BOARD NOTES: NORTH SHORE BOARD OF EDUCATION, MARCH 6, 2014
-TAX EXEMPTION FOR VETERANS -GWL SCHOOL ELIGIBLE TO BECOME BLUE RIBBON SCHOOL -SUPERINTENDENT RECOMMENDS TRIMMING BUDGET DRAFT BY MORE THAN $1M -BLUE LIGHT PHONE DISCUSSION -POWER PLANT TAX SHIFT UPDATE
PRESENT: Board President Herman Berliner, Vice President Tom Knierim, Trustee Amy Beyer, Trustee Sara Jones, Trustee Toni Labbate, Trustee Michael Nightingale, Trustee Marianne Russo, Superintendent Ed Melnick, Assistant Superintendent Rob Cheblicki, Assistant Superintendent for Business Olivia Buatsi, District Clerk Betty Ciampi
PUBLIC HEARING: The Board held a Public hearing on a resolution that would provide eligible veterans residing within the district a real property tax exemption from school taxes. Under NY state real property tax law section 458-a such an exemption can be granted if approved by the local school board. The maximum exemption under the law is as follows - $12,000 for all veterans; an additional $8000 for veterans who served in a combat zone; and, an additional $40,000 for all veterans who suffered a “service connected” disability. During the hearing, it was stated that there are nearly 450 veterans who live in the North Shore school district. In addition, the exemption for veterans in the first category on average would result in tax relief of approximately $170/year; in the second, $300; and the third, about $900. Residents, on average, would see an annual increase in their taxes of $22.71 as a result of the exemption.
ACTION – The board voted to move action item C (APPROVAL OF RESOLUTION AUTHORIZING A VETERAN TAX EXEMPTION) to the top of the agenda.
The Board voted unanimously to approve the resolution.
SUPERINTENDENT’S REPORT - Dr. Melnick reported that the women’s varsity basketball team defeated Cold Spring Harbor 57-51 to win the Nassau County class A championship on Saturday March 1, and that the Long Island title game would be against Harborfields on Friday, March 7. Also on Friday, the North Shore Middle School Band would be performing at Carnegie Hall. Glenwood Landing School, he said, is one of 19 state-wide to be invited to apply as a national Blue Ribbon School. Last year 18 of the 19 schools that had been asked to apply received the designation. The Third Annual International Night will take place at the high school on Thursday March 13. Kindergarten Registration has begun and will continue over the next few weeks. Dr. Melnick thanked the veterans who were present for their service and for being models to the community, and for supporting the schools.
BUDGET REVIEW – Dr. Melnick and the Board reviewed the following categories in the budget draft: Special Education; St. Christopher’s Tuition; Other Instruction; Transportation; Community Services; Employee Benefits; and, Debt Service/Transfers. On Tuesday, February 25, the Board reviewed the first 27 pages of the draft, which included, among other items, “Supervision of Instruction” and “Regular instruction” (CLICK HERE FOR 2/25 BOARD NOTES).
With regard to the Special Education budget, Dr. Melnick explained that federal law requires school districts to provide a “free and appropriate education” to children 4-21 years of age who live within the district regardless of their special needs. He said that the district will provide most special education services, but if the district is unable to meet a child's special needs, then the district will pay for the student to be educated in another program. Later, he explained that district-wide per pupil expenditure figures include special education spending, which raises the average per pupil expenditure figure considerably.
Dr. Melnick recommended trimming $100,000 from the Special Education portion of the budget draft ($20,000 from special education staff development, $5,000 from special education impartial hearing, and $75,000 from the BOCES tuition category). The “BOCES TUITION” category, he explained, includes tuition for in-district students with disabilities being educated in a BOCES program, and identifies, by number, the amount budgeted for 22 individual students. Two additional lines are designated “DISTRICT BOCES – SAFETY,” with $75,000 being budgeted for each. Dr. Melnick explained that that designation did not refer to an actual student, but was put into the budget just in case a student who required BOCES special education services moved into the district. He recommended that one of the “safety lines” be eliminated from the budget draft, providing less of a cushion.
Dr. Melnick explained that under New York State education law, the District must initially pay for out-of- district students who receive services at a private educational or residential institution located within the district, such as the Greenvale School or St. Christopher’s, but is later reimbursed by the child’s home district. And so, while it appears as an expense, it will also appear as tuition on the revenue side of the budget.
