The main topics at the board of education's April 5 meeting were enrollment, college admissions, the status of construction and the budget for next year.
Before getting down to business, the board agreed that at the May 3 public hearing on the budget, the board would not only listen to speakers but also respond to their questions. Public bodies are not legally required to respond at hearings.
In his April 5 report, Superintendent Geoffrey Gordon said that enrollment is at "status quo" in the upper grade levels, while next year's kindergarten class at Daly School is "inching toward projections and quite possibly could go over," as might Guggenheim's kindergarten.
The superintendent's report on college admissions discussed how it is becoming more difficult for kids from Port Washington, and from Long Island as a whole, to get into higher-level universities, as schools such as Harvard and Yale try to diversify both economically and geographically. "Our class is having another banner year, but it's a more difficult year," Gordon said.
For example, four students from the Class of 2004 were admitted to Yale alone. While Yale took one or two Port students this year, several outstanding Port students were rejected.
Gordon announced that the Port Washington School District had just received a grant to help students "who are prone to outside influences like gangs." The $75,000 grant from the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center will link Hispanic students in grades six through nine with Hispanic role models in the Port Washington community.
This comes on the heels of last month's nationwide sweep of members of a Central American gang, Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, that included the arrests of four Port Washington residents.
The main goal of the grant is to try to stop the rising gang presence in Port Washington from spilling into the schools. The program would be a "community outreach" program that would work mainly with the students of Weber. A similar program has already proved successful in Westbury, and the school board is looking forward to similar results in Port Washington.
Mary Callahan, the assistant superintendent for business, gave an update on construction. Callahan stated that most of the construction was completed on time, although this summer irrigation, paving at Daly and various other small jobs at Weber and the other schools will be completed. Turner Construction, the supervisor for the project, finished its work on March 31 but will be included in all future payment processing.
Callahan said the district realized savings of $578,000 below budgeted costs. Of that, $318,000 is committed for change orders and balances on outstanding payments. Some $160,000 has been set aside for a methane-detection system at Salem, but it appears that the Salem system will cost far less, and some of that money could be moved into the savings balance and used for so-called B-list items specified in the bond, such as roof repairs.
Callahan noted that the cost of steel has risen sharply in recent months, "so the Port Washington project was well timed." Finally, the discussion turned to next year's budget. On March 22, the working budget had stood at $109,680,747, an increase of $9.84 million, or 9.9 percent, over the current budget of $99,833,944.
The administration cut $1.92 million, bringing the proposal down to $108,813,333, an increase of $8.98 million, or 9 percent, from the current budget. (The administration's handout did not round the budget increase; it was listed as an 8.99 percent increase from the current budget.)
That increase includes $1.93 million in previously approved bond debt, over and above the debt payments in the current budget. Thus, the increase in educational costs is 7.1 percent, Gordon said.
"This is a very, very good educational budget," he proclaimed, noting that it covers a full program of conferences for teachers; nine new teachers, including two special-education teachers at Weber; a new custodian because of the new wing at Daly and a "data person" who will derive information from the many standardized tests the district now gives. Gordon said at a recent meeting that one of his goals is to improve the use of test data to assess programs.
The budget, he said, "does not cut programs, but it does call for a great deal of sacrifice." The board called on teachers to conserve their supplies, to keep up with the district's motto of squeezing every dollar, and the latest round of cuts subtracted 15 percent, or $600,000, of the funds for supplies. The cuts also included a $220,000 reduction in hiring of new teachers by cutting three proposed positions. Gordon said his office staff is reducing one full-time position to part-time.
"This budget will probably please no one, including me," Gordon said. "But that's probably good."
Board members said it is imperative that the proposed budget gets approved by the community, as the New York State contingency budget, or the state-mandated back-up budget, is $105.7 million, or just $3.1 million less than what the board is proposing. The district cannot afford that loss, as it is doing all it can to save with the $3 million extra.
The taxpayers would have to pick up a lot of extra slack because the state is not throwing enough aid to the district, board members said.
Board vice president Dean Nardone noted that the state budget approved last month increased aid to the Port schools by just $2,500. Board member Robert Seiden said that state-mandated increases in costs for next year total a thousand times that much, or $2.5 million.
Among the mandated increases are contributions to the state pension system, which will double next year because the system's stock-market returns declined and taxpayers statewide must make up the difference. Health-insurance premiums are also rising.