Written by Betsy Abraham Thursday, 11 April 2013 00:00
State Senator Jack Martins announced that the Westbury School district will receive an additional $3 million dollars in state aid, which will hopefully help the district meet its tax cap requirements. In a meeting with editors at Anton Community Newspapers in Mineola last week, Martins announced that the high needs district will be receiving over $35 million in state aid, opposed to the $32 million the district was expecting.
School Board President Rodney Caines said that while the district is doing everything possible to stay under the cap, he is unsure whether the additional funding will be enough to make up for the deficit.
“For me it’s not so much the deficit, but we need to think about how to save money. My standpoint when it came to that is that we need to look at every option, and even if it’s not an option for this year, we need to take it as an option for next year,” Caines said.
A huge cost driver for the Westbury school district has been explosive student growth. The district had to accommodate an influx of 234 additional students this past year alone. Martins says that this special circumstance may qualify it for more state funding.
“Once we’ve gone through the budget, we can go back and try to find additional revenues, understanding that this is a special circumstance. You can make the exception because of the needs of the district. We’re working with the district to not only identify the need, but also look for additional revenues. It’s no accident that they’re getting an additional 3 million dollars this year,” Martins said.
Another major cost driver for school districts statewide were pensions, which have been increasing exponentially over the past few years, rising from 11.5 to 16 percent last year. The school district has limited, if any, control over them. Martins has proposed that school districts pay a flat pension rate so that taxpayers do not have to bear the burden of these increasing costs.
“The rising costs are a product of the economy, and not the increased cost of the pensions themselves. The costs will come down as the economy improves,” Martins said.
Caines is still unsure of whether the additional funding will keep the district from going over the two percent tax cap.
“Staying within the cap is our intention, but when you start to look at things, who knows. Maybe the innovative changes will have us lower than two percent (but with) our enrollment growth we really need to try and find a way to make more space. I don’t know how you do that with a two percent cap. We’re trying to do more with less, but we’re getting more students. There’s a lot of things that come into play,” Caines said.
The district has been considering options for cutting costs, such as changing transportation, cutting teacher positions and changing the school schedule. A budget planning meeting will take place April 11, and the budget action meeting will be held April 18.