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Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Ed Holds Third Budget Meeting

Board Members Discuss Ways to Trim Transportation Costs

At the March 14 Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education Meeting, the board continued going through the proposed budget on a department-by-department basis, as they had done at the previous meeting on March 7. This time, the areas on the agenda were Athletics, Curriculum, Personnel, Board of Education/District Clerk, and Superintendent. Assistant Superintendent for Business Ryan Ruf also reported on the proposed revenue for 2011-2012. In general, while noting that they were unwilling to compromise wherever the children’s safety was concerned, board members looked for small areas of the budget where additional savings could perhaps be reaped.

In announcements, trustee Angel Cepeda announced that the children at Old Bethpage Elementary School had raised $17,442 for St. Jude Children’s hospital during their “Mathathon” event. This amount is 10 times more than the average school raised during this event, and Cepeda noted that the children of Old Bethpage had set a wonderful example. Because the children raised so much money for the cause, a special video was recorded by St. Jude’s personnel to thank them, which was shown at the meeting.

In other news, Superintendent Gerry Dempsey reported on the recent Long Island String Festival, which was hosted by Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School on March 6. Dempsey noted that not only was he impressed by the enthusiasm on display by all involved, but that the district custodial staff was consistently praised by festival attendees.

In more somber news, Dempsey asked for a moment of silence for the victims of the earthquakes and tsunami in Japan, and noted that he will report on any charitable activities for Japan relief that arise within the district or community in general at future meetings.

Student council representative Talia also gave her regular report on recent happenings at the high school: Battle Week, where the classes battle each other to see who has the most spirit, was recently held from Feb. 28 through March 4. Meanwhile, out of the impressive 165 students from the district that made it to the DECA state finals, 83 have qualified for the national finals, reported Talia. Upcoming events include the senior show on March 18, and Battle of the Bands on March 25.

In athletics, the proposed budget is $774,095, up 2 percent from last year. The relatively small budget increase is due to factors such as increased tournament fees, and the need for new equipment: the district will be receiving new tennis and volleyball nets, a kayak, and new wrestling mats, among other supplies. Board President Gary Bettan asked about the safety of the helmets the district used for full-contact sports like football, to which Athletics Director Kevin McDermott answered that the district used the best quality helmets available for the students’ protection.

A significant portion of the athletics budget goes toward athletic transportation, which is estimated to cost $441,902 next year, in order to cover some 528 away trips. There was some discussion as to whether or not that projection could be lowered based on the actual cost of the trips (since cost projections for athletic transportation last year were above actual expenses), and Ruf said he would look at the numbers again to see if that were the case.

Based on vice president Amy Pierno’s suggestion, a health and wellness newsletter, currently covered under the K-12 health curriculum code, may be cut, as the newsletter content may be uploaded to the district’s new website once it is made available online. This could lower the budget for that code, currently listed at $22,900.

In curriculum, most of the discussion centered around the fact that the district currently plans to spend much less on textbooks than it had the previous year –over $100,000 less, in fact. While Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Jill Gierasch noted that every book teachers had asked for was included in the proposed budget (with the exception of some foreign language books that may be ordered at a later date), trustee Ginger Lieberman was concerned due to the looming possibility of the tax cap, suggesting that perhaps the district should order curriculum books while they still had the ability to do so. In response to a question about textbook shortages, which had been an issue previously, Gierasch said that she did not anticipate future shortages.

While the curriculum budget is down 19.8 percent from last year, there is one significant proposed increase: the cost of district-wide testing is slated to go up from $14,250 to $46,660, due to the fact that the board has decided to send the ELA tests outside of the district for grading. The benefits of sending the tests out, including fewer teachers being taken out of the classroom to grade and less money spent on substitute teachers, were discussed at the Jan. 24 meeting.

In personnel, with only a .6 percent decrease from last year, there weren’t many changes.

In the board of education and district clerk category, Bettan discussed the possibility of decreasing costs for conferences and travel by sending fewer board members to conferences, or not attending certain conferences. Other board members agreed that there was some redundancy in the local conferences, so while the board of education/district clerk budget is currently proposed at $141,856 (a 13 percent increase, largely due to increased costs for travel to Buffalo), that figure may decrease before the budget is formally adopted.

In the superintendent budget category, a .4 percent increase is proposed, with no significant increases or decreases.

In the revenue report, Ruf explained that his recommendation was for the district to reach into their three reserves in order to keep the tax levy down: the Unemployment Reserve, Employee Retirement System Reserve (ERS), and Employee Benefit Accrued Liability Reserve (EBAL). Ruf emphasized that while dipping into these reserves was not a “one-shot”, and that there would be funds available for successive years, he recommended that the district use less reserves as state aid is resumed in the future in order to avoid depleting these funds. Overall, the recommendation is to take approximately $790,000 cumulatively out of these reserves.

There is no recommended change to the district’s appropriated fund balance, which is slated to stay at $2,318,000.

Finally, the board discussed the possibility of parents paying part of the cost for their children’s field trip transportation, which Bettan had suggested at the previous meeting. While an initial suggestion put forward was for parents to pay $10 per trip (so that parents of children on lower-attendance trips would not be penalized), board members expressed their concern that the number seemed arbitrary, and that it wasn’t clear how it was determined who would have to pay and who would be deemed exempt. During public participation, Stefanie Nelkens noted that while she was in favor of parents paying for field trip transportation, it did seem as though some parents would be “nickel and dimed”, with some parents subsidizing the costs of others’ trips, if the system were to be implemented as proposed. Due to these concerns, the issue will be re-examined before the next meeting.

Also in public participation, Cathy Shapp of PTA Council informed the board that many PTA groups would not have a chance to meet before the scheduled April 4 budget adoption date, meaning they would not get a chance to provide input during the budget process. While Dempsey said that he understood Shapp’s concern, it was unclear if anything could be done about this issue, as the April 4 date was picked in part for legal reasons.

The next meeting of the board of education will be Monday, March 28 at Mattlin Middle School; the budget is slated for adoption at the Monday, April 4 meeting. In addition, the district has added a new release entitled “Saving Money to Save Jobs and Our Programs” to the district website,