The Board of Education held its first workshop for the 2004-05 budget year on March 2. While emphasizing that the preliminary budget figure is just a starting point, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoff Gordon presented a number for the proposed budget of $103,939,244, up $11,971,269 from the 03-04 budget of $91,967,975. Dr. Gordon quickly pointed out that for last year's budget, the board and administrators lobbed off $6 million from the preliminary budget figure originally proposed.
This increase in dollars represents an increase of 13 percent. However. Assistant Superintendent for Business Mary Callahan pointed out that the percentage of increase for the operating expense budget is actually 9.43, prior to cuts. The other 4 percent consists of the bond debt, $2,752,285, and the library debt, $544,323, which is carried in the school budget, though the funds come from the library budget.
Dr. Gordon said he "vows" to reduce the proposed budget as much as possible. He said, "In these very hard times of increased state and federal mandates, which in most cases are unfunded, on behalf of the community and the board of education I am determined to reduce costs wherever possible."
He added, "Clearly we are still growing in enrollment, and continuing in our upward educational excellence." (Increased enrollment for next year is projected to be 76 additional pupils.) Ms. Callahan pointed out that a BOCES regional study found that from 1993-2002 Port's enrollment increased 25.01 percent, while Nassau County's average was 19.29 percent.
Ms. Callahan also presented a chart noting how Port Washington ranked in terms of tax rate relative to other districts in Nassau County. In 2001 - 68 percent of other districts had higher tax rates; 2002 - 69 percent of other districts had higher tax rates and 2003 - 83 percent of other districts had higher tax rates.
The increases this year come from several areas of the budget. In addition to large sums resulting from contractual obligations, state and federally mandated items are adding considerably to the increase. For instance, the employees' retirement contribution rose $394,344 to $1.4 million or 37.76 percent; and the teachers' retirement for '04-'05 is up $616,176 to $1.9 million or 46 percent.
Medical insurance premiums are seeing a 20 percent increase from $9.3 million to $11.2 million
With South Salem School coming on line this fall, budget increases will also be realized. Even though the classroom teachers for the South Salem School will come out of the current pool of teachers, the newly created facility still needed funding for a principal, four teachers for specialized areas, one clerical worker, one custodian, two cleaners, two educational assistants and four after-school club units.
In considering areas to cutback on spending, the administration and board of education are looking at the transportation area of the budget. Increases are affected here by the fact that few transportation vendors bid on the contract because Port is at the tail end of the peninsula and there are very few places to park the buses during the day. By combining high school and middle school routes a $15,000 savings could result. By eliminating late buses, a $48,000 savings could be realized.
If the district changes its eligibility limits for bus service a significant amount of money could be saved. For instance, if they make the eligibility limit one and half mile for all students, the savings would be $676,000. If the bus service eligibility limit is changed to k-8, 2 miles, and grades 9-12 to 3 miles, a $966,000 savings would occur.
Another option currently under discussion if for the district to create its own district fleet. Concerns regarding this initiative include finding a parking facility and vandalism; maintenance availability and associated costs for staffing.
An important factor in these measures to save money is that board decision and voter approval is required for both distance modifications or fleet purchase.
There are staffing requests that have not been budgeted for. About 18 teachers have been requested, which at the MA + 15 credits, step 4, plus benefits, have an estimated total cost of $1,485,000.
Another budget workshop is being held on March 16, at Schreiber at 7:30 p.m.; the first public hearing is tentatively set for March 30, at Weber Middle School Auditorium at 8 pm. In the meantime, the superintendent is working with the Finance Committee of Dean Nardone, Rob Seiden and Laura Mogul to see where they can shave the new budget before its presented to the voters. "We're actively seeking ways to freeze and reduce spending" the superintendent commented.