At its April 4th meeting, the Board of Education discussed cuts made in the proposed 2000-2001 school budget, resulting in a 6.5% budget increase, rather than the 7% originally anticipated. At least 3 to 3.5% of this increase is directly attributable to the increase in enrollment, according to administrators. The BOE also tried to tackle the perplexing problems of temporarily accommodating a larger student population until the permanent solutions are in place, and it was clear there are no easy answers.
At this poorly attended public hearing on the proposed budget for the next school year, Assistant Superintendent Larry Blake presented the items that were cut, reducing the proposed budget by a total of $768,186. "The BOE has reviewed it line by line, and made these cuts," he explained. Reductions were made in computer equipment, staff travel, salaries for substitute teachers, transportation (private contracts), postage, electricity, BOCES tuition, capital projects, non-instructional salaries, benefits, and retirements. While there is a large increase in spending for textbooks, it should be offset by higher State Education Dept. reimbursements for these items. A significant rebate is expected next year.
The largest category of expenditure in the proposed budget, which now stands at $75,586,412, are salaries and benefits, which account for 77.6% of the total. Contractual expenditures are next at a distant 9.5%, followed by BOCES (4.3%), debt service and capital (3.2%), supplies and textbooks (2.6%), tuition (1.9%), and equipment (.9%). These figures are based on grouping budget items according to "budget expenditures by object."
Examining how the proposed school budget will affect taxpayers, Mr. Blake compared the previous year's assessment rates to the potential rates for 2000-2001. The asessment rates are assigned by Nassau County, and are not yet finalized for the next school year. Still, they present an idea of what is ahead. For Tax Class II, which is primarily comprised of apartments and condominiums, the increase would be miniscule (.001%); Tax Class IV, commercial property, would also see a minimal increase of .53%. It is Tax Class III that would bear the largest increase in the rate of assessed value; this category in which utilities, phone companies, cable, gas, and the like are placed, would see an 8.46% rise. For homeowners, the increase would be 5.7% over last year, which translates, roughly, to $296/year for the average homeowner.
Facile and satisfactory interim space solutions for a growing district were in very short supply, as the BOE struggled with the issue, with input from principals, teachers, and parents. "It is complicated; there are no simple solutions," one remarked. An assortment of ideas followed. This included the concept of moving up renovations to Manorhaven and Guggenheim, after the bond passes. On the other hand, if the bond is unsuccessful, one suggestion was the inclusion of short term solutions for the schools in another bond. Another urged incorporating the costs of these short term solutions for Weber Middle School in the budget.
Manorhaven currently has an enrollment of approximately 550, which will "fit" when the renovation is done, with the use of portables, and until redistricting is done, the audience was told. There was mention of perhaps, having one kindergarten class with 28 to 30 students, two teachers, and one aide; other classes would have about 19. But worries didn't stop at this level. "My biggest concern is the fourth year," Dr. Wells commented.
When it came to Guggenheim, BOE member Nancy Cowles was adamantly opposed to splitting the special education classroom in half. "The room is inadequate now! I don't consider this a good option. We need some other kind of back-up," she asserted, with support from Guggenheim principal Linda Creash. The principal added that she'd rather have a year-long solution than two that work for just half the year apiece.
Weber Principal Matt Sanzone commented that "interior modifications are critical to be done before the opening of school," and added, "Until portables are in place, we will use whatever rooms are available for foreign language classes...we will be sharing some science rooms between grade levels. For next year, with the creation of four new rooms, it should work well. Flower Hill and portables, will be of help." Mr. Sanzone was confident that "the teachers will come through for us, and for the kids." But an upcoming dilemma will certainly be the future addition of another middle school team.
On a different matter, some BOE members disagreed over whether it is better to purchase portables than lease them; this, it was promised, will be investigated.
Disappointment in the short-term facilities plan, particularly at Manorhaven, was expressed by several members of the public. "I find thirty kids in a class unacceptable," said Ellen Fox, adding that she believed the portables should be in the plan. Another parent concurred, stating that with such a large class and children with behavioral problems, even an effective teacher will have trouble keeping order. Susan Carras, a resident of Morewood Oaks, asked for a solution to the parking problem in the area, which is compounded by the school buses. "You can't get up and down the block," she maintained, "and sometimes there's no parking even for local residents." Also unhappy with the notion of 30 students per class, Mark Garman commented that he was "ashamed to see what kind of conditions kids go to school in." Addressing the BOE, Mr. Garman added, "Show some leadership and develop awareness. You need to come across as a united BOE. That's the only way to get things done."