As of the March 18 BOE meeting, the draft budget for the 2008-2009 school year is $124,175,483, which is an $8,072,388 increase over last year's budget of $116,103,095. This represents a 6.95 percent increase. However, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoffrey Gordon is adamant that another $1.2 million must be cut in order to bring the percentage increase to somewhere in the 5 to 5.9 percent range. He and the board of education members recognize that these are hard economic times, both for Main Street and Wall Street, and their stated goal is to formulate a spending plan that the taxpayers can and will support.
He's "firm and hard" on the $1.2 million reduction, despite the fact that the fixed cost increases to maintain the existing programs are a net of $7.6 million or 6.6 percent.
These fixed cost increases are as follows:
BOCES Administration Fee- $37,489
Special Education- $1,321,000 (Note: salaries are included in the $4.9 mil.)
Occupational Education- $204,868
The $7.6 mil. figure does not include any increases in supplies, equipment, textbooks, capital, facility/maintenance, utilities or administrative costs.
The areas that Dr. Gordon is looking to for the $1.2 mil. reduction include:
1. Substitute teachers. This line was originally increased from $700,000 to $1,200,000 in the initial draft budget presented in January. It was subsequently reduced $250,000. Now it is being considered for another cut. School board member Rocco Andriola noted that teacher absenteeism negatively impacts the quality of education for the students when they have substitute teachers.
2. Transportation-Hopefully a $200,000 reduction can be realized if the district can combine some routes.
3. The ATLAST program presents an accounting issue for the district. NY State regulations require that the budget has to include the expenditures for this popular summer program as an expense, even though cost for the program is offset in large part by the fees paid by the participants. Administration is exploring the idea of having a local organization in town (i.e. PYA) run the program as a 501C3. Board member Mark Marcellus said that Regina Farinaccio could still coordinate it. Board member Jean-Marie Posner noted that the additional $500,000 is only a "perception" of expenditure, and presents a problem for boards trying to pass budgets in these difficult economic times.
4. Dr. Gordon will instruct all of the seven schools in the district to each find $80,000 in additional cuts.
Dr. Gordon opened the budget discussion portion of the meeting by agreeing with Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi who recently held a meeting in which he stressed that Long Island has to go after the unfunded state and federal mandates imposed on the school districts. Dr. Gordon said "the schools have become the enemy, when we're here to educate the children."
One of the handouts at the BOE meeting stated that 15.78 percent of New York state's students come from Long Island and only 12.11 percent of the aid from the state comes to Long Island. And, throughout New York State, the local share of school district funding (primarily through the tax levy) is approximately 45.4 percent, the rest of the budget is paid through state aid (54.6 percent).
In 2008-2009, 77 districts in New York state are expecting state aid reductions, and 46 of those districts are on Long Island. More importantly, in Port Washington, because it is considered a wealthy district, only 5.9 percent of the total cost of the budget comes from state aid. The balance comes from local sources.
Additionally, the High Tax Aid from the state is being totally eliminated. Long Island is losing $9 million. Last year Port received $723,000 in High Tax Aid, which they will not get for the new budget. However, the district is scheduled to receive a negligible increase of 2 percent, but the overall decrease in aid is approximately $300,000.
The handout also gave a teacher salary comparison for '07/'08 for the top 12 North Shore LI School Districts, which listed Port Washington as seventh (at $68,900) behind Jericho, Oyster Bay, Roslyn, Garden City, Great Neck and Locust Valley, but ahead of North Shore, Manhasset, Herricks and East Williston (note: Syosset did not report).
A teacher health care contribution comparison rate showed that Port requires a 20 percent contribution for family and individual, which is second to Garden City, which is 22 percent for family and 23 percent for individual, and tied with North Shore for requiring the largest percentage of contribution from its employees.
Again, in the handout, Port placed tenth in the per pupil expense in the top 12 North Shore school districts. These are as follows for the '06/'07 budget year.
(1) Locust Valley-$26,659; (2) Jericho- $26,643; (3) Great Neck- $25,442; (4) Manhasset- $25,029; (5) Oyster Bay- $24,978; (6) Roslyn- $24,576; (7) North Shore- $24,464; (8) East Williston- $23,885; (9) Syosset- $23,335; (10) Port Washington- $21,941; (11) Herricks- $20,051 and (12) Garden City- $19,184
Dr. Gordon believes that Port residents get a good "bang for their buck." He cited the fact that in districts considered the "weathiest," that 92 percent graduate with a Regents diploma and 95.8 percent go on to post-secondary education. Port exceeds these numbers with a 95 percent rate for Regents diplomas and a 98 percent rate for graduates who go on to post-second education. This success is even more significant for Port, as it has a 7.7 percent limited English proficiency compared to a 5 percent average in the wealthiest districts.
Board critic Frank Russo, however, does not believe that the district gets the results it should given the high taxes in Port. Dr. Gordon fired back that out of 346 seniors, 346 graduated last year, and then cited Port's recent success in the nationwide Intel contest in which six Schreiber students were named out of the 40 semifinalists chosen.
Mr. Russo also noted that the budget will actually be one-half to one percent higher when the other sources of the district's income, which are increasingly being reduced, are factored into the bottom line.
He also thinks that the district has too many paraprofessionals who, while their salaries are relatively low (approx. $20,000) cost the district $35,000 after figuring in their healthcare. He's also upset that they can retire at age 55 with health benefits for life after working five years in the district.
Mr. Russo also takes issue with the fact that the administration compares itself to the 12 North Shore schools. He points out that there are many other districts on Long Island. Dr. Gordon responded that he does not want to compare Port with Roosevelt. Earlier on in the meeting Dr. Gordon also noted that a district like Sachem receives over 50 percent of its budget from state aid.