Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 15 April 2011 00:00
At the conclusion of the April 4 Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education Meeting, the district was challenged to go back over the numbers in the proposed budget and find the funds to retain a social worker at the Kindergarten Center, and to potentially hire a new guidance counselor for JFK High School. At the final budget meeting on April 7, it was clear that the district business office had gone over the numbers after all; while they could not find enough “efficiencies” to cover the full cost of both positions ($145,770), the $83,440 reduced from the budget allowed members of the board to feel comfortable voting “yes” to both budget additions, which they had felt compelled to vote down at the previous meeting.
The reductions made to accommodate the additional positions were $14,000 for installation of five drywells, $31,940 for installation of LCD projectors and 40 audio support devices, $10,000 for fuel oil, $15,000 from the Mattlin Substitute Teacher Code, and $12,500 from the Plainview-Old Bethpage Middle School Substitute Teacher Code. In regard to fuel oil, it was discussed that since this year’s winter had now concluded, the district was now in a better position to assess how much fuel oil was likely to be needed next year, thus they could recommend the reduction in the fuel oil code in good conscience.
After all of these reductions, instead of adding $145,770 to the budget to cover both positions, after the evening’s vote, only $62,330 was added.
Before the board voted, many parents, as well as district personnel, encouraged board members to see the true value of the positions they were discussing. Amy Klein, a teacher at the K-Center, talked about the difficulty for children in kindergarten who may already be coping with issues like the loss of a parent, divorce, or a parent’s drug or alcohol dependency, all issues that a social worker is equipped to deal with. “If the social worker is removed from our building, these children will lose the chance to work through their emotional difficulties with a trained professional who sees them consistently during the six-day cycle,” said Klein.
Colleen Mack-Savino, who said she came to the meeting representing many people who were concerned about losing the social worker position, pointed out that it could be more costly overall if they were to get rid of the position. “What is the cost of not doing early intervention- on any level?” Mack-Savino said. In her experience, she explained, costs can actually increase when children’s problems aren’t dealt with at a young age.
Joe Schifano pointed out that even from the perspective a parent whose child was not taking advantage of the social worker, their child’s environment could be strongly effected by whether or not this service was available. “There’s one group of people that really hasn’t been talked about, and its those kids that don’t necessarily need this service, but are affected by the children around them who may need this service,” said Schifano.
Tracy Gorman, who also spoke at the April 4 meeting, advocated for both positions, saying that Plainview residents who had chosen the area for its school district were willing to support these much-needed support roles. “We’re in Plainview because of the school district…. I don’t think there’s anyone that’s going to tell you otherwise,” said Gorman.
Taking a different approach, Stefanie Nelkens asked Assistant Superintendent for Business Ryan Ruf what these staffing additions would cost the individual taxpayer, which Ruf estimated, roughly, to be $8 per household for every additional $100,000 added to the budget- an increase which Nelkens pointed out was incremental from her perspective.
Trustee Angel Cepeda offered the counterpoint that increases she saw as negligible might be more significant for other taxpayers- especially those on fixed incomes. Nelkens responded that she wasn’t minimizing the potential impact of additional costs on taxpayers, but that she felt it was important for people to understand the actual numbers involved.
“It’s not as if I’m going from $1000 to $6000, but if I’m going from $6000 to $6020? Well, that makes a difference in my decision making, and maybe other people would feel differently as well if they knew that answer,” said Nelkens. Other speakers agreed with Nelkens about the importance of explaining how the often large numbers present in the budget discussions actually related to the individual taxpayer.
Some speakers also spoke in favor of retaining a speech-language pathologist position that the board had voted down at the April 4 meeting. “Eliminating personnel in the speech department will result in an increase in caseloads that could already be characterized as large,” said Amy Krolick, a district speech-language pathologist. “I urge you to please consider the potential long-term ramifications of an under-staffed speech department before making your final decision.” Members of the board did discuss the speech pathologist position later at the meeting, but did not revote on the issue.
After everyone had their chance to speak, the board discussed their feelings on the positions in question. Cepeda, who had generally been against adding new positions during the budget process, said he had decided in favor of adding the guidance counselor position- with the caveat that next year’s budget decisions might be even more difficult, and lead to some of these new positions being lost.
“As far as I’m concerned, I do believe that it would be good for our district to have another guidance counselor. While it’s a difficult position for me from a fiscal standpoint, I do believe that our vision going forward should include that,” said Cepeda.
Many of the board members praised Ruf and the business office for finding a way to make adding the guidance counselor and social worker positions back to the budget feasible, and several expressed satisfaction with the final budget, after all of the deliberations and permutations. “Our administration has done such an unbelievable job. I think this is a fair budget; I think it’s a comprehensive budget; I think it’s a fiscally responsible budget,” said Trustee Evy Rothman. Rothman also encouraged the community members in attendance to remind their friends and neighbors to vote for the budget on May 17.
After the board voted to add both positions (and the vote to add the guidance counselor was unanimous), Bettan thanked the community for advocating so passionately and respectfully for their children’s education and programs while respecting the difficulty of the decisions the board had to make. After all of the changes, the 2011-2012 budget now represents a 2.52 percent increase, while the tax levy will see a 2.59 percent increase.
The community will vote on the budget on May 17; in addition, those interested in running for the position of school board trustee must submit their applications by April 18.