee must be returned by Monday, April 22.
The public budget vote will be in the high school gym on Tuesday, May 21.