Attempting to rebound from last year's school budget defeat, the board of education presented the preliminary budget for the 2006-2007 school year at its Feb. 7 meeting.
Superintendent of Schools Geoffrey N. Gordon introduced the draft of next year's spending plan as one of the "lowest, if not the lowest preliminary budget on the North Shore," attempting to placate those who alleged excesses and waste in last year's budget proposals. Although the draft is merely a "starting point," Dr. Gordon said, it represents a 5.99 percent increase over the contingency budget, to $111,399,054.
"We are trying to build back but remain responsible," Dr. Gordon said.
Before the budget presentation, Dr. Gordon emphasized that the board's philosophy is to "provide comprehensive education and opportunity for students." He also explained that every teacher works at least 35 hours a week; however, not all 35 hours are spent in the classroom. Teachers invest additional time in research, preparation, education and planning.
"Good teaching does not mean teaching all the time," he said.
In a PowerPoint presentation, Assistant Superintendent for Business Mary Callahan outlined the main points of the budget. Eight teaching positions, three building cleaners and the equivalent of a half-time clerical position in central administration would be added, along with a director of creative arts.
"[This budget] will begin to restore what was lost in the contingency budget," Ms. Callahan said.
In terms of co-curricular activities, eight clubs would be added to each of the five elementary schools, which currently have no clubs. All sub-varsity Weber teams would be reinstated; the Athletic Association of Port Washington would no longer have to raise donations to pay for the athletics program. Currently, outside groups must pay for facility use, but under the new budget, the board would reinstate its no-fee policy.
Under the current budget, there are no late buses, and transportation for field trips is not fully funded by the school. The new budget would reinstate both these programs.
Capital projects, including fixing damaged roofs of schools throughout the district, would receive $1 million. These projects are not funded under the contingency budget.
Supplies and equipment funding, which does not allow for pencils and limits Xeroxing, would be increased, with $500,000 going toward computer hardware improvements, but departments would receive minimal equipment.
Only textbooks that are covered by New York State textbook aid reimbursement would be bought.
The alternative school was drastically affected by the contingency budget and was forced to offer its services exclusively to freshmen. Under the new budget, the alternative school would be built back up for grades 9-12 over four years, Principal Jay Lewis said.
Drivers education, which is now being provided by the district's Continuing Education department and costs students more than $400 apiece, is still not included in the preliminary budget, much to the anguish of Schreiber technology teacher Donald Schaefer.
"It is a disastrous move if we leave [drivers ed] out," he said.
Some other notable items that remain out of the budget are after-school foreign language programs at Weber and the Weber beehive.
Hoping to prevent another budget defeat, Dr. Gordon explained that another contingency budget would only save about $1.1 million.
Dr. Gordon described the difficult situation in which the state is putting local taxpayers. If Port were to receive the level of state aid it used to get, taxes could be reduced by 30 percent, he said. Also, although Gov. George Pataki has proposed $634 million in new school aid, the largest increase ever proposed by a governor, that figure is less than half of the $1.34 billion increase called for by the state Board of Regents, according to an article distributed at the meeting. Additionally, a new "STAR Plus" property-tax relief program has been proposed. This would provide $400 tax rebates to homeowners in school districts that adopt a contingency budget. Essentially, the program rewards citizens who vote no on their school budgets, Dr. Gordon said.
Before the budget presentation, community comments focused on the possible reduction in the number of paraprofessionals employed in the district. Paraprofessionals play many roles in the district, from supervising children in the cafeteria to assisting with technical support for multimedia presentations.
Gail Schreiner of the Port Washington Paraprofessional Association warned, "We cannot lose any more [paraprofessionals] because we don't want to jeopardize the safety of our children."
"The paras have given as much as they can," added Tessa Jordan, president of the Port Washington Teachers Association.
Following the budget discussion, the board talked about a new New York State Mathematics Standard that has been introduced. The standard consists of five vertical lines, representing the five math content strands -- number sense and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, and statistics and probability -- and five horizontal lines, representing the five math process strands - problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, connections and representation. Each strand has a specific performance indicator for each grade level.
Discussion of other curriculum issues covered a five-year plan to improve student achievement. The board seeks to increase participation in AP classes at Schreiber, maintain the No Child Left Behind subgroups, complete its process of curriculum and improve both gifted education and academic intervention services.
"We looked at instruction methods, item by item very tedious whether we were instructing students according to the standards, known as mapping," said Dr. Charles Piemonte, the interim assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment.
Consistent with the schools' process of self-assessment, Schreiber underwent a period of self-study on Feb. 1 according to the principles of the Middle States Commission of Secondary Schools. The budget implications of the study will be explored at a later date.
During the second round of community comments, Dana Friedman, who participated in an after-school task force to "save the district money," voiced her concerns that the board has failed to recognize her proposals to integrate JCC and extracurricular activities in a more cost-effective manner. Board members said they had not received her proposals but were always open to community suggestions on how to save money.
Copies of the preliminary 2006-2007 budget may be obtained at the district's administrative office at 100 Campus Drive.