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AD Dawn Cerrone, Board President James Robinson, Dr. Phyllis Harrington, Coach Kevin Cotter; Cross Country Class C Champions: Nicholas Gismondi, Joseph Jazwinski, Joseph LaCorte, Justin Nakrin, Steven Tortora, Leeanne Dillmann and Brooke Mahoski. Photo courtesy of Tom Gould

The Oyster Bay-East Norwich Board of Education did their due diligence as they worked through another budget session on Tuesday, March 27. They agonized over a decision on the amount of the fund balance; decided to delay creating a repair reserve fund until the public can be informed about the concept; and did decide on a referendum item for needed repairs to be voted on separate from the budget.

The bright spot of the evening was when OBEN Athletic Director Dawn Cerrone introduced her All County players. Not all were able to attend, but those who did received a great deal of applause from the audience and appreciation for their efforts from the board. The All County student athletes included Joseph Jazwinski, Justin Nakrin and Steven Tutoro for cross country; Fiona Brunner and Caitlin Collins for girls cross country; for field hockey: Kelly Madden; and for All County soccer, Chris Murdock. "It's been an outstanding season," said Dawn Cerrone, Director of Physical Education, Health and Athletics.

OB-EN Superintendent of Schools Dr. Phyllis Harrington talked about the success of the Baymen basketball team saying, "This is the first time in the history of the school that we have won the regional and are going on to Glens Falls to try for the state championship." She said the district had ordered coach buses for the event for the team, coaches, and community members who needed a ride to the competition. The tickets to the Glens Falls Civic Center spectator bus were $35 each for Friday, March 20 and Saturday, March 21.

Board President James Robinson said at the championship game he was "Unbelieveably impressed by the volume of residents who attended the game at SUNY Old Westbury. Everyone was asked to wear white and they did." He said parents and their parents came out as did community members and current and retired staff members. "They were there to support the young people."

Trustee Dolores Greico added, "The sportsmanship of the audience on the Oyster Bay side was exemplary. I couldn't say that for the other side."

Trustee Donald Zoeller said about two weeks ago he attended a luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria for his law school. At the reception he met Nassau County Legislator David Mejias, who when he heard Mr. Zoeller served on the OB-EN board said, "They have a wonderful reputation that keeps getting better every year." Mr. Zoeller said it would be good if that message got out to people more often.

The board authorized the superintendent to sign a contract with Transfinder to provide a Transportation Management System for Bus Routing and Scheduling. The initial licensing fee is $4,995. Trustee Robin Dando asked for an explanation and was told the new system will provide more data and is less costly for arranging the schedules for the private, parochial and public schools for the district's transportation of students. In addition to busing children to the three public district schools, they bus children to 30 parochial and private schools. The district transports children to about 50 different schools if you include special education busing in the figure.

The board voted to accept the donation of services from Mr. O'Neill of Lomin Construction Company to renovate the Oyster Bay High School softball field pending receipt of a certificate of insurance. He has offered to remove four inches of dirt/grass from the softball infield and grade the clay surface. The work will eliminate drainage on the site on the field closest to the school. It has a grass infield presently, and is for the 7th and 8th grades use.

Dr. Harrington talked about the budget and asked the board to focus on three items: the fund balance used to offset next year's tax rate; capital reserve projects; and a possible repair reserve which would allow the board to make sudden needed repairs for items such as "boilers, computer hardware and roofs", without going to the voters for permission. Of the latter, Board President Robinson said, 'It's a good idea but the wrong time."

The board had already restored high school teachers due to increased enrollment at the high school, she said.

Dr. Harrington said that BOCES Section 8 that arranges for athletic games between schools has reduced the number of games for the varsity teams helping the district financially in that area of supervision. The district has reduced Special Ed costs by $100,000 by providing service in the OB-EN district schools - however the overall cost will still go up because of state mandates. They are partially restoring clubs at the high school and some of those at Vernon that were cut. They are restoring all the Junior and Varsity sports teams including bowling and golf.

All in all, the tax raise is 3.74 percent. All field trips were cut; they are combining seventh and eighth grade sports. "Many things are being reduced on a line by line basis in the budget," said Dr. Harrington.

She summarized the district's expenditures as: 73.4 percent for programs; 13.9 percent on running the buildings; and 12.7 percent for administering the operations of the district including legal and audit costs. The present budget is proposed at $47,408,292.

Dr. Harrington discussed the fund balance which was of some concern - to not make it too low because, as Superintendent for Business Chris Van Cott said next year the increase in budget might be 8 to 9 percent after looking at the new figures for the state retirement system; health care and insurance figures that are all raising.

