Friday, 07 January 2011 00:00Leading a district through these tough economic times is a huge task, especially with increased state mandates and decreased state aid. The state budget deficit is expected to continue to grow, federal stimulus funds will expire and pension costs will continue to climb. Furthermore, Nassau County is making yet another attempt to shift the mistakes of prior years county assessments onto the backs of school districts, despite losing the battle in the courts last year. This is all occurring while the downturn in the economy continues to be felt by the residents of our community.
The good news is the district is financially sound and your Board of Education continues to work together with Administration to do more with fewer resources.
The budget-to-budget increases in the past two years have been the lowest in the past six years of the District and two of the lowest in the past 20-year history.
The district received a clean audit report and realized a surplus. This surplus was generated in part by a spending freeze and because of the budget-to-budget building process. The surplus funds were used to reduce the tax levy as well as to increase necessary reserves. In consultation with the Board’s Financial Advisory Committee, the Unappropriated Fund Balance (or what some refer to as the Emergency Fund) has been increased and is now closer to the maximum 4 percent that New York State has set for school districts. Having this Unappropriated Fund Balance puts the District in a healthy position in the event that there is a further shortfall of State Aid. Through the reserve funding process, the Board has taken steps to protect the taxpayers from large budget spikes in subsequent years. This year the direction of the Board is to conduct the budget building process based on actual expenditures based on the prior year allocations.
It is important to point out that at the time of the budget vote in May, the estimated tax levy increase was 3.35 percent; however, when the Board of Education met in August, the final tax levy increase was reduced and set at a lower tax rate of 2.97 percent.
Financial concerns are a constant, but we must never forget the priority we all share, the education of our children. If you look at the District’s website, you will see that we had a record number of AP Scholars in the 2009-10 school year; over 50 of these student-scholars are now in this year’s senior class. This comes as a direct result of fulfilling our Board Goal of removing the artificial barriers for entry into honors and AP classes. The new Willets Road program has already met with rave reviews from parents and children. Students are now engaged in a new elective program, an exciting Family & Consumer Science program and state-mandated Academic Intervention Services. Lastly, our final class size numbers are in and slightly higher than last year. The actual average class size at North Side is 20.8, at Willets Road 21.2, and at Wheatley 19.8.
We will continue to take steps necessary to keep the EWSD one of the outstanding districts on Long Island. Through continued communication, cooperation and collaboration with our staff, legislators and the public, we will continue to strive to obtain more equitable tax structures, fair contract outcomes and ensure that our district gets its fair share of assistance from Albany and Washington.
Best wishes for the New Year.
Robert V. Fallarino,
David P. Keefe,
East Williston School District
Board of Education members