Like all Long Island school districts, the Mineola School District will be grappling in the upcoming months and possibly years with having to endure the state's financial crisis.
The state executive budget proposal calls for a reduction in state aid to Long Island schools. Mineola is facing a 12.27 percent decrease in state aid or $661,270 less in 2009-2010 than it did in 2008-2009. The governor's budget proposal for the 2009-2010 year also calls for the elimination of the STAR Rebate Program, an expanded property tax relief program that provides a tax rebate check directly to homeowners who also receive the STAR exemption. Long Island families who were already struggling to pay their taxes and stay in their homes are now faced with additional obstacles.
The state's budget problems are tied to the decrease in state tax revenues due to downturn of the financial services sector. The state's elected officials are now faced with having to close a budget deficit.
"This executive budget begins the difficult process of fundamentally reevaluating both how we manage our government and what the state can afford to spend in a time of plummeting revenues. It seeks shared sacrifice for all New Yorkers and includes reductions across virtually every area of government," wrote Governor David Paterson in a letter to New Yorkers.
"No one said this would be easy. When you're dealing with a $15 billion budget gap, there's obviously going to be a lot of pain," said New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, whose first elected office was serving on the Mineola School Board.
In order to cut costs, the Mineola School Board had been discussing closing a school but it may be likely that all of the district's seven schools will remain open for the 2009-2010 school year when school opens in September. However, the door hasn't been shut on the possibility of a school closing in 2009 or in 2010.
Whatever the decision may be on closing a school, the school board and the administration will focus its attention on trying to make budget cuts without closing a school to its 2009-2010 proposed budget, which will be put before residents in May.
"We're going to have to reduce our spending by about $1.9 to $2.2 million. There's no way of getting around it and it's affecting everybody. We have our work cut out for us but we're confident we can handle next year with a minimum impact [to the educational program]," said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Larry Licopoli.
According to Dr. Licopoli, what may help is that the district has approximately $900,000 in the 2008-2009 that is considered one-time expenses and should be out of the 2009-2010 budget.
Dr. Licopoli said that despite making cuts, he doesn't expect class sizes to increase. However, savings could increase reductions in staff and possible reductions in non-mandated programs such as sports and extracurricular programs. The board is expected to discuss plans for budget reductions at its Thursday, Jan. 15 business meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of the Willis Avenue School. There is also a workshop meeting on Thursday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m.
School board vice-president Laraine Salvatore expects the board to have a decision next month about which direction it is going in with respect to closing schools and making budget reductions.
Salvatore believes the board should first look to cut expenses out of the budget before closing a school or schools. "Before [we] close a school, let's get $3 million out of the budget and we know you certainly can," she said. "It's more than helping the community. We have to do this because people just don't have the money any longer. You just can't support all the programs, each school, all the teachers - it has to stop someplace."
The school board may be forced to eventually close a school because of the financial climate of the district. However, school board president Steve Siwinski believes the board will seek to decrease the budget for 2009 without closing a school and then look at the possibility of closing a school in 2010.
According to school board member John McGrath, the board has looked at the possibility of closing the Cross Street School, although McGrath has maintained that no school should be closed. McGrath has maintained that the savings involved in closing a school or schools doesn't justify jeopardizing the educational program. "For the amount of money taxpayers are going to save, I'm just not seeing it," he said.
McGrath also said that there hasn't been an analysis of the impact closing a school or schools would have on the educational program, only a financial impact.
The next month should tell a lot as to where the district is headed in order to combat the decreased revenue from the state.