Written by Christopher Gavin and Elizabeth Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org Wednesday, 29 May 2013 10:09
It was standing-room-only in The Black Box Theater Thursday after the student recognition portion of the Manhasset Board of Education meeting. Normally most students and parents leave at that point.
Not this night. Not after the budget failed to pass. Seats were filled with members of the Manhasset community wanting to know: What happens next?
To recap how this came to pass: A majority of Manhasset voters wanted the budget to pass—2053 voted YES vs 1797 voting NO. That translates to 53.2 percent in favor. But with a proposed budget hike of 5.98 percent, Manhasset was one of seven Long Island school districts that were trying to pierce the tax cap of 2 percent, and therefore needed a supermajority of 60 percent of total votes. Only one of the seven—Bay Shore—succeeded in reaching a supermajority.
Some folks—almost half the voters—were pleased. “We are very gratified [by the results of the vote]” said Laurann Pandelakis, a resident and taxpayer. “It was a victory for families and seniors and business people who have been struggling in this economy, and we hope that the board will stay within the cap, follow the spirit of the law and bring fourth a second budget that is within the cap. And if they do, we will certainly support it.”
But while victorious, that was the minority view. “I’m just incredibly disappointed,” Superintendent of Schools Charles Cardillo told Manhasset Press after the vote. “I think the kids in our community deserve a lot better. They deserve greater support. A district like Manhasset, which is considered one of the prime districts in the United States, deserves a lot better.”
At the Thursday night meeting, Board President Carlo Prinzo thanked the community for coming out to vote, and explained that the Board must adopt an amended budget by June 3. He noted passage or failure of any budget cannot change the District’s contractual agreements or retirement contributions mandated by New York State.
The re-vote will take place on June 18. Additional board meetings have been put on the calendar. (See box.)
“The Board has not landed on a decision,” Prinzo said. “The Board’s role is to listen.” Prinzo then opened up the floor for comments. Manhasset residents had plenty.
The Community Speaks
Community members spoke about most budgets having a cushion and asked the Board to look at cutting the overhead and bureaucracy that would not affect the children. The statements made from individuals included pleas not cut any of the academic “core curriculum” that is so critical to the success of students and “why we live here.” Several suggestions were made to make kindergarten a full-day program, reviewing transportation options.
John Delaney asked what is forced on the budget by the State. The board responded that 80 percent of the budget is driven by mandate or contract and cannot be cut regardless of the voting outcome. Delaney said a change to the pension issue would require a U.S. Constitutional amendment.
The conversation continued to teacher salaries and the contract. The Board explained that the teachers’ contract is up for renewal in 2014, and that the teachers are very sensitive to the feelings of the community and in the past have worked with the board and the administration and made concessions.
Several residents affirmed that the state of the economy is tough, and though the wealth of the community remains, lower returns on savings, unemployment and reemployment to lower wage jobs have greatly impacted the district.
The rejected budget would have maintained all current offerings. The Board outlined what would happen if the revised budget doesn’t pass and the district goes to contingency.
Classes would get larger throughout the district in all grades. All interscholastic athletics, MS, JV and Varsity would be eliminated. All before- and after-school programs and activities, from kindergarten through high school, would also be cut. And there would be additional restrictions under a contingency budget.
The Board and the administration are weighing next steps. The community will be sorely challenged to serve the educational interests of students while finding up to $4.6 million in cuts from the May 21 budget.
PASS, a community group supporting budget passage, offers tips and info at http://passmanhasset.com/content/numbers.