Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00
We four are former members of the Manhasset Board of Education (BOE), with 27 years of collective experience, having served nine three-year terms. We have 11 children between us, all of whom will have graduated from Manhasset High by the end of this June. Three of us also attended Manhasset public schools in our youth. We are also taxpayers.
During this time of intense public scrutiny of the mission and costs of public education, we offer this open letter to the community to urge you to vote “YES” for the proposed school budget on May 21.
District residents vote to approve or reject the annual school budget proposed by the BOE – and thus whether to accept the associated tax levy. This year, the proposed budget is about $89.3 million, which represents a budget-to-budget increase of 2.56 percent, with an estimated tax levy increase of 5.98 percent. According to Newsday last week, “most school budgets are up 3 percent or more for the coming year.” (Survey: Pension, benefits drive school budgets up, Newsday April 30) This year, Manhasset seeks to override the cap because, although the budget increase is less than that Long Island average, it is not below the state-mandated cap of 0.15 percent, which would permit the district to increase its budget this year by a mere $118,923.
The largest single annual expenditure in the school budget is for personnel costs. State law requires the BOE to “contract with” teachers hired and to raise the money for salaries by means of a property tax. Tenure and teacher pensions are governed by state law, and can be changed only by New York state legislative - not local - action. The Manhasset school district does not directly pay the pensions and benefits of retired Manhasset teachers, but does contribute to the State pension fund using a mandated percentage of current payroll calculated by the State.
Over the last few years, the school district has reduced its pension contribution and overall expense by reducing the number of employees in the district and holding down pay increases. Outsourcing the busing reduced the number of employees by 42. The district does not make pension contributions founded upon payroll of the private company that now supplies the busing. The district has also eliminated administrative and support positions, and has reduced the number of teachers by eliminating foreign language in the elementary schools and very small classes in the secondary school. Payroll has also been contained through multiple concessions made by the employee unions, including years with no raises and other voluntary reductions in compensation.
The two main sources of funds for local school districts are state aid (a mere 3.98 percent) and property taxes.
It is important to realize that a “no” vote for the budget on May 21 will result in a revised budget that includes more spending cuts, as defeated budgets are generally cut further (although the budget upon which you will vote on May 21 is as low as it can be while continuing the current standard of academic and extracurricular excellence.) And, further cuts to an already lean budget can only be to non-mandated programs such as extracurricular activities; or to teacher positions, which will reduce course offerings and increase class sizes; or to the maintenance budget, which will lead to an erosion of our infrastructure. We have all served on the board at a time when deferred maintenance of our facilities resulted in the need for a bond simply to bring our buildings up to proper standards. We have all had children in the district (although none of us will after this June) who have benefited from all Manhasset has to offer, from music and drama to AP offerings to crew to lacrosse to studio art and life drawing to track and field to mock trial to soccer and baseball to learning lab to … we could go on and on. Let’s keep that tradition of varied offerings and educational excellence for the upcoming legions of students as well.
It takes a village and this village needs to support the children growing up here in Manhasset, allowing them the same opportunities our kids and past Manhasset generations have had, by voting “Yes” on May 21.
Cindy Cardinal (BOE 2003-2012)
Aline Khatchadourian (BOE 2004-2010)
Debbie Klein (BOE 2000-2006)
Tom Maimone (BOE 1999-2005)