I want to shine a spotlight on the major issue that is now being hotly debated in our community. I am referring to the amount of the proposed budget that we will be voting on in May. In your recent Page 1 story, "School Budget 2009-10 Under 2.8 Percent Increase ...As of Now", you quote Mrs. Mary Callahan, our assistant superintendent for business, as saying, "One should just think of the budget like a seesaw; expenses have to balance revenue. If you are light on revenue you have to balance by getting more from the taxpayer."
It is most revealing that Mrs. Callahan, who only reflects our superintendent's views, did not say as her first option, you have to balance by reducing spending, or say as her second option, you have to balance by reducing spending, or by getting more from the taxpayer. Instead, the only option she offers to correct for the imbalance, is to get more from the taxpayer. And that is why thousands of Port residents are going to vote no on the proposed budget in May, no matter what the final amount of that budget may be. We are now living through the most difficult economic times that our community has experienced since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Instead of producing a draft budget that reflects a reduction in spending, or at least no increase in spending, our administrators initially unveiled a draft budget that reflected a 3.87 percent increase ($4.7 million) in spending. Such a draft proposal simply ignores the realities of the times and the plight of many in our community.
Apparently, at least some of our school board members must have heard from their constituents that they could not bear any increase in their school tax burden. One board member went so far as to say at a meeting that any budget increase beyond 2 percent might be rejected by the voters. She is probably right about that. As a result of this pressure from our community, our board directed our superintendent to prepare a revised draft budget that reflected a 2.8 percent increase in spending. You did not mention it in your story, but a 2.8 percent increase in the budget equates to more than $3.4 million. I do not think that such an increase in spending by our administrators is justified, especially since our student enrollment is declining and there is no inflation to contend with. In fact, we have entered a period of deflation. Yes, we have all heard about unfunded mandates, ad nauseam, but all 702 school districts in the state must deal with them. If the giant Sachem school district in Suffolk County, for example, can reduce its spending for next year, Port should at least be able to produce a new budget that reflects no increase in spending.
The original draft budget increase of 3.87 percent was soon reduced by our superintendent to a 3.47 percent increase. This was not done by eliminating any expenses, but by an accounting gimmick. Instead of paying a $480,000 contribution to the employee's retirement fund out of the next budget, it was decided to pay that amount next year, off budget, out of a special reserve account established for that purpose. This reserve account had been established using excess taxpayer monies collected in prior years. (You might ask our superintendent, if our budgets are so "tight", where do these significant amounts of excess taxpayer monies come from, every year?) As you reported, after that, our board then directed our superintendent to reduce his proposed budget by an additional $800,000. If our superintendent now finds expenses totaling $800,000 that can be eliminated from the budget, and I am sure that he will, then the revised proposed budget increase would be 2.818 percent (or more than $3.4 million), which is not "under" any percentage increase that was discussed by our board and superintendent, that I am aware of.
If our school district actually finalizes its proposed budget with a 2.8 percent increase, based on preliminary information obtained from neighboring districts, our proposed increase would probably be one of the highest increases proposed by any district in our north shore area. Some districts are now proposing budget increases of less than 1 percent and some are under 2 percent. Unfortunately for us in Port Washington, our school budgets are based upon the amounts of dollars that our administrators believe they can extract from our community, rather than on the amounts of dollars needed by a truly prudent management team. I urge the readers of this letter to vote no on the proposed budget in May and also, not to vote for any incumbent board member who may be running for re-election. In my opinion, these board members have not proven that they represent the best interests of our community as a whole, as well as the best interests of our children.