Written by Margaret Whitely Friday, 31 December 2010 00:00
At the last Herricks School Board meeting, at the Herricks Middle School, and after all the students in the Middle School delivered their comments, the board got down to the business of what problems they will have to deal with in creating a budget for the new year.
Herricks Superintendent Dr. Jack Bierwirth took over the meeting and outlined the grim picture of the budget for the coming year.
He said, “Normally we would not be presenting anything on the budget until the end of January or the beginning of February. However, we are presenting it now since we are facing a rather extraordinary set of challenges both on the expenditure side and the revenue side.
“The picture is actually quite simple. The state health insurance has lost control again and the rates are exhilarating by 13.75 percent for the last half of this calendar year and the beginning of the next calendar year. We don’t know what the rates will be for the second half of next year but we do know where they will start and given what we have been told by the state we will expect another significant increase not the kind of modest increase we have had for a period of time. We are not sure how much money is left. You might remember that Comptroller Howard Weitzman identified that the system was overcharging everybody and had been building up a cash fund that was outside the legal reserve that was required. Many of us believe that about half of that was left, but clearly that was not applied to this case. It was applied in another year when we expected a seven percent increase and then a week or so before the new fiscal year it became a one or two percent increase.
“If you looked at Andrew Cuomo’s white paper when he was campaigning for governor he indicated that a certain amount of that money was still left. There may be some money left but it is not being applied to the rates.”
Dr. Bierwirth continued, “The retirement system has been using a very short term formula. I have said for a long time that any well-run cooperation funds sets pension on the basis of long-term rates of return not on a five-year formula.
“The Retirement Systems rates are going up by 33 percent. The ERS Employees Retirement Systems which covers secretaries and custodians is going from 12 to 16 percent. Not because of any changes in benefits but because of changes in funds.
“A number of people have calculated that the state could have set a rate of around 9 percent and kept it the same rate instead of going up to 22 percent down to zero and now back up to this range. It is not clear when it my go back down. Probably not in 1213 based on the figures I have seen.
“So, we’ve been trying to characterize this. It’s not exactly a stand pat budget because even if we eliminate busses, maintenance vehicles and capitol projects and as Deirdre coined the phrase ‘shaved stand pat budget’ and that would cost 7.65 percent. We are still getting in a great deal of budget information but that is not going to change the overall picture. What that changes is how much money will go for text and how much money will go for supplies and now that we know what the state rates will be the only real variables will be the only things we don’t know for sure and we always build in a bit more in there.
“As we go through the budget through the next four or five weeks I don’t see that changing very much if we are trying to maintain programs and services because the big numbers are all fixed.
“On the revenue side, unfortunately all most all most of that is on the down side. If things change they are likely to change for the worse. We know at this point that while the state legislature has not approved the final state aid figures for this current year, and the figures in Newsday and elsewhere were not approved numbers but just estimates and they did not go back into session before election day because they didn’t want to deal with this. We don’t have final projections for this year. It is clear that the numbers we will get this year are probably going to be $500 to $750, 000 less that we estimated in the spring and that’s not including any possible mid-year cuts. I think anybody that’s looks at New York State’s finances sees that they are $9 billion in the hole for next year has to project there will be further cuts in state aid for school districts for 2011-12.
“Stimulus funds came to us two ways. One was directly to us and we used that for expenditures that we knew was not going to be returning, for the foundations program, the writing program. We did not add staff or programs because we knew that the stimulus money would run out in two years and we did not have to cut those programs out again.
“The other half of the federal money that came to New York State to us came to us through the state aid formula. Whether the state will replace it or not, it’s gone. Partly offsetting that is the federal jobs money that was passed in August and our share of that should be $375,000. Knowing where we going to be when the federal stimulus money disappeared our recommendation to the board was that we hold that over.
“We have by law the right to obligate it anytime until mid-September of 2011. Since we did not put people out of jobs and since we knew what was coming, we held that over.
“It is reasonable to estimate that whatever the level of expenditure increase, at this point the tax levy will probably go up by at least 2 percent but more likely 3 or 4 percent above whatever the expenditure becomes. So if we ended up, again, contingent on what the state legislature decides to do and until how much state aid we are going to lose, we won’t know how much tax levy we will have to have to make it up the funds. You notice on the handout under III each one percent in the tax levy represents $837, 641.
“So, that’s the picture, again, we are not even finished with the budget. We felt that is was appropriate for the board and the community and the staff to know where we are at this point and begin to talk about it.”
“I should remind everyone, that in August, in anticipation of losing state aid we did set aside a reserve of $500,000 to cover the potential loss of state aid this year so that we would not have to raise the tax levy this fall,” Dr. Bierwirth concluded. “We still don’t know if we are going to lose $500,000 or more but we did set up a reserve to deal with the loss of this year’s state aid.”
Overview of the
In other news, Dr. Bierwirth provided an update on the NEWA (The Northwest Evaluation Association), which is an education services organization based in Portland, Oregon. The company developed research based computerized adaptive assessments for students. The assessments are growth based informative instruction tools for teachers and students. NWEA results provide the teachers and students with immediate results that can be utilized in the classroom to target student learning and focus on student needs,
Bierwirth said, “We piloted this last spring, along with five other districts and during the summer we made a proposal, which we continue to pursue that districts should be allowed to use this in lieu of the New York State tests and I am astounded that they are talking about spending millions of dollars on a 3-8 interim test and eliminating Regents exams or charging for Regents exams, which is nuts.
“Doing this would give better results in one day with one hour of testing with each student. The results come back and they are useful for teachers, students and useful to parents and the cost to the state would be zero and the cost to the school districts would be half of what we are spending now. What’s wrong with that picture? We are still working on it, but there is a lot to learn. It is done online and it is fully adapted and that means when a student starts and move up or down based on the number of questions they can answer. If they can answer more difficult questions the computer keeps giving them more and more difficult questions, until they reach the point when they can answer 50 percent right and 50 percent wrong. The program assumes that is a student’s working level. So the computer moves students up or down and when asked how they did in the program they all said, it was tough, but I thought I did well. So, essentially they all had the same reaction. What I have given you is the report showing that the scores are based on national and international norms. “It helps you group students so that they know where they are in the spectrum of learning. Students can pause the test and since there is such a massive of amounts of information, there is no chance of cheating.”
Assistant Superintendent Diedre Hays added, “We now have a link on our website. Just click on parents and NWEA and see the further advantages of this method of testing. Further, because this is an adaptive test and challenges the student at their own level of accomplishment.”
Finally, the Herricks Athletic Boosters gave a gift of $1, 749 to the Herricks Board to be used to purchase a camcorder to be utilized at Herricks athletic events and board president Christine Turner accepted the donations made by the INDO US Community.
The meeting ended and the next Herricks Board meeting will be held on Jan. 6, 2011 at 7:15 p.m. at the Herricks Community Center, 999 Herricks Road, New Hyde Park.