The Port Washington Board of Education convened on Feb. 6 to begin their discussion on the 2018-19 budget for the upcoming year and adopt the 2018-19 school calendar that will include new holidays like Diwali and Eid.
The budget discussion originally started at the last Budget and Facilities Committee meeting in January where a preliminary budget was drawn up based on previous discussions. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Mooney reminded community members that the board will discuss the budget through April, with adjustments being made accordingly, and the community will have the opportunity to vote on the budget on May 15.
“The budget that was provided to the subcommittee of the board showed an increase,” said Assistant Superintendent of Business Mary Callahan. “I have to stress that a vast majority of that increase had to do with health insurance and pension cost increases over which the district has no control when it comes to budgeting. Health insurance as we all know is extremely expensive and the increase this year was approximately nine percent higher than it was last year. Pensions are based on how well the stock market does and I was somewhat surprised to see that the teacher pension system did go up by almost 11 percent over last year.”
The draft budget totaled $156,127,424. Health insurance saw an increase of $1,919,000 while pensions had an increase of $846,700. Other increases were seen in technology, which increased by $328,000, and salaries which increased by $1,242,000, making the total budget increase $4,900,000 and 3.24 percent.
“[With the levy limit] we are compressed to stay within the certain increase as allowed by law unless the district wants to exercise the option to go for a super majority which Port Washington has not yet ever felt the need to do,” said Callahan. “We have been able to live within the levy limit as prescribed by law. In order to determine where we are and how we’re going to get to the final number, we have to look at the revenues we anticipate in the next year and then look at the formula the state gives us which says how much more we are allowed to tax folks and between the revenues we anticipate and the amount we’re allowed to tax, we come up with a number that is generally lower than what our budget increase will be and we call that the gap. Between now and April we work to reduce our anticipated expenditures or increase our revenue and, in school districts, it’s very difficult to increase the revenue because a majority of the revenue comes from state aid.”
The draft budget detailed that the levy limit totaled $137,067,801 and district revenues totaled $17,529,040, leaving a gap of $1,530,583.
“My intention for the next board meeting is to bring information about the reserves, the monies we do have available to us and talk about the levy limit a little more,” said Callahan.
Due to the draft budget’s preliminary nature, not included in the draft budget was a list of staff recommendations by Mooney.
“I took a very ambitious proposed staffing list and I drilled it down to what I believe are the priorities, but we might have to prioritize it even further,” said Mooney. “These are all primarily positions based on student need and staff size. We have a 1.2 special education teacher at Salem. That 0.2 position really does need to be full time for next year based on the students there. At this time I am recommending one elementary teacher position for the sixth grade at Weber. Now at sixth grade, Weber will be receiving quite a large cohort.”
Along with a full-time special education teacher and sixth grade teacher, Mooney recommended a full-time Weber health/physical education teacher, a 0.4 part-time Weber world language teacher, a full-time social studies teacher at Schreiber, a full-time math teacher at Schreiber and the potential required budgeting for a full-time bilingual kindergarten teacher. Also recommended were an administrator for literacy in grades three through six and a districtwide facilities and grounds worker. The total expected cost of these additional staff members was $881,106.
The budget was not the only focus of the night as the 2018-19 school calendar was unanimously approved by the board. The New York State Department of Education decided that June 26 would be the last day of classes statewide, giving the Port school district greater flexibility. In order to accommodate new holidays the board wished to add to the calendar, three superintendent conference days were rearranged throughout the school year. On superintendent conference days, faculty must report, but students do not. Nov. 6 was added as a superintendent conference day to allow students who celebrate Diwali to spend time with their families, Feb. 5 was added as a conference day for Lunar New Year and June 4 was added as a conference day for Eid.
“I just want to point out that it’s not on the calendar those holidays, but none of our religious holidays are on the calendar,” said Mooney. “Even Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are on the calendar as recess days.”
After the calendar was approved, President of the Board of Education Karen Sloan addressed an email from a community member regarding the board’s decision.
“This community member was very unhappy that we were going to include these holidays in our calendar and it was a very negative and nasty email,” said Sloan. “What I want to speak to is the idea the community member had that this board and administration are a group of weak-minded individuals and we are only changing this because we are following other schools. It’s important to state that that had absolutely no bearing on what we are doing, we don’t just follow people like lemmings and we actually embrace our community and embrace the rich diversity of our community. I just wish we had done it sooner.”
The next Board of Education meeting is Feb. 27 at 8 p.m. in the Schreiber library.