The Massapequa School Board, last week, adopted a budget proposal of $90,596,726. This figure represents a tax increase of $3.60 per 100 of assessed valuation, or 8.03 percent, for Massapequa School District residents.
At the April 22 budget adoption meeting, the board was presented with a proposal from the superintendent, which had an increase of $9.5 million. That figure represented a tax rate increase of $3.34 per 100 assessed valuation, which would have been a 7.46 percent increase from last year's budget. This tax rate increase was broken down into three components for the board. The bond issue represented $1.18 of the increase, the opening of the Ames building represented $1.51, leaving only $0.65 attributable to the rest of the budget. Brucia pointed out that if it were not for the bond issue and the reopening of the Ames building the budget increase would have only been 1.4 percent. Under the budget the board adopted all those numbers remained the same except the $0.65 was increased to $0.91, bringing that portion up to a 2.2 percent increase.
When the superintendent, James Brucia, presented the proposal to the board, the board decided they wanted to consider the class size in the elementary and secondary schools. The board decided that many of the classes that they currently had on watch needed to have an additional section added to decrease the class size. The board vice president Diane Krakoff proposed, "I'd like the board to consider taking them off watch and putting the teachers in, instead of looking at the teachers in August, we can have teachers before the summer, they can prepare and we won't have to worry about it in the summer."
The elementary school classes that Krakoff felt needed to be looked at were East Lake's first grade, fifth and sixth grades at Birch Lane, Fairfield's fourth grade, Lockhart's fifth grade, Unqua's fifth grade and Fairfield's third grade. These seven classes were on watch, meaning that the board recognized that they were close to or at cap size and may go over that guideline number before the school year begins.
Brucia pointed out that each additional teacher would cost approximately $50-60,000 more which would have to be put in the budget. Also, for each additional section additional staff is needed for special areas such as physical education and library, so to add seven sections would mean adding 8.4 teachers. When it was pointed out that to add those positions would mean adding $0.31 to the tax rate, Krakoff responded, "I don't think we should be making this decision based on the $0.31, I think we should be making the decision based on the educational merit."
Board Trustee Arlene Martin brought up the fact that there are currently five contingency teachers in the budget, in case those classes on watch went over cap. She added, "I would like to see those five teachers put, right now, into the classrooms that are overpacked at this time." The suggestion raised was that the five classes with the highest numbers would receive additional sections and then five more teachers would be put in the budget as contingency teachers. Board Trustee Robert Thompson stated that he would not be opposed to putting those additional teachers in the classroom but then he did not want to put any more contingency teachers in, adding, "I don't feel comfortable putting more teachers in an unknown situation." He expressed the belief that to add those positions would mean putting additional money, that may not be needed, into the budget, which could not be returned to the taxpayers.
The board decided to look into the secondary classes before voting. After much discussion they decided to add teachers, at the secondary level, to Social Studies 10A and 10B, Math 3R, and English 13AP. Adding these sections is equivalent to adding one full teacher. Krakoff, Martin, and Thompson voted for this, while Board President Christine Nottonson opposed it, stating, "At this time I'm not looking to target any secondary classes, I want to maintain the five contingencies." Board Secretary Richard Sorvillo was not in attendance.
The board voted unanimously to add sections to Birch Lane's fifth and sixth grades, East Lake's first grade, Lockhart's fifth grade, and Fairfield's third grade, while keeping Unqua's fifth and Fairfield's fourth grades on watch.
Following the votes to add sections to both the elementary and secondary levels the board voted to add five contingency teachers. Nottonson, Krakoff, and Martin voted for these contingencies, while Thompson opposed them.
The final results of these votes was that the board decided to add the equivalent of seven new teachers and five contingency teachers to the budget. These results brought applause from the residents gathered for the budget discussion. During the public comment session of the meeting several parents thanked the board for making class size a priority, one stating, "On behalf of Birch Lane we'd like to thank you for adding two teachers."
It was the addition of the new teaching positions that brought the general operations portion of the budget up from $0.65 to $0.91.
Before the board voted on the budget proposal Thompson stated, "The board has approved and sent to the public, the bond issue. The bond issue was passed 3-1 by the public, which, in effect, is a rather unique way of saying that the public is really endorsing the budget we are dealing with tonight. They already approved 40 percent of it by voting for the bond issue." He went on to say, "The next part of it is the Ames building. The Ames building is another 30-40 percent, which the board has already voted for so therefore, when you look at the pieces of this whole picture the only part of it that is the normal consideration, which is not virtually mandated, is the other piece, the general operations and has gone up $0.91. Therefore the general operations is very, very low, actually below the state guidelines."
There were also several initiatives included in the budget such as the nine period day for Massapequa High School. Other initiatives included: writing labs in each of the three secondary schools, the creation of a humanities lab for pupils in C or G tracks in English or social studies, lab periods in each of the science classes, a lab period to accompany mathematics A classes to help students meet the new Regents standards, academic coaching labs, a new reading program expanded into the kindergarten, increased funding for musical competitions and instrument repair, reading clinics in the elementary and secondary summer schools, an electronic card catalog for each of the secondary schools, inclusion of boys and girls swim teams, and expansion of athletic teams for Massapequa High School North Ames Ninth Grade Campus, as well as many other initiatives.