In a unanimous vote of 6-0 (with board member Dean Nardone absent), the school board approved a budget of $110,118,042 for the 2006-2007 school year. This represents an increase in spending of $4,993,420 over last year's contingency budget of $105,124,622.
Major increases include a rise in the employee health benefit contribution of $1,387,255 - a 12.5 percent increase for that item; a 26 percent increase in the teachers' retirement costs of $953,025; a $544,691 increase in Social Security payments and a $449,283 increase in plant operation for the eight district buildings.
The board and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoff Gordon proudly tout this year's budget as one of the lowest on Long Island. As of April 11, out of all of the tentative proposed budgets, Port's spending increase was tenth out of the 11 in the North Shore quadrant. (Oyster Bay's increase is 4.5 percent.) And, in Nassau County, out of 31 school districts, Port's proposed budget is the 27th lowest percentage increase.
They also report that while keeping costs down, they were also able to restore some educational programs and services that were cut under last year's contingency budget.
What's been restored?
• 7 pedagogical (teaching) positions
• a director of creative arts
• two cleaners (though this is a reduced number)
• clubs at the elementary schools and units set aside for middle school and high school
• late busing for sports and clubs for both private and parochical
• middle school sub varsity teams are back
• summer band
• $500,000 for the capital fund
• $400,000 for computer hardware allocation
The budget does not include after school foreign language, senior citizen contribution and middle school Beehive.
Continuing Education will exist but will not be in the general fund. Instead, administrative costs will be assumed by an outside organization called Scope.
This year's budget discussion had an interesting twist. In an effort to avoid another contingency budget, Pat Foye and Pete Forman, with the support of some board members, began what they termed "shuttle diplomacy" to try to find a budget number that both the board and the Port Washington Educational Assembly, Frank Russo's group, could live with.
Mr. Foye and Mr. Forman were able to obtain a signed agreement from Mr. Russo, individually and as representative of the PWEA, stating that they would not oppose a budget increase of 4.49 percent. He would also write a letter to the editor indicating his non-opposition, and thank the board for its efforts and for "this step in the right direction." As reported above, the board subsequently approved a 4.75 increase, which amounts to approximately $250,000 over a 4.49 percent increase in a budget of $110 million.
As a point of information, the amount of additional tax for the average home in Port Washington on the $250,000 difference is $21 per year.
We asked board members to comment on this year's budget. Mr. Nardone, Dr. Nelson and Mr. Greenstein responded in the Q&A for the candidates. Board President Rob Seiden's board column expressed his and the board's view in general.
Board member Nancy Cowles said the following: "No one wants to place additional burdens on our taxpayers. The board has struggled to settle on a budget that is educationally sound, responsible and prudent. While I, as my colleagues, had some differences of opinion over the specific items included and cuts recommended, given the current
economic climate I believe this budget represents an appropriate compromise for students and
taxpayers and will provide the district with sufficient funds to carry out its primary mission."
Board Vice-President Mark Marcellus said, "My goal this year was twofold. Undo the damage to our children and our programs caused by last year's contingency budget, and minimize the burden on the taxpayers.
This budget accomplishes both of those goals."
Board member Jean Marie Posner, who is also chairperson of the Budget and Fiscal Committee had the following comments: "The BOE has approved a budget that deserves passage, despite the fact that a substantial portion of the community will find it objectionable; in other words, it's a budget that nobody likes and everyone can vote for. There are those who believe that the budget increase is excessive, and further cuts could have been taken to put the budget in line with the level that the citizen watchdogs would have found acceptable. At the other end of the spectrum are those who would want additional school programs and facilities necessitating greater spending. This objectionable budget is the fair one for our community as it balances the needs of our constituents."
The budget vote and school board elections will be held Tuesday, May 16, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Weber Middle School/Flower Hill All Purpose Room on Campus Drive.