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Gaps Aren’t Only at the LIRR But School Budget’s Is Filled

OB-EN school board adds revenue, subtracts expenses and fills the NYS cap/gap

What’s a budget gap and why are we trying to fill it?

The Oyster Bay-East Norwich school budget gap is the difference between capped revenues and the necessary expenditures to run the district. This gap came as the result of legislation by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

The tax levy limit for the OB-EN school district itself, with the governor’s allowed limited exclusions, resulted in a restricted 2.55 percent levy increase. With last year’s tax levy at $48,804,876 and with the addition of the 2.55 percent tax levy increase, the capped levy comes to $48,000,409.  

The preliminary 2012-13 expenditure budget is currently $51,527,404; the remaining revenue will come from the use of reserves and state aid.

The next budget meeting will be held in the Oyster Bay High School Library at 8 p.m. on April 3.

At the March 20 meeting, local resident Grace Searby and student Lauren Burke, president of the Oyster Bay High School Student Council, said they would like to see the line-by-line budget. It will be available at the April 3 meeting, said OB-EN Superintendent of Schools Dr. Phyllis Harrington. She said it is similar to last year’s budget with some lines increased and some decreased. She said the entire preliminary document is available on the district’s website obenschools.org and is downloadable.  

Filling the Gap

At the March 6 meeting, the discussions were about new revenue needed to decrease the gap. The discussions began with a reminder of the proposed capital reserve use for nine projects that comes to $1,290,000. The board discussed the pros and cons of eliminating some items, putting them each in a separate resolution, but finally deciding to include them as one resolution. At the March 20 meeting, the board revisited the issue with Trustee Steven Zvboda voting against a single proposition, because he wanted the buying of a new district car, fixing the sign at the high school, and the new lockers to be held off for one year.

The board voted 4 to 3 (with James Robinson absent) in favor of putting the seven items in one resolution on the ballot this year. The money exists in the fund, therefore the benefit is that there is no interest to pay on borrowing funds. Another consideration is that the projects will still be needed and might be more expensive, through deterioration, and could cost more if the district waits another year for the repairs.

Fees for Use

At the March 6 meeting Dr. Harrington proposed charging a fee for the use of the school facilities. At the March 20, meeting, she had fine-tuned the suggestion to $25-per-hour with a maximum charge of $3,500 for a group. The board debated the issue with Dr. Castellano, who stated that he felt it was double taxation. Trustee James Mattel’s opinion was that it was not a problem. He said the amount each student, who was taking part in the programs, would pay was between $5 and $35. It was  assumed that the groups would pass along the fee to the students. Some groups allow for scholarships, someone added.

Resident Harriet Dorfman said, during the community comments, that her children do not take part in the sports programs and she was happy with the proposed fees since those  who do not participate in the programs would not have to pay for them.

The revenue is in part needed to cover repair of sports fields and the work the school custodians do toward maintaining the fields, which includes cleaning up rubbish after the weekends. Part of the concern over the Vernon field is its use by an unauthorized team, with only one local resident involved as opposed to the required 85 percent. Another comment about the fees was that all the players on the sports teams are not from the OB-EN schools. The district believes they will receive $40,000 in revenue from the fees.

In the presentation documents provided by Christopher Van Cott, OB-EN assistant for business and grounds, was a list of “Historical Revenue Sources,” which includes the appropriated fund balance of $500,000 and special education billings/tuition of $470.000. The other items are Medicare reimbursement, interest, prior year refunds, use of facilities, Medicaid assistance, textbook and reimbursements, commissions, polling place fees ($350), which all come to a total of $1,343,350.

Dr. Harrington also proposed to take $138,000 from the Employees Retirement System (ERS) reserve, a pension fund for non-teaching staff, an amount which equals the ERS expenditure increase over 2011-12.    

Decreasing Special Ed Costs

At the March 20 meeting, Dr. Harrington requested staff members to explain how they were reducing the budget to cut last year’s line budget expenses that would otherwise be carried over this year.

The district is totally changing the way they deliver special education services, explained Assistant Business Official Elisa Pellati. She reminded residents that the state in 2007 changed the way the special ed services were billed. Currently a Hicksville student attending St. Dominic’s in Oyster Bay has the OB-EN district paying for those services and then billing Hicksville (causing the district administration costs), which will then reimburse OB-EN.

The OB-EN School District was using an outside provider to deliver the special education services to the three local non-public schools, East Woods, St. Dominic Elementary School and St. Dominic High School. The district will now send OB-EN special education teachers to those schools. Their schedules have already been adjusted, said Ms. Pellati. The resulting changes will save the district $240,000.

Additionally, the district is contracting with BOCES for network Internet connections for a savings of $12,500, said Systems Analyst Jane Pagano. They are also saving $12,820 by using BOCES for purchasing the latest Microsoft technology as a group.

The district plans to set up their classroom computers on a network basis which means students will not have computers on their desks, but all information will come from a central server (with the benefit of having existing computers lasting longer, a cheaper replacement cost and ease of licensing). The revised tech plan will have a cost avoidance of $46,000.

Other Savings

With four teachers retiring, the superintendent said they will only replace one spot. That will be the new supervisor of fine and performing arts, but that person will also teach two classes.

The district looks to cut “yellow coats” costs: supervisors at such things as games, by working with the school principals to arrange safety coverage.

Professional development costs will be cut by 10 percent said Dr. Lisa Mullhall, supervisor of curriculum. A change is also being made to the elective retirement plan that offers a discount for employees contributions to a 403(b).

In a small side issue, the board discussed the repainting of the stadium at the Roosevelt School athletic field, currently painted a light gray. Athletic Director Keyes reported that the balls “disappeared” in the sky, with that color background and proposed an “artichoke green” for a better synergy.

Guidance Advisory Committee

The Guidance Advisory Committee presented the reports of their study at the beginning of the meeting. After a discussion, the board accepted their proposal to hire a fourth guidance counselor and a part-time or full-time aide, someone working toward a higher degree. They decided to retain the services of Dr. Amato who will act as guidance director until the board sees how the new system is working–when they then can make some final decisions. The committee will continue to meet, said Dr. Dennis O’Hara, high school principal who is also the committee co-chair, along with Dr. Amato.

At the meeting residents learned that the OBHS guidance counselors each have a case load of 250 students, more than most schools, Dr. Harrington said.

School Calendar Set

A new school calendar was set for 2011-2012. With a full nine-weeks vacation between terms, Dr. Harrington felt the students can afford to start school before Labor Day. Therefore, the year will begin with teachers returning on Wednesday, Aug. 29 and students on Thursday, Aug. 30, with the school closing for the weekend and opening on Tuesday Sept. 4. The February break will have students returning to school on April 2. The term ends on June 21, which will allow for 182 (plus two snow days) instructional days of school for the year. Dr. Harrington said the Syosset School District, by comparison will have 178 plus three days snow days.

The board went into executive session. One of the things they were to discuss is how to honor slain journalist Marie Colvin, an OBHS graduate. They are considering naming the library after her.

The meeting began with Athletic Director Keyes introducing his high performing wrestling and fencing teams. Their photos are contained with the article by Tom Gould in this issue. The next board meeting is on Tuesday, April 3 at 8 p.m. in the Oyster Bay High School. You are welcome to attend.

Footloose Performances

FYI: the Oyster Bay High School Fine and Performing Arts Department is presenting Footloose, the musical. Performances are on Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 1 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for students and seniors; adults in advance $12.50; adults at the door, $15. For more information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit the website: obenschools.org.