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Revised School Budget Presented at BOE Meeting

Three of six PEP teachers and one elementary art teacher restored

A revised budget was presented at the March 6 board of education meeting, which reinstated several teaching positions, including some in the Port Enrichment Program (PEP) and the elementary art teacher position. In addition, the proposed budget included a new model for pre-K and several guidance positions were restored. However, this budget still eliminates nine teaching positions.

During the first round of community comments, Lynn Steinberg, parent of a student at Salem, said that she supports a budget over the tax cap because many items need to be cut from the budget to stay within limits. “I firmly believe that the voters of Port Washington have the right to decide if they want a school budget that maintains high quality education in our town,” she said, also noting that the real estate values have not suffered as much in Port Washington because of the school district. “The parents of Port Washington are ready to come together and support a sound budget,” Ms. Steinberg said, adding, “Let the voters decide.”

Stephanie Rich noted that the board has hard choices during this difficult time, and said, “I applaud you for keeping the proposed budget within the cap and in so doing, acting to preserve the financial foundations of the school district over the next lean years that we face. You are acting to serve the interests of the whole community, and not just residents who are district staff, and not just those families with children in the district.”

Irene Virgilio, a teacher in the Port Washington School District for 22 years and a PEP teacher at Daly for the past 10 years, spoke about the many components of PEP. She first described the activities of the gifted students in the core PEP program, stating that it allows them to study a wide variety of academic interests with other students who have similar needs. She noted that PEP was sending 30 students to the Math Olympiads and that several 5th grade PEP students were recently selected in a national essay contest.

In addition to working with gifted children, Virigilio said that PEP offers opportunities to all children in the elementary schools. She explained that “Challenge Workshops” are offered to all third and fourth graders who choose to give up recess to learn about topics such as science, computer animation, drama and photography. There is also the schoolwide enrichment program, she said, in which the PEP teachers plan units of study for all children in grades kindergarten through fifth, including special education classes.

“The PEP program is the place where students feel special and develop an excitement for learning. Every student in every elementary school feels that they are a part of the PEP program,” Virgilio said.

Karen Sloan, president of the school board, said in her opening statement, that compromise is important to keep in mind. “One speaker says all of the parents want to exceed the tax cap, but in this same room, there are other parents who don’t want to exceed the tax cap. It’s our job to wade through these views and find that compromise.” She explained that this means having a budget below the tax cap while providing the educational standards that everyone expects in Port Washington. Sloan added that with each budget hearing, they are coming closer to this compromise.

Dr. Geoffrey Gordon, superintendent of the school district, also spoke about providing the best services while meeting the needs of the taxpayer. He stated that the Port Washington School District has been very frugal, and that the cost per student is lower here than at other comparable school districts in the area, such as Manhasset, Roslyn and Great Neck.

Moving onto the budget hearing, Dr. Gordon detailed the changes made in the budget since the last hearing in February. He said that the school board had asked the administration to try to restore as many services as possible for students within the framework of the tax levy cap. As a result, several items were restored to the revised budget. This includes the reinstatement of three PEP teachers, reinstatement of the full-time elementary art teacher, a new model of pre-K, and the restoration of several guidance positions.

Mary Callahan, assistant superintendent of business, said, “Those restorations are coming to us based on the tax levy limit formula. When the final guidance and clarification came out within the last two weeks from the State Education Department, in combination with their conversations with the office of the budget, we were able to benefit in that formula, at least to the extent that the levy would be $410,000 greater.” She added that this gives the board the potential to put more items back in the budget.

The proposed budget still eliminates nine teaching positions, which include three PEP teachers, four elementary and middle school teachers, and two high school teachers. Dr. Gordon stated that at this time, there was not a resolution yet for the co-curricular units, although this is still in negotiation. The budget-to-budget increase is now at 1.92 percent instead of the previous increase of 1.88 percent.

Board of education members provided comments on the revised budget in order to give the administration direction for the next budget hearing.

Dr. Roy Nelson, school board member, wanted a more detailed explanation of how the PEP program would function at the new proposed level, considering that the district would be operating with less PEP teachers in this budget. Ms. Sloan agreed, saying that the board would need more information on how the PEP program would work in this scenario.

In the final round of community comments, Frank Russo, president of the Port Washington Educational Assembly (PWEA), said that he believes the tax cap has been unifying for the community in creating more of a balance between the schools and the taxpayers. He added, “As far as I am aware, there have not been any reasonable concessions from the teachers unions. That is particularly sad. All the increases over the past several years, entirely, just about, are due to salary and benefit increases for employees.”

John Brooks, parent of a student at Daly, addressed the board and said, “Do not deny us the opportunity to support the mission statement of this board and its commitment to excellence in education; not compromise in education. Do not compromise my child’s educational opportunities.”

Brooks also spoke about what is considered to be essential in education. “Last year, you presented, passed and we supported the budget that included each of the nine positions this current budget now proposes to eliminate. Were those positions essential last year, as we were told? If they weren’t, then you presented false information. If they are, then you have no right presenting a budget that doesn’t include those positions now,” he said.

The next board of education meeting is on Tuesday, March 20 at 8 p.m. Meetings are usually held at Schreiber High School, but this one will take place at Sousa Elementary School.