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Board of Ed May Have to Make Crucial Cuts for Future Budgets

While it appears the school board can put a budget before voters this May for the 2009-2010 school year, the board may have to make cuts in programs or staff in the following years in order to keep tax levy increases under 4 percent.

At a recent Mineola Board of Education meeting, Doug Schumacher and Kathy Darmstadt, two community members of the Mineola School District Finance Committee, issued the committee's report regarding the 2009-2010 budget.

Part of the responsibility of the finance committee was to investigate what drives the Mineola School District's high cost per pupil, which is around $30,000, among the highest in Nassau County. The finance committee reported that Mineola's high cost per student is driven in part by moderate class sizes, high staffing levels and high pay and benefit levels for professional employees.

Still, the average residential school tax in Mineola is moderate compared to some other communities because there is a large commercial tax base in the district that is shouldering a good part of the school taxes.

But the board of education set one of its budget parameters, at least for the 2009-2010 school budget, to keep the school tax levy under 4 percent. While the school board may be able to keep that tax levy under 4 percent for the 2009-2010 school budget, it may have a harder time in future years.

According to the financial committee report, contracts between the district and its employee unions increase an average of 5 percent. Members of the Association of Mineola School Administrators, which includes principals, assistant principals, supervisors and instructional leaders are granted a yearly raise of about 5 percent in accordance with the contract with the board of education. Teachers are granted nearly an 8 percent raise each year in accordance with the contract between the board and the Mineola Teacher's Association (including step increases) and can increase further with continuing education.

Since salaries and benefits account for about 79 percent of the budget, in order to keep tax levy increases under 4 percent in future years, the board could find itself having to make cuts for its 2010-2011 budget. Cuts could include closing a school, increasing class sizes by reducing staff or making cuts to extra-curricular programs.

The finance committee's report also included a recommendation to use district's fund balance to continue to pay down the district's debt liabilities, which is estimated to be $33 million.

The Mineola Board of Education could be adopting its budget for the 2009-2010 school year at this Thursday's board meeting, which will be held on April 2 at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of the Willis Avenue School.


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