Written by Aliza Schauder, Manhasset@antonnews.com Wednesday, 04 September 2013 00:00
Manhasset Public Schools took a risk in asking voters to approve a budget that exceeded its state-calculated property tax cap last spring, as passage required a supermajority. When the district came up 7 percent short, officials cut the initial budget by $3.1 million, and again risked obtaining that 60 percent.
Superintendent Charles Cardillo was relieved when nearly 72 percent of Manhasset residents approved the second proposal, which included a 1.97 percent tax levy increase and far surpassed the state’s suggested 0.15 percent limit.
“I think the key thing is that we kept the integrity of the core academic program in Manhasset intact,” Cardillo said, citing the district’s attempt to prioritize ‘academics’ over athletics, arts or after-school programs.
Manhasset reduced approximately 22 full-time equivalent staff positions throughout the district, including one high school assistant principal. Cardillo said a portion of what is counted as ‘cuts’ are positions the district wished to create but could not afford.
Munsey Park and Shelter Rock fourth-graders must now wait one more year to begin playing orchestra instruments, and unless $15,000 in private funding comes through. The schools’ fifth-graders will not have jazz ensembles or chamber choruses.
Additionally, although Manhasset favors capping second-grade classes at 22 students and sixth-grade classes at 26, Munsey Park’s second- and sixth-graders will likely share their classrooms with one additional student in each. Cardillo said that he anticipates Shelter Rock’s second- and fourth-graders doing the same.
Administrators try to prevent class sizes from exceeding the mid-20s. Cardillo is confident that most secondary classes will meet those standards, although administrators will have fewer classes and thus less room to maneuver in scheduling. The interdisciplinary humanities program, traditionally geared to high-performing middle schoolers, will not appear on students’ schedules this year. Additionally, the district eliminated support classes for subjects such as chemistry, Earth science and social studies.
“There are still sufficient supports in place for our students,” Cardillo said, citing extra help from teachers and in-house honor society tutoring as two examples.
Elementary and middle schools will withstand a 50 percent plunge in extra-curricular funding, while the high school will only cope with a 25 percent drop. Cardillo said high school activities were prioritized because they are integral to students’ college preparations, but he hopes to preserve as many clubs as possible.
Funding for secondary arts and music courses remained intact. And, with the exception of the middle school combo teams, students will compete in the same sports as last year.
Middle and high school students will not have any field trips. Elementary school field trips will take place two to four times per grade level. Cardillo hopes that the Manhasset School Community Association will secure funding for transportation to additional sites.
“While the elementary program today has great rigor, we still want to have experiences where the students can get enrichment and joy integrated into the program,” he said.
Cardillo noted that these cuts were prompted not only by the community’s response to the increased tax levy, but also by the district’s increased contributions to pension accounts. Manhasset veered from its traditional employer contribution rate to the a new, stable contribution option. However, the district still endured a 10 percent hike – which amounted to $600,000 – after cutting the 22 full time equivalent positions.
Aware of these factors, district parent Dino Moshova was among the 53 percent that voted to pass the budget. He is pleased that Manhasset students will not face austerity this year, but believes the community should not have even called for a revision.
“I’ve been living in this community since 1999. What I’ve seen is the slow degradation of some of the programs that had been available to our students when I first started as a parent,” said Moshova, co-chair of PASS Manhasset, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving a high quality of education for its students. He cited the former elementary school language program as a casualty of prior budget battles.
“This time around, I didn’t want to see that happen to the kids in Manhasset,” he said. “I didn’t want to see a number of programs that really differentiate us from other communities be eliminated.”
Maureen Lavin, a district parent and fellow co-chair of PASS Manhasset, said she fears for the district’s future but is confident in its ability to provide a well-rounded education within the margins of this revised budget.
“I’m very happy that a lot of the teachers that could have been lost were able to keep their jobs,” Lavin said, adding that she is also glad to help her daughters — high school “theater kids” — plan for their upcoming production of Legally Blonde.
While they are “under the gun” now, as budgetary questions forced postponed auditions and costume preparations, she knows that the show must go on.
And so must the school year, regardless of the financial cuts.
“I think, in this town, we lost sight of the fact that we are so fortunate because we have great schools, and we have great teachers and our children have amazing opportunities,” Lavin said. “Unfortunately between the two budgets, people got very caught up in the negative.”