With regard to the “Other Instruction” category of the budget draft, Dr. Melnick recommended $34,000 in reductions ($14,000 for BOCES – Occupational Ed and $20,000 for Summer School Salaries)
With regard to the “co-curricular clubs” budget line, Trustee Amy Beyer noted the $49,995.23 increase for next year, and asked why that was the case and if the district was keeping track of how many students were participating in the clubs. Dr. Melnick replied that the budget line was being increased to reflect what the clubs have actually cost the district. He added that the district has checked to make sure that there are an appropriate number of students for each club to run.
With regard to transportation, Dr. Melnick pointed out the $50,000 reduction in the budget draft from the current year and said that it was a result of the district taking on more of its own routes.
With regard to Employee Benefits, the Superintendent recommended trimming $392,643 from the 2014-15 budget draft. More specifically, he proposed reducing contributions to the Employee Retirement System (ERS) by $20,000, to the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS) by $144,900, and towards Health Insurance by $218,000. The 2013-14 Budget to 2014-15 Budget change in each of those categories are as follows: for ERS, a $126,403.48 or 5.6% decrease; for TRS, a $364,425.97 or 4.9% increase; and for Health Insurance, a $356,508.88 or 3.47% increase. Assuming the recommendations are adopted and passed by voters in May, the budget to budget increase for employee benefits from this year to next year will be $962,560 or 3.96%.
With regard to Debt Service, Dr. Melnick recommended a $5000 reduction for the Tax Anticipation Notes line.
In concluding the budget review, Dr. Melnick said that the initial budget draft for the 2014-15 school year was originally at 97,181,190, a 3.315% increase over last year. At the February 25th meeting, $588,720 was trimmed from the proposal, and an additional $536,642 at the March 6 meeting, bringing the spending plan down to 96,055,828, which represents a $2,070,260 or a 2.2% increase over last year. He said his recommended reductions to the budget draft, would result in a budget that is $112,247 lower than the initial target of 96,168,075 - the amount that would allow the spending plan to stay below the tax levy limit.
Following the review, Board President Herman Berliner suggested that the Board consider including funding in the budget for the installation of blue light phones at each of the district’s five schools. He said the phones would increase the safety for students and faculty who often stay at the schools late and that he believed that the phones contribute greatly to safety at Hofstra University where he serves as Provost. Although most people have cellphones, he continued, that is often the first thing that is taken in an attack. Dr. Melnick said that Buildings and Grounds Supervisor John Hall had provided figures for the cost of the phones. For the “middle” option, he said each phone would cost $1400 and an additional $1,276 for installation. The monthly phone service fee would be $35 per phone. Dr. Berliner proposed installing two phones each at the middle and high schools, and one at each of the elementary schools, representing an initial cost of $28,182. Later in the discussion, it was suggested that maybe three each at the Middle School and High School would be better. Trustee Tom Knierim said that he did not know where one would be appropriate at Sea Cliff, and suggested that maybe one there was not necessary. Trustee Russo then expressed similar feelings with regard to Glen Head. It was then stated that perhaps the phones would not be as desirable at the elementary schools as they would be at the High School.
Trustee Toni Labbate questioned whether installing the phones was worth the cost in relation to their effectiveness. She said that perhaps improved lighting at the schools would better enhance safety at the schools at night. Trustee Michael Nightengale agreed with Trustee Labbate, saying that Cameras and lights might be more effective. He added that most people have cell phones and that if the service is provided as a Voice Over Internet service, then it would be useless in a power outage. Trustee Amy Beyer stated that it is very difficult to determine the benefits. She wondered whether there would be other costs down the road, such as repairs if the phones were damaged. Trustee Russo said that just about every university has blue light phones and wondered if there is data available that the board could look at to see if they are effective. Dr. Melnick stated that the Bond proposal includes funding for increased lighting and cameras and that there are phones that have both voice over internet lines and analog lines, and that they cost about $500 more per phone. He said that he would come back with revised costs for the installation of three phones each at the high school and middle school.
PUBLIC COMMENT – Ralph DeMayo of Glen Head asked for a definition of the heading “Actual Budget, 2013-14” in the budget book, and whether that referred to actual expenditures over the course of the year, or to what had been budgeted for the 2013-14 school year. Dr. Melnick said that it refers to what was budgeted, not the actual expenditure. Mr. DeMayo suggested that having the actual expenditure would provide a better guide for budgeting. Dr. Melnick replied that the board is provided with that information for the previous five years, but for the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, it is difficult to do so, since there will be additional expenditures over the next few months, and because there is sometimes a delay between the time when the service to the district was provided and when the funds are actually expended.
