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Manhasset Schools Update: March 5, 2013

At the Saturday, March 2 Manhasset Board of Education budget work session, the audience was asked to consider the following question: If back in May 2008, you were informed by the board that the community would be guaranteed a five year average budget-to-budget increase of 2.53 percent and average tax levy increase of 3.11 percent, would you have supported such a resolution?  Several community members seated in the audience responded, “I would sign on the dotted line,” and “I am all in,” suggesting that these increases, as an average, support the maintenance of the “4A’s” – Academics, Arts, Athletics and Activities  - in Manhasset and are a reasonable expectation for continued excellence in our schools.

Here we are, five years later. Including the preliminary working budget for 2013-14, the board has delivered on this five-year average during incredibly challenging economic times. For those of you who were unable to make the well-attended budget work session, you should be aware that the school district is confronted with the reduction of $6,832,380 from the superintendent’s preliminary working budget and tax levy if the budget does not pass on Tuesday, May 21, or on a second vote which would follow several weeks later.  Quite simply, such a reduction would mean a drastic change in what the Manhasset community has historically cherished in its K-12 educational programs, including a significant adverse impact on the current structure of the “4 A’s.”  You may wonder, “How did we get to this point?”  The following provides a summary of the historical and financial circumstances that have led us to this critical moment for our schools.

A review of recent financial history reminds us that the Manhasset school board and central administration began a self-imposed tax levy cap three years prior to the actual implementation of the state imposed tax levy cap.  The 2009-2010 tax levy increase was 0.45 percent, while at the same time, other school districts in Nassau County saw an average tax levy increase of 2.78 percent.  During a period of four years, Manhasset’s budget increases, covering the period from 2009/10 to 2012/13, had an average tax levy increase of 1.69 percent compared to the other school districts throughout Nassau County with an average of 2.90 percent.  At the same time, Manhasset’s average budget-to-budget increase of 2.02 percent during this period of time remained consistently lower than the Nassau County average of 2.32 percent.  Simultaneously, Manhasset’s schools were experiencing a growth in enrollment of 8.15 percent while the school districts throughout Nassau County saw a 2.36 percent decline in enrollment.  During this four- year period, Manhasset prudently used reserves and fund balance of $8,403,859 to offset tax levy increases.  Because the district has used, in part, its reserves and fund balance to maintain low budget and levy increases over the last four years, as such it is no longer available for the 2013-2014 school year, nor is the ability to replenish these accounts.  The 2013-14 preliminary working budget reflects $0 in reserves and fund balance as a source of tax levy relief for 2013-14.

The superintendent’s 2013-2014 preliminary working budget reflects a 4.61 percent budget-to-budget increase with an 8.78 percent tax levy increase.  Placed in context, our five-year average, including the 2013-2014 budget proposal, is a 2.53 percent budget-to-budget and 3.11 percent tax levy increase.  The question before us is, “Is the Manhasset community ‘all in’ for the continuation of the quality of the “4A’s” in our schools?”

In an upcoming column, I will provide specific details of the implications of a drastic change in the nature of the “4 A’s” in Manhasset.  I would encourage each of you to become better informed by going to the link below on the school district’s website:

Here, we have provided a complete video breakdown by topic of the executive summary presentation made at the Saturday March 2 budget work session.  The videos are broken into four-to-six minute components which allow you, over a period of several days, to gain insight into the key elements and the many challenges of the superintendent’s preliminary working budget.