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OBEN Board Sets Tax Levy as State Finally Votes on the Budget

The levy for the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District was set on Wednesday, Aug. 4. The amount needed to be collected from the taxpayers is $44,856,789. Although the state passed its budget, it has not finalized the amount the school will receive in aid.

OBEN Assistant Superintendent for Finance & Operations Christopher Van Cott said, “It was good news that the state budget was passed but the individual school districts haven’t heard their final aid figures yet.

“The district is required to set the tax levy by Aug. 15, annually,” said Mr. Van Cott. “So in the absence of final aid figures, the advice given to us by the NYS Education Department was to use the Governor’s estimate that was provided in January. It was the number I used in preparing the budget.”

He added, “There is legislation at the federal government level that has complicated state revenue projections. If the legislation results in reduced revenues to NYS, the state will enact their own contingency plan which may mean a mid-year cut in aid to schools, but the details are not disclosed yet.”

NYS Budget Passed

The NYS Senate passed the 2010-2011 state budget on Tuesday night, Aug. 3, after 125 days of negotiations. The Assembly approved the $136 billion budget previously.

According to media sources, the Republican stance on the vote, which they did not approve, is reflected in the comment, “Today’s action also completes one of the latest budgets in state history,” said Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County. “What did taxpayers get as a result? They got higher spending and more taxes, but not a single initiative to create any new jobs or improve New York’s economy.”

The Democratic view, after the budget which passed along party lines, was given in a press statement. “Today the Senate completed the final stages of a fair and responsible budget that works for New Yorkers,” said Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats.

The budget includes a cut in aid to schools of about $1.4 billion. The average taxpayer will feel the cost in a repeal of a tax exemption on clothing purchase under $110 and for some, a cigarette tax of $1.60 on a pack of cigarettes.

Higher education was also involved in the negotiations until the last minutes, as the SUNY colleges tried to set their own tuition rates. The SUNY Empowerment Act was agreed upon which in three to five years will allow them to increase tuition through economic-development means in the four major SUNY centers in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook.

The Local Effect

In the OB-EN schools, the tax levy is the amount needed to be raised for the district to run the schools for the 2010-2011 school year minus NYS aid and other miscellaneous revenue including interest on money in the bank.

The district sets the tax levy, the final tax rate the taxpayer will pay is set by the Nassau County Assessor’s Office in about October - when the final figures for assessed valuation and the adjusted base proportions (the four categories of real estate property classes) are determined.

“It also involves the Star Exemption – which is allowed to decrease each year,” explained Mr. Van Cott.

Dr. Phyllis Harrington, Superintendent of Schools said, “If we received more state aid the levy would have been reduced. It’s not that budgets are going up exponentially, it is just that the amount we have had to offset the budget – from the state - has been reduced so we have to ask for more.”

Staffing Costs

Dr. Harrington said this year the administrator’s union, OBENAU, that represents the staff agreed to a zero percent increase for the 2010-2011 school year.

This year, she said “Mr. Van Cott has been approved for a flat dollar amount – a $5,000 raise. It is about 3 percent but is not based on a percentage. It is to primarily balance what the new assistant supervisor’s salary is – which is $165,000.”

On June 15, the board approved Dr. Lisa Mulhall, who will serve as OBEN Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. She has a doctorate from Columbia University and was most recently the Director of Instruction for the Shoreham Wading River School District.

Superintendent Harrington said the board is deliberating on what to do about a raise for herself. She said, “They have not made that decision but it should be made by the Aug. 31 board meeting. They are still negotiating.”

School Improvements

As to the district as a whole the superintendent said, “There is new fencing at the Roosevelt Elementary School, around Memorial Field. It looks fabulous.”

Mr. Van Cott explained the need for the change. He said, “There was concern about maintenance, and the fence was not up to code. Over the years, the fence and hedges became one, so there was no way to remove the fence without damaging the hedges.” He said letters were sent out to residents living around the Roosevelt school about the changes that were coming and that the area would become a construction site while it was going on. The letter added, “We know you will appreciate the new refreshed updated look of the Roosevelt School.”

He added, “Now for security purposes we have full vision of the area.”

Dr. Harrington added, “They were impossible to maintain and now it looks fabulous. Also, the parking lot at the administration building that has been 40 years in the making - is finally being done. All the work is being done using Capital Reserve Funds at no additional cost to the taxpayer.

“All the money we requested in the previous budget was wisely spent and allowed for a good fund balance [surplus] to allow us to renovate the facilities that this community deserves,” she said.

Dr. Harrington said there is more good news. “The teacher’s contract has been settled and when more information is ready we will follow up with a press release. They also stepped up to the plate and did right by everyone,” she said.