Proposed 2009-10 School Budget
By Ronna Telsey
On Tuesday, May 19, from 7 a.m.-10 p.m., at the E. M. Baker Elementary School and the William A. Shine-South High School, qualified residents of the school district will be asked to vote on the:
2009-10 School District Budget (Proposition No. 1)
2009-10 Public Library Budget (Proposition No. 2)
Two Board of Education seats (incumbents Donald Ashkenase and Barbara Berkowitz are running unopposed).
2009-10 School District Budget
Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz said, "Our School Board is responsible for establishing our school district budget. These are difficult days, never experienced in many of our lifetimes. In this unchartered territory, we have wrestled with all the ways to reduce expenditures. We have examined every last cent and have come up with a tight budget that does not compromise educational programs and the value we place on these programs--for example, maintaining small class size. Yet, the budget is mindful of the economic downturn we are in."
Board Trustee Donald Ashkenase said, "Natural inflation would increase our budget by about $6 million. With this in mind, we had the obligation to ask ourselves what would be the implication of a zero-increase budget? The result was that for every 1 percent reduction in spending we would have to eliminate 17 teaching positions. We asked administration to cut everything it reasonably could to bring the inflation increase down to the lowest possible level--without laying off teachers. This resulted in reducing what would have been a 4 percent increase to a 2.44 percent increase. The budget we are presenting reflects the balance between the economics the community is facing and the value the community places on public education."
After extensive public discussion and input, during a lengthy and open budget process that started in the fall in our schools, the Board has adopted the Proposed School Budget in the amount of $185,543,564 for the 2009-10 school year. The increase over last year's budget is 2.44 percent--this budget-to-budget increase is the lowest in the last six years. The increase in the amount to be raised by real property tax is 3.10 percent.
The total budget increase is for mandated items not controlled by the school district, such as social security, pension funds, workers' compensation, health insurance, and Medicare reimbursements; contractual increases; and services for special education students.
The major reductions in the budget are in those areas that will have the least impact on the instructional program (which accounts for 74 percent of the budget). These reductions include operations and maintenance, legal services, capital projects, technology, supplies, and replacement furniture.
In Nassau County, boards of education are not legally permitted to set actual tax rates and assessments of property. This is done by the County, based on its assessed valuation of property. For the past several years, the County has changed assessments and tax rates for virtually everyone. To minimize the impact of the County's shift of property tax burdens to homeowners and away from businesses and utilities, the Great Neck Board of Education has been proactive in promoting legislation to eliminate the shift or to cap the increases caused by the shift to 1 percent (rather than the 5 percent allowable by law).
While there is no meaningful way to predict what impact the tax-rate increase will have on an individual's property tax, our Class I (homeowner) school tax rate continues to be the second lowest of the 62 school taxing districts in Nassau County.
Budget Supports Programs & Services
The 2009-10 school budget supports educational programs and provides services that are essential for achieving excellence in our school district. Ms. Berkowitz said, "Board members take their fiduciary responsibilities very seriously. Three-quarters of every dollar in the budget is allocated for instruction, which is our first priority. The budget includes the resources and programs we require to provide the best possible education--for all children, pre-K-grade 12, and for adults in continuing-ed programs--while being mindful of financial pressures. We have tremendous concern about the impact of taxes on our residents and we are grateful for their continued support for public education."
An annual independent audit of every public school district is required by State Education Law/Commissioner of Education's Regulations. The certified public accounting firm of Coughlin Foundotos Cullen & Danowski, LLP, our independent auditor, consistently presents extremely favorable reports on our management of finances, emphasizing our strong financial position, including wise investments and an excellent control system of checks, balances, and procedures supported by Board of Education policies. Board Vice President Fran Langsner said, "Over the years, all of our external and internal audits have validated the extreme care our business department takes in making sure our tax dollars are spent wisely. Our books are always open for oversight by the taxpayers."
The school district is required to provide a substantial number of mandated services imposed by the Federal, State, and County governments without sufficient aid to meet their costs. For example, although State-mandated testing is required, there is insufficient funding from the State for this purpose; as a result, significant associated costs must be borne by the district.
The district is mandated by State law to provide transportation, textbooks, and health and other services to about 1,650 students who reside here but attend about 95 private, parochial, and special-education schools. Transportation, alone, is budgeted at a cost of about $5,550,000 for these students. Over the years, State aid to the district for transportation has plummeted from 90 percent of the total cost to about 4 percent.
Our State aid is far behind where it was 20 years ago. In 1989-90, State aid was 11 percent of our budget; next year, it will be 4 percent of our budget, with many more mandates to fund.
Revenue & Savings
About $10 million in additional revenue is anticipated in 2009-10 from various sources, including Adult Program fees, driver education fees, summer program fees, rental of space in school-district buildings by community groups, interest on deposits and investments, and State aid.
The Great Neck school district participates in a number of successful, cost-saving, cooperative ventures with neighboring districts and with Nassau BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), particularly in the areas of insurance, transportation, and purchasing. Superintendent Ronald Friedman is a member of the County's Shared-Service Efficiency Committee, which is making efforts to consolidate more services among school districts. The school district is in the first year of a recycling-program partnership with the Town of North Hempstead. It will continue its joint security arrangement with the Great Neck Park District.
Cost-saving efforts continue in many areas related to energy efficiency, technology upgrades, and communications. A fiber-optic Wide Area Network (WAN) connects 14 buildings, enabling the district to centralize information systems and consolidate voice, data, and video services in a cost-effective manner. The WAN supports two important parent-communication systems, ParentLink and Infinite Campus Parent Portal. ParentLink enables the district to send mass notifications promptly in the event of an emergency. Infinite Campus Parent Portal provides parents with secure information about their children's schedules, progress reports, report cards, attendance, and immunization records. The WAN will also support new video surveillance systems to monitor parking lots and entrances to our buildings for improved security. It will also facilitate the replacement of an antiquated phone system with a Voice Over Internet Protocol system that will provide modern features at a significant annual savings for phone service.
Additionally, the school district reaps annual savings of up to 40 percent for all Internet, pager, local, long distance, and cellular phone service through participation in the Federal E-Rate program. Since 1996, when E-Rate was enacted, the district has received over $1.6 million in reimbursements.
A cost-effective, major energy-enhancing project has replaced most district boilers (some 60 years old), added solar-electricity panels on our four large secondary schools, and renovated and improved all heating-system controls. This was accomplished entirely from energy savings, with a guarantee of no additional net costs for the improvements.
For More Information
Copies of the 2009-10 Proposed Budget are available at the Phipps Administration Building, 345 Lakeville Road. Reference copies can be found in the schools and public libraries. For more information about the School Budget, voter registration, absentee ballots, and voting, please call 773-1413.