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Syosset Board of Education Holds Budget Hearing

While the crowd at the Syosset Board of Education Budget Hearing on May 9 was very supportive, Superintendent Dr. Carole G. Hankin made it clear that she’s had quite enough of the anti-school budget talk that she knows has been circulating in the community.

“There’s a lot of misinformation being put out there by misinformed people who don’t have the facts,” said Hankin. The superintendent urged the audience to get the facts for themselves on any issue they vote on and stated that she was willing to personally meet with anyone who was talking down the budget to their neighbors. “I am now challenging them to come to my office and meet with me. And I will tell them any answer on any topic, because enough of lies,” stated Hawkin.

Hankin’s impassioned stance produced loud applause from the audience at the hearing. While some residents are dissatisfied with the proposed $192,353,912 budget- a 1.86 percent increase over last year’s budget- they were either not in attendance on May 9, or largely remained silent; only two residents asked questions that pertained to the budget. The rest of the speakers were parents who praised the district for the programs it offered, some with great emotion.

One such speaker was Woodbury resident Karen Ventricelli, who stated that she was there to explain to the audience what could happen to a school district if the budget failed. “I moved from Plainedge to this school district because my budget in that school district had failed, and all of the things that my children lost were so much more than the couple of hundred dollars I would have paid in school taxes,” said Ventricelli.

The parent went on to say that her children lost access to AP classes, school sports, and early/late buses. She also noted that parents often did not seem to realize that when a school budget fails, the programs and teachers lost that year cannot be regained the following year- as she learned at Plainedge. “Six years later, they finally got school sports back,” she said.

Susan Parker, president of the Syosset Council of PTAs, took to the microphone to voice her approval. “By supporting this budget, we will ensure that our greatest asset- our children- receive the best possible educational experience,” said Parker. “Our children are our future, and the leaders of tomorrow: nothing less than excellence should be acceptable.”

While most praised the district, some sharing personal stories of how their children had benefited from the unique services available in Syosset, Woodbury resident Chris DiFilippo strongly implied that the board was in need of greater transparency.

“My purpose in being here is, hopefully now and in the future, the board will be more interactive with the community that it serves, so we can have a more active role in the budget and in the process,” said DiFilippo.

DiFilippo went on to ask about salary deferment (or whether or not the teachers and administrators who had given up their raises this year would receive that money in the future); about the total number of reserves (and why the district could not use more of their reserves to lower the tax burden); and about how much teachers and staff pay for their health care and retirement benefits, among other questions.

Hankin said that the staff had indeed given up their raises, and stated that the district could not spend more of its reserves for practical reasons. “If we used up every reserve, when there’s an accident and we have to pay out a workman’s comp, we have no money,” said Hankin.

Board President Dr. Marc Herman also explained during his brief budget presentation, held before public comment, that the district had saved money during better times and was now using its reserves, which was their purpose.

“We will continue to rely on our reserves over the next several years to help stabilize the budget and carry us through those difficult times,” said Herman. It was disclosed that approximately $3.6 million from reserves will be used in 2011-2012.

In answer to DiFilippo’s other question, Herman stated that district staff pays between 17 and 18 percent of health care and retirement benefits.

The other resident who posed a question at the hearing was Syosset resident Frederick Gana, who asked how many positions Syosset would be losing through attrition, and in what categories; while she did not provide numbers, Hankin said that few people were leaving the district these days.

In board news, Herman announced the board had recently attended numerous PTSA meetings, staff recognition luncheons, and pre-kindergarten orientations at schools throughout the district. The board had also presented the budget at all district elementary schools, Herman said.

In addition to noting the district’s recent naming as one of the “Best Communities for Music Education” by the National Association of Music Merchant Foundation, the superintendent also announced that the district would not need to use the two designated “Snow Make-Up” days on May 26 and 27, so there will be no school on those dates.

As is often the case at Syosset board meetings, there was a brief performance from the students in addition to regular business; first- and second-graders from all of the district elementary schools gave a presentation on fairytales. After the presentation, the boys and girls paired off to dance the minuet. During the performance, the auditorium at South Woods Middle School was packed with proud parents- some of whom left after their children exited the stage, and some who stayed for the budget hearing as well.

The budget vote will be held on Tuesday, May 17 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at all district elementary schools. The details of the proposed budget are available on the district website at www.syosset.k12.ny.us.