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No Program, Staff Cuts in First Draft of West Hempstead Schools Budget

The version of the 2012-2013 budget revealed Tuesday night maintains current academic and extracurricular programs, teachers and class sizes.

Class sizes will stay the same, perhaps even be reduced and no academic programs, clubs or sports will be cut if the West Hempstead Board of Education adopts the version of the 2012-2013 school budget presented Tuesday night.

Schools Superintendent John Hogan emphasized that the figures shared with the board and residents at the March 6 budget workshop were part of a draft proposal, so the budget is still a work in process. The board can still instruct the administration to make changes from now until April 17, when it will adopt the budget that residents will vote on in May.

That said, Hogan pointed out the current version of the budget "represents a 1.3 increase over the voter approved budget in 2011-12 "It maintains the academic programs, current clubs and sports...holds class sizes." In fact, class sizes could possibly be reduced, as a result of more prudent scheduling, Hogan added.

Unlike previous years, "this budget does not call for excessing of teachers or staff at the levels we've seen," according to Hogan. However, this doesn't mean no teachers will be laid off this year. He explained that some jobs could be eliminated as a result of changes in programming or scheduling if it was found these positions were no longer needed anymore, but said that this is something that would occur in even good economic times.

The draft budget also sets aside monies to cover new programs mandated by the state including the Annual Professional Performance Review for teachers, which to date has already cost the district more than $30,000, Hogan said. 

This version of the budget comes in under the maximum allowable tax levy, or "tax cap" for West Hempstead, which is 3.06 percent, and therefore, it would need only a majority (51 percent or more) of voters to approve it, not a 60-percent "super majority."

But wait, you might be saying, "I thought the tax cap was 2 percent?" Well, let's dispel a common misconception right here and now. The so-called that was passed in Albany in June does not limit taxes from rising more than 2 percent.

Municipalities, in this case your local school district, can raise the tax levy (the amount of revenue raised through taxes) by 2 percent or the rate of inflation determined by the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. But after calculating their cap using a very complicated 8-step formula from Albany, the district is then allowed to "back-in" certain expenses that are exempt from the cap because these are considered out of its control, Hogan explained. This includes debt service on capital projects and pension costs that exceed a certain amount.

Now that that's been settled - and you can now educate your neighbor the next time this issue is raised - let's look at what else is in the latest budget proposal for West Hempstead.

Tuesday's three-hour-long workshop, which focused on non-instructional items, started off with a discussion of a $23K increase in school board expenses. The district is currently allotting $8,000 for the purchase of laptops or tablets for school board members, as well as another $15,000 for an electronic board meeting management system. One that they are considering is called BoardDocs. A system like this would replace the thick binders and reams of paper the trustees currently use to conduct board business, with digital versions.

"Anything on these machines would be FOIL-able," meaning the public could request access to the electronic files through the Freedom of Information Law, Hogan said. 

Trustee Carol Rilling questioned when the board decided to go this route, to which Hogan responded, "I don't think you did decide it...it comes as a recommendation to the board from the administration."

Hogan said this suggestion stemmed from passed earlier this year, which requires the board to make all its meeting agendas and dockets available to the public online.

"If we're doing that work already to provide the documents electronically to the public it makes sense to provide it to board...not to mention, it will save on paper costs," Hogan said. He also explained that the district's legal counsel has said the trustees shouldn't be using their personal computers to view board documents.

Rilling said, "I don't see spending this kind of money on [BoardDocs] when that money could be spent on the kids."

The district is also penciling in $10,000 for new voting machines, but says this number will change as the district clerk continues to research this topic. According to Hogan, the state Senate just passed legislation that would allow districts to continue to use the old lever machines because the switch to the electronic ones is estimated to be very costly. The bill still needs to go through the Assembly.

Another big chunk of the budget - $575,000 - comes from building repairs and enhancements that the board identified when it performed its inspections earlier in the school year. The most expensive of these is a $250,000 project to replace 20,000 sq. ft. of the roof at the high school.  Remember the $750,000 in EXCEL funds that voters approved in last year's budget for masonry work at the high school? It turns out that the masonry problems were caused by major leaks in the roof. To address this, the board would fix the sections of the roof that have the most water damage. They'll submit the paperwork to the state by mid-April, which will tag it with a May 16 approval date so if the budget passes, the work can start in June. 

And no budget talk would be complete without some time spent on transportation, which last year amounted to more than $5 million or 10 percent of the district's total budget. The latest budget draft slashes roughly $1 million, or 20 percent, from contracted school busing. 

"For the past three years, we have been going into the year budgeting some amount and continuing to find efficiencies, so our transportation expenses have been going down," Deputy Superintendent Richard Cunningham explained. "So it wouldn't make sense to continuing boosting transportation appropriations."

Cunningham is also confident that the district can find more ways to save on school busing bypresented last year by Ross Haber Associates, Inc. and by bringing on a transportation consultant to redesign its busing routes. However, at this time, he said the board has not directed the administration to consider centralized bus stops.

"I know we can continue to provide a high level of service but do it more economically," he added. 

who is considering a run for the school board this spring, asked the board to request the administration look into centralized bus stops, just to see what the potential savings could be.

"I know it's a big discussion in the community, but...this is a big part of the budget, we talk about it ever year," Cole said. "Could we take a look at it to atleast see what the savings could be so if we do have to cut we know what that is?"

Cunningham also presented a four-year forecast for the district's finances, which Patch will have a report on this Friday. Stay with us for more developments on the West Hempstead 2012-2013 budget.

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