PROPOSED 2018-19 SCHOOL SPENDING UP 2.7% WITH TAX LEVY INCREASE BELOW THE CAP; DEBATE OVER CASA FUNDING
Story by Tim Madden
March 8, 2018 -- On Thursday March 1, the North Shore Schools Board of Education continued its review of its 104,868,519 proposed budget for 2018-19, focusing most of its attention on instructional expenditures including regular education and special education as well as technology. Overall spending for next year is expected to increase $2.75 million or 2.7% over the current year while the proposed tax levy increase is 1.89%.
Should the levy numbers stay the same,with an anticipated 1% shift of the tax burden from class 3 utilities to class 1 residential, the average homeowner can expect to see a $365 annual increase in her or his taxes. The levy is approximately $300,000 less than New York State’s tax levy limit for this district, which allows for a 2.24% increase, saving the average taxpayer about $4.00 a month. However, that savings for taxpayers next year will put a $300,000 hole (compounding annually at roughly 2%) in the revenue side of all future budgets for perpetuity since each year’s cap is based on the prior year’s levy and not the prior year’s cap.
The district will use $3,550,000 from reserves and the 2017-18 year end unreserved fund balance in addition to revenues from Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs), State Aid, and other sources to cover the $18.7 million difference between the tax levy and the spending side of the budget.
On the spending side, the most significant drivers of cost increases are employee benefits with health insurance expected to rise by $835,951 or 6.5% over the current year’s budget and district contributions to the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) by 8.35% - an increase of $402,702. The teacher pension increase will be slightly offset by a decrease in the anticipated contributions for Employee Retirement System which covers non-instructional employees such as secretaries, custodians, and buildings and grounds workers, among others. The increase in TRS ends a dramatic decline in the state mandated contributions over the past three years. The budgeted contribution for next year is $1.8 million or 26% lower than the actual contribution for 2014-15.
District-wide the number of elementary school teaching positions will be reduced by three. At both Glen Head and Glenwood Landing schools, enrollment in Kindergarten classes next year will be significantly lower than the 5th grade classes graduating this June allowing for the elimination of two sections. At Sea Cliff School, the relatively small fourth grade which currently has class sizes of 14, 15, and 15, will be reapportioned into two fifth grade classes next year with 22 students each.
There are two "safety" or contingency teaching positions included in the budget should enrollment be higher than expected and new sections added.
Additionally, because of increased enrollment at Glenwood Landing School over the past few years, a .5 Mandarin position, a .5 reading teacher, and a .2 music position will be added. At the middle school a .3 Mandarin position will be added as will a .3 Information Technology position and at the high school another .2 Mandarin position.
While spending on regular instruction overall will be increasing by 4.32%, the Special Education budget will see among the largest reductions of any area in the budget - approximately $200,000, with four Special Education teacher aides being cut, as well as the elimination of 1.5 of the 4.5 behavioral consultant positions districtwide. Some of those responsibilities will be picked up by school-based social workers and school psychologists, Schools Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo said at the February 8 board meeting. Spending for educating students receiving special education services outside of the district will increase overall by $150,000. That figure can vary greatly from year to year depending on the specific needs of individual students.
During the March 1 review, Dr. Giarrizzo said that the cuts in the Special Education budget would not affect the services the district provides. “I feel very confident," he said, "that every student who is classified will be serviced appropriately."
Trustee Sara Jones asked if the District was cutting a bit too close to the bone, noting actual expenditures from previous years were higher than what is being budgeted for next year. “I’m a little concerned," she said.
The Superintendent said that there were the two "safety" teaching positions built into the budget. “It should be ok," he said.
Sparking some debate at last Thursday’s budget review was whether or not the district should increase its contribution to the Coalition Against Substance Abuse (CASA), a group that was formed last spring to address the opioid epidemic and other forms of substance abuse that have led to so many tragedies in this community in recent years.
Noting that the proposed contribution was flat compared to the current year, Trustee David Ludmar proposed raising the amount from $15,000 to $20,000.
“As a board, supporting the efforts of CASA more strongly is important," he said.
"I'm not comfortable with that, Dave," replied Trustee Marianne Russo. "I would like to see how these programs are developed and implemented in conjunction with what we already have before we start increasing funding."
Trustee Joanna Commander, a founder of CASA, said that "several programs have been implemented and the organization has grown tremendously."
When asked to offer his thoughts, Trustee Rich Galati said that he "understands the importance of it [CASA]," but like Trustee Russo, he continued that he "would like to see how it [the funding] is used."
"I would like to see what we are getting for $15,000 before giving more," added Trustee Russo.
"We are talking about $5,000," replied Trustee Ludmar, "in a $104 million budget for something the community has identified as a very important priority."
Trustees Commander, Sara Jones, Toni Labatte, and Herman Berliner agreed and Dr. Giarrizzo said he would make the adjustment to the budget line.
The school board will complete its line by line review of the budget this Thursday, March 15.