As you are aware, I am extremely optimistic about the future of both our school system and community. In that regard, one of the primary components of our country's democracy is the right to vote. This year's vote on the school budget and board of education candidates is set for Tuesday, May 17, from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. at Carrie P. Weber Middle School/Flower Hill, All Purpose Room. Regardless of how you plan to vote and whom you plan to vote for, as your superintendent, I urge you to exercise your democratic right to vote. Just as it is my privilege to serve this wonderful community, it is our privilege to live in this great democracy. What excellent role models we can be for our students by exercising the right to vote!
Thus, I am going to devote this column to setting the record straight and ensuring that accurate information regarding what our schools are doing well and what our schools need to improve are presented fairly and accurately. Please note the following:
Myth - The budget increase of $8,979,389 presented to voters is due to lack of local controls.
Reality - The truth is the budget has been severely impacted by unfunded state and federal mandates, the most egregious of which are a $1,835,926 increase in pension contributions and a $1,149,585 increase in state medical costs. Combined with a $1,926,991 increase based upon the 2001 voter approved bond, which must be paid for now, our budget increase just on these three items alone is $4,912,502. The remaining $4,066,887 dollar increase, which is approximately 4 percent of last year's budget, is below our actual operating cost increases. The budget is so tight that even a contingency budget in Port Washington would result in a $5,852,637 increase to the present budget. The realities of changing state and federal mandates affect every district in New York State, and when the $1,926,991 bond debt and $500,000 capital improvement dollars are discounted, Port's budget increase is below the Nassau County average increase of 6.77 percent published in Newsday this year.
We join our taxpayer base in protesting the state and federal unfunded mandates. In the past three and one-half decades the state of New York has reduced state aid in Port Washington from approximately 21 percent of total budget in 1972 to 5.7 percent of total budget in 2005. Our problems thus are twofold:
1. Ensuring that the state of New York does not further abrogate its funding responsibilities to our community.
2. Ensuring that "catch-up" dollars from the past are eliminated and/or stabilized so that taxpayer burden can be reduced in the future.
I believe that we can accomplish both goals while continuing to offer a wonderful future for our students and community.
Myth - Port's school system is average because student test scores have dropped.
Reality - Comprehensive student achievement including most test scores are soaring. As you may recall, the Wall Street Journal rated competitive college acceptances nationwide in April 2004. Port's college acceptance rates were so strong among the most competitive colleges in the United States that the Wall Street Journal rated Paul D. Schreiber High School among the 65 top prep and public secondary schools in the United States for acceptances to the most competitive colleges.
In the March 27, 2005 issue of the New York Times, Port's entire K-12 school system was recognized for its excellence. More than 93 percent of our students in this wonderful, diverse community go on to two and four year colleges, and more than 99 percent of the class of 2004 graduated. Our Regents examination scores in English, math and history are in the top quarter of Nassau County. On the other hand, in large part, because we have an economically diverse community, and not everyone can afford tutors and/or supplementary education costs, we know that we have to increase academic intervention services comprehensively. As I write this column to you, we are not looking at our successes and soaring achievements of our students, but rather at how we can continue to strengthen our foundations at all levels. We do so in order to address the challenges for the 21st century, the demographics of Port's changing community, and the increased demands on our public schools in difficult economic times. Port's schools are safe, gathering upward momentum, and recognized nationwide for our student achievement. Our goal together, and the goal of this budget, is to keep Port's schools that way, address school problems without running away from them, and build off of our strengths as well.
I wish to publicly commend all six individuals running for the board of education, incumbents Mark Marcellus and Rob Seiden, and challengers Larry Greenstein, Joel Katz, Frank Russo and Peter Wezenaar. It is courageous to serve one's community through volunteerism, and a wonderful example for students to witness. It is with pride and humility that I thank them for running, and with the same pride and humility that I thank you for allowing me to serve. On behalf of my own family, we look to Port's future as a terrific community with rising school achievements and prudent budget management. Please exercise your right to vote, and please continue your excellent example of democratic values for our students. Thank you.
Geoffrey N. Gordon, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools