The Port Washington School District is one of the few, and possibly the only, Nassau County school districts suggesting it may “break the tax cap.” I hope that doesn’t occur for several reasons.
First, the tax cap for Port of 0.85 percent allows us to raise taxes by $1.1 million. In addition, my best estimate is state aid will increase by about $650,000. We’ll know for sure in April. There are only four announced teacher retirements, to be replaced by new teachers with salary and benefit costs that are $65,000 lower per teacher, for a total savings of $260,000. Personally, I believe there will be more retirements, since in recent years we averaged 15 retirements. And our pension costs are going down by $1.6 million. So, we have a grand total of about $3.6 million more to spend next year and still come in under the cap. That’s an increase of 2.5 percent. The Port Washington Educational Assembly (PWEA) has endorsed the last four budgets, and we’d like to endorse this one. But we cannot if Port proposes breaking the tax cap. In addition to the higher tax levy, we’d lose the tax rebate checks as a penalty for exceeding the cap.
Many studies show class size is most important in elementary school grades—K to 3 especially. In higher grades, particularly high school, class size is not nearly as important. We may indeed have a need for more teachers where enrollment is growing. But we should take into account the fact that Schreiber has over 250 current classes with 19 or fewer students. Of these, 120 include special needs classes (AIS, ESL, et al), which I would not suggest changing. But there are 130 regular classes where we could consider consolidation. If we could consolidate just one-fifth of these 130 classes, we’d have five teaching positions to use elsewhere.
There are other important issues that have to be discussed, but only if the budget involves breaking the tax cap. I also want to thank our teachers who I believe did not seek across-the-board increases, and agreed to just take the 3 to 4 percent annual STEP increases, which mostly go to lower-paid teachers.
If interested in getting on our PWEA mailing list, send your name and address to PWEA, P.O. Box 203, Port Washington.
—Frank J. Russo, Jr.