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Oyster Bay School Board Adopts Budget

After months of examination and discussion, the Oyster Bay–East Norwich Board of Education last week unanimously adopted a budget for voter approval for the 2013-14 school year.

In other news, Dr. Phyllis Harrington, superintendent of schools of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District, announced that she has tentatively accepted an offer to become superintendent of schools in Oceanside for next year. She is still working out the final details, she added.

After a presentation at the April 16 meeting at the Oyster Bay High School Library by Harrington and Chris Van Cott, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, the board adopted the approximately $53.5 million budget, which calls for a 3.08 percent levy increase in local property taxes and a 3.84 percent increase in expenditures.

Van Cott summarized the process, which began in February, whereby the board and school district officials faced a budget gap between expected expenses to maintain existing programs in the schools and the maximum that a district could ask voters to approve to pay for them.

The gap was addressed by reductions in personnel, due in part to enrollment decreases, reductions in athletics and co-curricular activities, restoration of some of the state aid for Long Island school districts in the latest New York State budget, expected favorable court rulings which would allow the district to use money it had set aside for other purposes, and use of some of the district’s projected fund balance from the current budget as well as some reserves (See Oyster Bay Enterprise-Pilot 3/29/2013).

Van Cott also explained the New York State law places a limit on the amount of increase that a district can ask for in a given year. Though the limit is often described as two percent, there is a complex formula that takes other factors in the district’s financial situation into consideration.

Applying that formula, Van Cott said, the district can ask voters for a 3.08 increase without asking to exceed the limit.

The board adopted the budget unanimously without discussion. At the March 19 meeting, two board members, Dr. Michael Castellano and Steven Zbodula, asked about using more of the projected fund balance, so that the board could ask for less from the taxpayers.

The board considered that idea at their April 2 meeting, but board members rejected the proposal.

During the public discussion segment of the April 16 meeting, former board member Grace Searby protested. “We’re padding the budget” each year with an unnecessary surplus.

Harrington argued at earlier board meetings that using more of the fund balance in one year would not fiscally irresponsible. Using some of the balance helps the district maintain programs and have money available for the future.

A public budget hearing is scheduled for May 7 with the budget going for public vote on May 21. Elections for seats on the school board will be on the same ballot. A meet-the-candidates night is set for April 30 at the high school.

In other news, Harrington announced “with mixed emotions” that she would be leaving the Oyster Bay-East Norwich schools. She said that the prospect of going to the Oceanside schools offers several challenges and opportunities and “it’s five minutes from my house.”

Harrington noted that she has not yet officially resigned because some details need to be worked out, but she doesn’t expect any difficulties.

She spoke of her love for the Oyster Bay-East Norwich school community, her happiness for what has been accomplished in the schools, and her hope and confidence that the district will find strong leadership for the future.

Ann Marie Longo, president of the school board, commented that “Dr. Harington has given 15 years to this district,” both as assistant superintendent and more recently as superintendent. “It is as hard for us to see you go as it is for you to say goodbye.”

The board also voted to grant tenure to Lisa Mulhall, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and to three teachers: Emily Hawe, a seventh-grade English teacher; Jacklin Luciano, a Spanish teacher, and Marisa Rendando, an elementary school teacher. Harrington praised all four for their abilities and their dedication.