Between now and April, West Hempstead school officials have to figure out how to deal with the $2.5 million gap that exists between expenses and revenue in its 2013-2014 budget.
West Hempstead Schools Superintendent John Hogan braced the community Tuesday night for the tough decisions they will most likely have to make in the coming months as they prepare the budget for next school year.
During the West Hempstead Board of Education's January business meeting, Hogan spoke frankly about the district’s current fiscal challenges.
The amount the district is mandated by the state to contribute to the teachers retirement system and the employee retirement system to pay for pensions are going up $1 million and $166,000, respectively. Health insurance costs are climbing by roughly $775,000 and the district's contractual obligations are rising by $625,000. The cost the new mandated Annual Professional Performance Review system to evaluate teachers has already cost the district more than $100K to implement and the costs of training will be continual.
Unless, the district can find a new tenant or multiple tenants to lease Marian Delaney School after Nassau BOCES leaves on June 30, West Hempstead will be working with $300,000 less revenue.
The district will also be losing approximately $500,000 in revenue because less Island Park students will be attending West Hempstead High School next school year. (Since Island Park doesn't have its own high school, students have the option to attend either West Hempstead or Long Beach, which tuition for each student they take in).
West Hempstead will be graduating 58 Island Park seniors in June, but only 22 ninth graders will be coming from Island Park in September, as 47 opted to go to Long Beach High School instead.
As of now, the district still doesn't know how much state aid it will be receiving for the 2013-2014 school year.
Then, there's also a tax cap. If the district were to simply add up all the costs of keeping its current programs, services and staff intact, factoring in the anticipate expense increases, the tax levy for 2013-2014 would be around 6.8 percent. However, Hogan said the community would not be able to absorb a tax increase this high and the tax cap law limits the district to a maximum tax levy increase of 1.6 percent.
Although the tax cap law was only introduced last year, Hogan said the current situation is similar to the one the district faced when crafting its 2010-2011 budget -- that budget went out to the community originally carrying a 9.4 percent tax increase but was rejected by the residents, who passed a different version of the budget one month later after cuts were made and the tax levy was reduced to 4.91 percent
"We have been here before and together as a community, we have met the challenge and maintained a quality program for our students," Hogan said. "I have no doubt that we will do so again, but to suggest that sacrifice will not be required by all, or that programs may not be touched, would be misleading on my part, and I will not mislead you."
The next budget cafe will be held on Jan. 29.
"Your participation in the budget process is absolutely desired on the district’s part and necessary to understand the serious choices that will need to be considered this year, as we strive to maintain the quality of education our boys and girls deserve," Hogan said.
During the past four years, the district has eliminated 100 positions, downsizing its administration, faculty, professional, clerical and maintenance staff, co-curricular clubs, advisors, interscholastic sports and coaches.
"Everyone needs to know that everything is on the 'budget table' for review and consideration," he added. "We need everyone involved and thinking about solutions. Together we will get it done."
What are your thoughts on the budget challenges the West Hempstead School District is facing? What should be cut or kept?