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CAC on Finance Re: 2010-2011 School Budget

The Citizens Advisory Committee on Finance (CACF) unanimously supports the proposed Manhasset School District Budget of $83,512,677 for the year 2010-2011. The budget represents an increase of $2,418,398 (or 2.98 percent) over the prior year. The budgeted increase in expenses is expected to be paid for by a $902,346 (or 1.23 percent) increase in the property tax levy and a $1,516,052 (or 19.02 percent) increase in revenues other than property taxes. The proposed year-over-year budget increase of 2.98 percent takes into account that: (i) all current instructional programs will be continued, (ii) all extra-curricular and interscholastic athletic programs will be maintained at this year’s levels, (iii) there are an additional 58 students (1.86 percent) projected to be enrolled in the district for the next school year, and (iv) there will be no increase in the class size guidelines.

The CACF, which is comprised of residents of Manhasset selected by the board of education, is responsible for advising the board on financial matters, specifically on the annual school budget. As in previous years, we note with appreciation the transparency of the budget process, the wealth of financial information made available by the administration and the administration’s responsiveness to CACF inquiries. To conduct our review of the proposed budget, the CACF divided itself into various groups to focus on specific areas of district expenditures, including Special Education, the use of various contingency reserves, major divergences in budget categories, the effectiveness and efficiency of the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), and a comparative analysis between similar school districts. Particular attention was devoted to those segments in which expense items in the budget increased compared to last year.

As part of the process, the group met several times with Rosemary Johnson, the assistant superintendent for business and board of education member Carlo Prinzo and was satisfied that each area’s budget was responsible and accurately presented. We reviewed the budget in detail as well as the methodology of the budget preparation. We note that there have been a number of public meetings, which various members of CACF attended. We have had the total cooperation of the board and the administration throughout the budget review process.

We are satisfied that the proposed budget accurately reflects contemplated expenditures for the school year. We are mindful that New York State law prohibits the budget from being overspent without a special vote of the residents. It is prudent, therefore, for the district to control its expenditures so that there is some surplus within the budget to provide for emergencies. At the end of each year, that surplus is added to the District’s General Fund Balance (GFB). The CACF reviewed the historical record of the district’s surpluses and use of the GFB and found it to be reasonable and prudent.

Revenue from sources other than property taxes was increased by $1,516,052 despite a forecasted $415,827 decrease in state aid. This was accomplished primarily through the use of various reserves. For example in order to ease the tax burden, the board appropriated $1,475,000 of the GFB to offset the tax levy. Although the use of reserves has enabled the proposed 1.23 percent increase in the tax levy to be less than the budgeted 2.98 percent increase in the expense base, one result is that the projected GFB will decrease to 7.7 percent of the budget by June 30, 2011 versus 10.7 percent as of June 30, 2010 and 16.1 percent as of June 30, 2009. The GFB is a measure of the district’s total reserves and protects the district from future eventualities. For example, in the current difficult economy, it is not yet clear what level of state aid will be made to the district, and the budget will need to accommodate possible state aid shortfalls. The GFB as a percentage of the budget is a measure of the district’s financial strength and is a factor in the rating of the district’s public debt. The CACF cautions the board against excessively using the GFB to reduce future tax levy increases and recommends the board establish a policy regarding its target for a minimum GFB level as a percentage of the budget.

The CACF noted that as recently as 2003 Manhasset had the third highest spending per student of any district on Long Island, but has dropped to number 14 in the past year. This has been accomplished through a combination of professionalizing the district’s administrative functions, aggressively pursuing cost efficiencies, reducing some programs (such as the cancellation of foreign language training in the primary schools) and controlling salaries. Some say this is a positive development for Manhasset. Others are concerned that quality of education may have suffered in comparison to other school districts. We continue to be in a difficult economy, and the CACF is mindful of the need to balance the competing desires to offer a premier educational service and to minimize any increase in the tax burden. The CACF believes the presented budget offers a thoughtful, efficient, professional and transparent balance of those competing desires.

We commend the administration for its efforts in minimizing the increase in the size of the 2010-2011 budget for the Manhasset Public Schools. We support the budget and recommend that the community do so as well.

John H. Haberkern - Chairperson

Craig Anderson

Vlassi Baktidy

Merilyn Donnelly

Michael Gaffney

Edward Garofolo

Daphne Hildebolt

Dorothy Hill

Carrie Meyer