Another resident questioned whether blue light phones would significantly increase safety and security. He said that if he were attacked and his cell phone were taken, he doubts he could make it to a blue light phone. He said that he agreed safety and security is important but that money would be better spent on lighting. Dr. Berliner replied that you will find today that at colleges and universities, installing blue light phones combined with lighting is utilizing best practices.
Jerry Romano, Sea Cliff, stated that VoIP [Voice over Internet Protocol] systems are not that good and that the old analog systems are better. He questioned whether the blue light phones would be effective anyway. “If I were a sociopath committing a pre-meditated act,” he said, “ I would put duct-tape over the phone” rendering it useless. "It sounds like a pretty good idea," he said, "but it has a lot of flaws."
Pooja Veera of Glenwood Landing questioned the degree to which the phones would enhance safety saying that she did not know how a person under attack could get to a phone. Lighting and a camera system, she said, would make a huge difference. She said that if other districts have adopted blue light phones, perhaps North Shore could speak to them to see how it has worked out.
Bill Clampett of Glen Head asked for an update on the LIPA issue and the tax shift from the utility to residential taxpayers.
Dr. Melnick replied that Nassau County had recently released its preliminary assessment rolls for the 2014-15 school fiscal year. The permanent tax roll will come out after April. He said that a small portion of the power plant property, where the offices were located, is zoned class 4 “commercial”; the rest of the property is zoned class 3 “utility”. With regard to the class 4 portion, the assessment has been reduced by $100,000, and for the utility portion it has been reduced by $800,000. Those reduced assessments would seem to result in a significant tax reduction for National Grid. However, with regard to the utility portion of the property, Dr. Melnick explained that NYS real property tax law 1803 prevents a single year shift in tax burden of more than 5% from one property tax class to another (in this case, class 3 utility to class 1 residential). In addition, each year over the past several years, Albany has passed an amendment to section 1803 that has limited the shift in tax burden from one class to another to 1%, and that same amendment has been introduced by State Senator Jack Martins (R-Mineola) this year. Dr. Melnick said that the County Attorney's Office has told the district that section 1803 is being applied to the utility portion of the Power Plant property where infrastructure and some power generating capabilities are being maintained. And so while the power plant's "assessment would go way down, their tax rate would go way up." He said that 1803 will not apply to the commercial portion of the property, where the structures are being completely demolished. The worst case scenario, he said, would be a 5% shift from the class 3 portion for the 2014-15 fiscal year; the best case scenario would be a 1% shift. If the 1% amendment continued to be passed each year, he said, the complete tax shift would occur over a period of more than 40 years. He said he was not promising anything, as nothing has yet been given to the District in writing. "If this works as we have been told," added Dr. Berliner, "this would provide us with the glide path we have been talking about and provide a real shock absorber that would be enormously helpful to the District." Trustee Amy Beyer added that the district has received, through the efforts of Senator Marcellino and Assemblyman Charles Lavine, $2.5 million to minimize the impact on residential tax payers, and that the district would continue to seek similar aid in the future.
B, and D though G were passed unanimously
ITEM H was amended to remove two IEP’s until information was received from Special Education Director Tom Korb. Passed unanimously.
ITEM I - Passed Unanimously
PUBLIC COMMENT –
Jerry Romano of Sea Cliff, asked that when the budget is discussed, distinctions be made between mandated and non-mandated expenses. He asked how much the community was spending on non-mandated educational and non-educational items and said that the district should not be incurring non-mandated non-educational costs. Dr. Melnick said that it was not always easy to make those distinctions, and gave a few examples, such as with bus transportation and the offering of AP courses. Ultimately Mr. Romano said, the issue is that if there is not an educational benefit to something that is not mandated, then the community should not be paying for it. He suggested that Mr. Romano meet with him to go through particular line items.
Katherine Grande of Glen Head commended North Shore High School Student Dylan Smith for his playing of Taps on the trumpet at a recent Port Chaplain ceremony at St. Mary's in Roslyn.
OLD BUSINESS – none
NEW BUSINESS – Trustee Toni Labbate said that the Board had received invitations to attend a student achievement and assessment forum, and that she and Trustee Sara Jones would be attending. She encouraged other board members to attend as well.
Dr. Melnick invited the Board members to attend the Tri-States Annual meeting. Giselle Martin-Kniep of Learning Centered Initiatives will be the keynote speaker he said.