Faced with a $2.25 million gap between expenses and revenue for its 2013-14 budget, West Hempstead School District officials, faculty, parents and other community members spent Wednesday night racking their brains for solutions that would cause the least amount of pain to students.
"We are all in this together," West Hempstead Schools Superintendent John Hogan told the roughly 100 people gathered at the Feb. 6 budget cafe. "We have to figure out how we make revenue match expenses, and continue to provide a solid educational product for the boys and girls of the district that is comprehensive."
In the past two weeks, school officials were able to reduce the gap from $2.9 million by removing money from the budget that had been used in the to pay for unanticipated expenses.
“We have just taken out any cushion we may have had, but we are kind of in crisis mode,” Deputy Superintendent Richard Cunningham stated. (Should the district encounter any unexpected expense next school year, it may need to tap into its general fund, its reserves.)
For the past five years, West Hempstead has been working with very tight budgets, excessing roughly 100 positions and cutting sports and co-curriculars in order to preserve its academic programs, but that leaves little to no fat to trim now. Plus, the district must also comply with the state tax cap law introduced last year. The latest calculations show that unless West Hempstead attempts to override the cap by getting approval from a “super majority” of voters, it could only raise the tax levy for 2013-14 by a maximum of 2.18 percent or $892,199.
That figure is almost equal to the amount West Hempstead’s revenue for 2013-14 is expected to decline, $861,945. This includes a potential $522K reduction in state aid, and a loss of $600K due to less Island Park students coming to West Hempstead High School in September. And even though the district may have a tenant to rent part of the Eagle Avenue School when Nassau BOCES leaves in June, it would still lose $300K in revenue.
Meanwhile, increases in salaries and pension contributions are expected to drive the district’s expenses up by $1,766,215.
“The reality is we can not continue to do things the way we have done them in the past,” Hogan said. “We have to be willing to step back and coldly analyze where we are, where we have to go and how we fulfill our goals and our mission.”
If the district switched from a nine- to an eight-period day in the middle and high schools, it could save $900K, but it would result in electives being offered on a rotational basis. Restructuring the administration would slash another $260K and consolidating clerical and custodian positions would could cut $76,903. By leasing rather than purchasing computer equipment the district could save an additional $69K, and it was also confident it could lower transportation costs and attorneys’ fees by $500K and $45K, respectively. All these steps would lower the budget gap to just under $367K.
Administrators presented three possible options: override the cap (Option A); reduce one staff member at the high school/middle school, increase class sizes at the elementary level and reduce extracurriculars (Option B); and close Chestnut Street School (Option C).
Shuttering Chestnut, which houses the district’s central offices and most importantly, its Kindergarten center, “in my mind, is a last resort,” Hogan said. “We believe in the Chestnut School.” Limited space at Cornwell Avenue School would also make it difficult for the district to move its Kindergarteners there if Chestnut closed.
Most of the suggestions coming from community and faculty members focused on looking into starting revenue-generating programs such as a Pre K, and a before- or after-school program similar to SCOPE, only run by the district. (Officials agreed to look into these ideas but said often these types of programs barely pay for themselves let alone make a profit.) Pursuing corporate sponsorships and allowing private companies to advertise on the district’s fields were also mentioned, as well as offering retirement incentives.
The Princeton Plan, which calls for schools to be restructured so, for instance, all K-2 students would be housed in one building instead of split between two, was also mentioned. Malverne successfully implemented this in 2010, however, space limitations would be a problem if West Hempstead pursued this strategy. It could even increase its transportation costs because more students would be entitled to busing.
Hogan thanked the crowd for their ideas and urged them to attend the next budget café on Feb. 26 to continue the discussion.
“We are going to get there," he said. "We are committed to maintaining the best possible program we can [but] it may be a smaller program.”
Click here to view the presentation from last night's budget cafe.
How would you solve the West Hempstead School District's budget gap? Share your ideas in the comments space below.