In a meeting marked at times with acrimony and frustration, Northport-East Northport School District Superintendent Marylou McDermott presented the 2011-2012 budget to board members and the community Monday night.
Speaking to a full house at the Board of Education meeting, McDermott gave a brief overview of the $151,178,758 proposed budget, which takes into account a loss in state aid of $1.5 million dollars.
The budget represents a 2.5% increase over the 2010-2011 adopted budget of $147,487,339, and a tax levy of 1.98% which meets the Board's Feb. 7 . PDFs of the Power Point presentation and the budget are attached to this article.
Under this scenario, the average taxpayer would see a tax rate per $100 of assessed value of $162.44. In layman’s terms, that means a homeowner with an assessed value of $3,800 could expect a school tax bill of $6,172.72.
The assessed value of a property can be found on the tax bill. Dividing that number by 100 and multiplying it by the valuation number determines the amount of the tax. The revised tax rate per $100 of assessed value for 2010-2011 was $159.28.
McDermott, who preceded the presentation with an announcement that she had requested to take a salary freeze for 2011-2012, said there were three motivating factors that affected the administration’s approach to the budget: lowering the core class size at the high school; continuing the installation of interactive white boards or smart boards throughout the school district; and getting netbooks into the hands of faculty as a precursor to each student having a netbook in the future.
With regard to core classes at the high school, McDermott noted that the current cap size in a weighted classroom is 29 students whereas the administration is recommending 23 in a Regents class. This allows enough empty seats for those students struggling in the weighted class to be able to move down to the Regents level. By focusing on the freshmen class who have the least amount of electives, McDermott said the staff at the high school hopes to make the creation of schedules more personal and the class size more equitable.
Trustee Jennifer Thompson asked about the timing of the purchasing of the white boards. Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Administration Matthew Nelson confirmed that purchases of the device would be done on a staggered schedule, and that they would need to be replaced every four to six years.
Dr. Nina Dorata, a member of United Taxpapers of Northport-East Northport, asked about plans to handle breakdowns of the devices. Nelson confirmed that $150,000 of the budget was set aside for repairs, and that next year six technicians will be on board to handle them. Dorata asked for the cost for the six technicians and Waldenburg suggested that those details would be discussed at the next two budget meetings.
"This meeting was meant more for general questions," Waldenburg said. "At the next two meetings, we will go over the budget line by line."
There were several points that stirred debate. The first issue is the use of the adopted budget as a starting point when actual expenditures for 2009-2010 only totaled $137,657,248.
Resident Joe Sabia asked for a 0% increase, questioning the size of the current $22 million being held in overall reserves. Denise Summers Mum, a former Board member and current member of United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport, agreed, and said that adding 2% on top of the $10 million over actual expenditures “totally lacks integrity.”
Armand D’Accordo, president of UTN-EN, also said that the administration should start with the actual expenditures, and asked what other expenses were being incurred to arrive at $151 million.
McDermott pointed out that 75-80% of the budget is needed for salaries and benefits. “Is it not better to wipe the slate clean and ask how many staff members we need? That’s the first place to start. We go to zero every year.” She stressed that reducing the core classes in size levels the playing fields, and may allow opportunities for reduction as well.
D’Accordo suggested that a real zero-based budget would involve staffing only for required programs but McDermott disagreed. “You have to staff according to the needs and the expectations of the community,” she said.
The subject of reserves caused the most dissent during the evening. The proposed budget includes use of $5,750,000 in reserve funds, broken down as follows:
- Employee Retirement System: $1,750,000
- Worker’s Compensation: $400,000
- Unemployment Insurance: $100,000
- Designated Unreserved Fund Balance: $3,500,000
In an exchange which grew increasingly heated, Trustee Joe Gannon asked D’Accordo if any of the reserves were overfunded, and if so, which ones.
“I only have five minutes,” D’Accordo replied – a reference to the maximum amount of time each person is allowed to speak during the public portion of the meeting. The two agreed to meet separately to discuss the matter.
The next two budget meetings will take place on March 21 and 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the large cafeteria to accomodate an anticpated increased number of audience members as budget discussions continue.