There were three main questions presented to West Hempstead residents and staff at Monday night's Budget Cafe, the first one of the 2012-2013 school year.
School officials asked:
- What are your reflections on the pros and cons of last year's budget-building process?
- What areas of the budget should the district focus on in order to balance revenues and expenses?
- And what are the highest priorities and greatest concerns for the education of West Hempstead students?
"It's pretty much the same questions as last year," West Hempstead Schools Superintendent John Hogan stated. "What are the priorities in education to meet the needs of our students while at the same time paying attention to fiscal challenges? The only change is that the tasks we face for this year are more challenging after the effect of Superstorm Sandy, the snowstorm we had and the effect of the Governor's budget."
The intent of the Budget Cafe series is to encourage conversation and sharing of ideas among community members and staff in a round table discussion format. West Hempstead introduced the Budget Cafes into the budget creation process last year and brought it back after seeing value in the program.
"The purpose of this meeting is to set a vision for the 2013-14 budget while considering the fiscal restraints facing our district," said Deputy Superintendent Richard Cunningham. "We are looking for some fresh, innovative ideas from the voice of our community."
The feedback that was given about last year's budget building-process was positive. Community members expressed that they did have more of a voice in the process, and liked that the Budget Cafes were informal and casual.
As for the budget itself, residents said they approved of the money spent on building repairs and the installation of wireless internet throughout the schools, calling both beneficial to the community.
Officials did received some constructive criticism though. They were told to improve the language used within the budget to make it more understandable for the everyday layperson, and to improve attendance at Board of Education meetings.
In order to balance revenues and expenses in the 2013-14 budget, residents suggested consolidating bus routes, charging for use of fields and buildings within the district, and creating Special Eduacation programs that would bring in revenues. Another idea presented during the Dec. 3 meeting was to lease or rent the empty space in Chestnut Street School and the soon-to-be vacant Marian Delaney School building on Eagle Avenue.
One of the greatest concerns voiced at the meeting was the roughly $500,000 revenue loss the district is facing when Nassau BOCES leaves Marian Delaney in June 2013. (The district is in talks with two potential tenants who have expressed interest in leasing the building.)
The community members expressed that their highest priorities for the education of West Hempstead students in the upcoming school year were keeping up with technological advances in the classroom, getting parents involved in time management and the study habits of their kids, and getting every student to read at their appropriate grade level.
The next Budget Cafe is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2013.