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Jericho Holds Board Meeting and Budget Workshop #3

Board Discusses Staffing, Transportation, and Employee Benefit Costs

At the Feb. 10 meeting, the Jericho Board of Education honored five seniors who were named as semifinalists in the 2011 Intel Science Talent Search: Matthew Lam, Nikko Price, Sahir Raoof, Suki Sun and Yuxin Zhu. These students were chosen from approximately 1,600 entrants nationwide. Each of the semifinalists, as well as their schools, will receive awards of $1,000 for this honor.

In addition to being named as semifinalist, Matthew Lam is one of 40 students who was also named as an Intel finalist for his project entitled “Pain Education: Overcoming Barriers to Pain Control and Improving Quality of Life Among Chinese American Cancer Patients.” In March, Lam will attend the Science Talent Institute in Washington, D.C. to participate in the final judging process and compete for the first place award of $100,000.

Jericho High School senior Michael Zhou was recognized as a semifinalist in the Siemens Competition in math, science, and technology. Among the 1,300 students across the country who submitted projects, only 312 students were selected as semifinalists.

The board also recognized Grace Kim and Angela Hyun who were named as semifinalists in the 2011 MIT Think Competition. Kim and Hyun conducted research on their projects entitled “A Novel Approach for the Development of Dendritic Cell-Based Malaria Vaccine: Artificial Fusion between Dendritic Cells and Parasitized RBCs” and “Analysis of Diabetic Retinopathy: Resveratrol and Proanthocyanidins as Mechanisms of NF-Kb Inhibitor,” respectively.

Representatives from the high school student council encouraged the community to attend the school’s production of Guys and Dolls on March 10, 11, and 12 in the Little Theater at 7:30 p.m.

In the monthly report of the superintendent, Henry L. Grishman reported that the school district’s current enrollment is 3,017.

In other news, the board congratulated the district’s school lunch program director, Tracy Gilette, for her outstanding efforts to include more nutritious options on the school menu. Board president Barbara Krieger announced that the program’s recent audit report was “exemplary, an absolutely perfect report,” pointing out that New York State “does not easily hand out accolades.” During a brief presentation, Gilette listed some of the new lunch items now offered: baked French fries, grilled chicken on whole wheat bread, grilled chicken Caesar salad, vegetable stir fry, chick pea salad, multi-grain items without high fructose corn syrup, more fruits and vegetables, brown rice, and a salad bar in the high school. Gilette introduced and praised her dedicated staff, who make most of the lunches from scratch. Gilette and her staff treated the board and audience to a sampling of the natural, homemade lunches Jericho students are now offered.

In business news, seven resolutions were put to a vote, all of which passed.

Before the board transitioned to Budget Workshop #3, Grishman announced the upcoming retirement of director of technology Mark Steinberger. Grishman congratulated and thanked Steinberger “for the excellent job you’ve done and for your dedication to the children in this community.”

Krieger reported that 12 employees from the central office, personnel, technology, transportation, buildings and facilities “have stated that they will not be seeking raises in the next year. The whole community really understands the financial pressures we’re under, so thank you.”

Budget Workshop #3 began with projections for 2011-2012 staffing. Assistant Superintendent of Business Affairs Dr. Joan Colvin said, “We’re down five elementary positions and down two computer teacher positions.” Several parents expressed concerns over the elimination of computer teachers. They questioned whether or not the regular classroom teachers would be sufficiently trained to maintain the high standards set by Jericho’s current computer staff. Director of Technology Mark Steinberger reassured, “There’s always been collaboration between computer teachers and regular teachers from the beginning. The regular teachers are very well-prepared.” In addition, Krieger noted that computer training will be offered to the staff as technology continues to progress.

Colvin pointed out that the district spent less on substitute teachers in the past year compared to previous years. “This savings is a credit to our dedicated staff,” said Colvin.

The budget for Contractual Services decreased slightly from $471,505 in 2010-2011 to $466,565 in 2011-2012. These services include assemblies and graduations, repairs and maintenance, meetings and conferences, and events such as student contests.

Of the district’s 1,500 computers, 360 of them will be replaced in the coming school year. Computers are generally purchased with a five-year warranty, which costs the district $250,000 per year compared to $500,000 if the computers were leased. Plans to increase district-wide Wi-Fi service are also in progress. The overall amount proposed for technology in 2011-2012 is $2,583,243 compared to $2,850,174 in 2010-2011, a decrease.

In Transportation, “the amount of money spent has decreased over the past couple of years due to a decrease in the number of bus routes,” reported Colvin. The district operated 32 large buses and 30 vans in 2007-2008; in 2011-2012, only 27 large buses and 27 vans will be needed. In a concerted effort to cut costs, Colvin said, “We’re constantly looking at bus runs, but due to the location of the Middle School and High School, we can’t cut out any of those buses. If any changes are made, they would only apply to the elementary schools.” The overall amount budgeted for transportation in 2011-2012 is $5,938,545 compared to $6,212,276 budgeted in 2010-2011. Transportation expenses include field trip funds and the “wet contract” in which the district pays for gas based on mileage.

Lastly, in Employee Benefits, the total amount budgeted increased from $20,769,379 in 2010-2011 to $22,887,901 in 2011-2012 due to an increase in retirement benefits. Colvin explained that school districts are required to contribute to the New York State Teachers’ and Employees’ Retirement Systems. Each year the amount of money to be contributed—a percentage of teachers’ and employees’ salaries—increases or decreases depending on the current economic climate. For instance, “in 2000-2001,” explained Colvin, “.43 percent of teachers’ salaries were paid out.” However, in 2009, when the stock market crashed and the recession took hold, the contribution rate started to increase and has continued an upward trend ever since. “In 2010-2011, 8.6 percent of teachers’ salaries went into the state fund. Twelve percent will be paid out in 2011-2012,” Colvin said.

To conclude, Colvin stressed the importance of planning ahead while calculating what is needed to sustain a thriving school district such as Jericho: “Budgeting is not a one-shot deal. We need to look and analyze ahead three to five years to know where the money needs to go.”

Krieger thanked Colvin and Steinberger for their presentations and encouraged the public to contact the board with any questions or concerns regarding the budget. “Please email us if you have any comments or see a potential savings. We need to know what the community is thinking so we can incorporate your concerns into our decision making. Please come to us now. It’s too late to make changes on the day of the vote,” Krieger urged.

The next board of education meeting will take place at Cantiague Elementary School on Thurs., March 17 at 7:45 p.m.