SCHOOL BOARD LIKELY TO SEEK APPROVAL FOR REDUCTION IN DISTANCE REQUIREMENT FOR BUSING MIDDLE SCHOOLERS
March 10, 2017 -- At its regularly scheduled meeting this past Thursday evening, the North Shore Board of Education expressed support for reducing the distance requirements for students in 7th and 8th grade to receive busing to the Middle School beginning next school year, and will likely put on the ballot this May a proposition seeking voter approval for the change.
Currently students in grades kindergarten through 5th grade must live at least ¾ of a mile from school to receive district transportation, while those in 6th grade- one mile; and those in grades 7 through 12 - one and a half miles. The new distance requirements would equalize those for all middle schoolers so that 7 and 8th graders who live at least one mile from school would be eligible for transportation.
An analysis conducted by the District’s transportation office concluded that, because of space available on buses currently running the various routes, there would be no additional buses or trips required and as result would create no additional costs to taxpayers.
Trustee David Ludmar asked if that analysis took into consideration the likely increase in ridership during inclement weather.
Director of Transportation Michelle Hall who was on hand to take questions, said that it had, and that the buses would still be able to accommodate the additional students.
Asked whether current routes could be consolidated to maintain bus service as it is now thereby saving the district money, Dr. Melnick replied that with such a change the district would not be able to safely get both Middle Schoolers and students and elementary schools students, who take slightly later buses, to their destinations on time.
Board President Trustee Labatte said that most of the complaints the district had received regarding the mileage requirements were from parents who had two or more children in middle school, with one receiving busing and the others not.
As for other scenarios looked at, Dr. Melnick said that reducing grades 6 through 8 to the same distance as the elementary school - ¾ of a mile, would result in a $368,000 annual cost to the district.
Board President Toni Labbate recommended that the Board vote for the one mile requirement for all middle school students and then, after a year or two, analyze the impact of the change and, if the Trustees chose to, consider revisions.
The seven trustees will vote on the issue when they adopt the budget for the 2017-18 school year at their April 6 meeting, and should the measure pass, as seems certain, residents will have to approve the change in a permissive referendum on May 16 when the district’s annual budget vote and trustees election takes place.
At Thursday night's North Shore Board of Education meeting, Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick announced that playgrounds at the Glen Head and Glenwood Schools were now in full use with the rubber mulch having been removed and replaced with fiber wood chips, but that at Sea Cliff School, the work has been delayed "due to weather and unforseen site conditions." Rubber material had been found deeper than expected and below that, old wood fiber was discovered which has to be removed to ensure a long life for the new wood fiber surface that will be installed. He said that a change order was currently being negotiated. The original cost of the project at the three schools was approximately $500,000. Later in the meeting, Trustee Marianne Russo stated that the total cost of the playground projects was now $639,000.
BOARD COMPLETES REVIEW OF 2017-18 BUDGET; SPENDING TO INCREASE 2.63% WHILE TAX LEVY WILL REMAIN FLAT
March 10, 2017 -- After having started its public study of the 50 page document at its last regularly scheduled meeting, the North Shore Board of Education completed its line by line review of the 2017-18 school budget proposal this past Thursday night. The $102,113,514.86 spending plan for 2017-18 represents a 2.63% increase over the current year and will allow the district to maintain all current programs and teaching positions, while adding a high school guidance counselor and a .4 teaching position for a music theory class. The tax levy will remain flat compared to the current year.
At this past Thursday’s meeting, most of the discussion centered around health insurance costs with Trustee Marianne Russo pointing out that those budget lines have increased dramatically over the past few years, and wondered whether the district needed to be so cautious in budgeting for such high increases. Resident Rob Mazella continued along a similar line of questioning during the Public Comment period of the meeting.
$12,768,392 is budgeted for health insurance in the 2017-18 budget - an increase of $629,670 over the current year.
Assistant Superintendent Olivia Buatsi stated that health insurance costs increased 12% this year over last year, and that it is impossible to precisely anticipate what the cost will be next year, since under the New York State Health Insurance Program, the premiums change in January, with the new numbers not announced until December, long after districts are mandated to adopt their budgets. Additionally, she continued that under state law employees who are paying as individuals or who are not enrolled in the program at all, can at any time during the year change their status. Dr. Melnick stated that currently there are 135 teachers not in the health insurance program most likely because they are on their spouse's plan and that it is responsible and prudent to plan the budget keeping in mind that some or even many might choose to enroll in the district plan.
Contractually, teachers must pay 20% of their health insurance premiums.
Further complicating projections over the past few years, Ms. Buatsi and Dr. Melnick said was the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
On the revenue side of the budget, despite an "inflation factor"of 1.26%, the rate that is used for determining the district's individual tax levy limit, the tax cap for next year is more or less the same as this year's (actually down by $9,000, or about 0.01%).
Dr. Melnick stated at the January 26 meeting that last year's removal of LIPA properties from the tax rolls and the subsequent effort to estimate the amount the district would receive from the new PILOTs on those properties greatly complicated the 2016-17 revenue picture. The district, he explained, received about $1 million more in PILOTs on those properties than it anticipated in an estimate it had provided, under the advice of counsel, to the State Comptroller's office. While that estimate allowed for a higher levy limit for 2016-17, that excess amount in PILOTs, under state law, had to be applied to the following year's revenue, which in turn, under the state's formula, reduced the tax levy limit by that amount for 2017-18.
As for state aid, the district is anticipating an increase of slightly more than $900,000 - from $4,417,565 to $5,331,389, but those numbers are not firm, Dr. Melnick explained in late January and are based on proposals announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this year.
Additionally, the District will apply to revenue $1 million of a grant secured a few years ago by Assemblyman Charles Lavine and State Senator Carl Marcellino to mitigate the impact on residents of any tax shift resulting from the demolition of the Glenwood Landing Power Plant. Ms. Buatsi said that about $5.1 million of that grant still remains for use in future budgets.
Complicating the spending side of the budget is the fact that teachers are currently without a contract. Dr. Melnick stated at the January 26 meeting that under the Triboro Amendment to New York State's Taylor Law, the district must factor into the budget salary changes due to step increases and lane changes, "and then we have to estimate an across the board."
The Board will vote to adopt the spending plan at its April 6 meeting.
The public will have the opportunity to vote on the budget and tax levy on May 16.