Dr. Harrington proposed that when the NYS school aid arrives it be banked for next year's fund balance to keep the district fiscally stable.

The budget is coming in close to the contingency budget figure of a 4 percent increase. "It was not a goal of the board to come to that figure," said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Phyllis Harrington. She said it was the way the figures worked out.

She explained that during the past year when Governor Paterson announced he would be making mid-year cuts in funding the district quickly reacted and made across the board reductions. When the governor changed his mind, those funds had been set aside to save. The result is the district has funds to defray the amount of money needed to be raised by taxes.

During the meeting board member Keith Kowalsky said he hoped to restore club programs to Vernon. They had been returned to the high school. He found it hard to agree to the maintenance work needed in the district because of the cost.

Board President James Robinson explained the necessary and suggested projects which include: the Vernon track is in disrepair and can't be used and therefore needs to be repaired at a cost of $800,000; the district has been warned by their insurer that the administration parking lot needs to be fixed at a cost of $130,000; and windows at the OBHS need to be replaced.

The OBHS science wing needs roof replacement at a cost of $170,000. The roof cannot be bandaged any longer and it leaks into the new classrooms.

The Roosevelt parking lot needs work done including the fencing, site work and the hedges removed all done for about $525,000. The fence is not up to code, said Mr. Van Cott. The parking lot will cost $425,000 to repair. It will cost $100,000 for the baseball fence and interior work. The hedges need to be removed because of a rodent problem and they block the view of where the children are playing. The new fencing, which is corroding, will be replaced with translucent mesh for about $25,000.

Mr. Kowalski was concerned about the costs but reminded the board that it is almost baseball hitting season and there is a concern about someone being hit by a stray ball resulting in injury and a lawsuit.

The figures, said Dr. Harrington were calculated as "not more than the amount stated" and were expected to come in under budget.

The repair figures add up to $825,000 which will be on a separate referendum on the ballot.

Dr. Harrington said the proposed budget had been cut by $1.2 million which included finding the exact number of BOCES students to be served; having a self-sustaining SAT course; the summer program cut; eliminating all field trips; combining seventh and eighth-grade athletics; eliminating all intramurals; reducing textbook purchase; and continuing with paying for Driver's Ed. Trustees Ann Marie Longo and Donald Zoeller agreed things have to be cut.

Mark Schimmer asked, "Are we below contingency?" The answer was "Yes" and he said, "That needs to get out to the public."

Cat Colvin asked that the board look closely at eliminating support for programs like Scouting saying, 'They keep kids out of trouble and teach valuable skills."

Harriet Dorfman suggested that with a lot of private school kids coming back to the district, "We have to be competitive with the private schools. Those kids will expect all the good things that we gave here in the past." Trustee Judy Wasilchuk answered, "Hopefully they will read the budget information so they are informed."

Parent John Quinn offered some business advice. He said, "The budget is not perfect but you can't get a perfect budget this year." He added in terms of giving back money to the taxpayers, he said the board is responsible "to save money for a rainy day" and to make sure the community understands what they are doing. "You've been responsible in keeping reserves. Be sure to reach out to the community. As a parent I am interested in the budget passing. It's a critical issue," he said.

He added a suggestion, that they set a target figure as a way to focus on their budget work.

Board President Robinson said he and Mr. Zoeller talked to the town about the possibility of a municipal agreement to use town funds to improve local fields. They suggested the Vernon Fields and the 16-acre Christie property adjacent to the Muttontown Preserve. The town was only interested in the Vernon fields but if they helped with the repair work, they would take charge of the scheduling and it might include people from outside the district using them, and possibly late at night.

The district would have priority rights as to use, but still it might bring in a great deal more people to the area and the increased use might affect the homes bordering the field.

Another problem with working with the town is that there is limited parking at Vernon and the agreement would only add one field while losing some control of the area. Mr. Robinson forwarded a copy of the proposed agreement to School Board Attorney Florence Frazer for review. Trustee Robin Dando summed up the board's view saying, "Thank you but no thanks to the town." She added, "I thought the 16-acres of the Christie property was ideal for the town." Mr. Robinson said Ms. Cerrone is reconfiguring the space at Vernon.

Mr. Robinson and Mr. Zoeller said the district would be better served by keeping the Christie property available as open space for the possibility of having to build another school sometime in the future.

The next board meeting will be on Tuesday, April 7 when the budget will be adopted. Following that, on May 5 there will be a public budget hearing where the board can answer any of the public's concerns about the document. The budget vote is on Tuesday, May 19 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. [Note the change in time - down an hour from 10 p.m. in previous years.] At the same time, two trustees will be voted on to serve on the board to fill the seats of Judy Wasilchuk and Dolores Geico who are both running for office again.


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