Proposed 2014-15 School Budget

Proposed 2014-15 School Budget
On Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., at the E. M. Baker School and the William A. Shine-South High School, qualified residents of the school district will vote on the:
-- 2014-15 School District Budget (Proposition No. 1)
-- 2014–15 Public Library Budget (Proposition No. 2)
-- Two Board of Education Seats (Vice President Lawrence Gross and Trustee Susan Healy are seeking reelection; Chien Huang is seeking election).

2014-15 School District Budget - After extensive public discussion and input, during a lengthy and open budget process that started in our schools, the Board of Education has adopted the Proposed School Budget in the amount of $214,067,850 for the 2014-15 school year. The increase over this year’s budget is 2.21 percent. The increase in the amount to be raised by real property tax is 1.97 percent. Nearly all of the $4.62 million increase can be attributed to contractual salary increases for teachers, additional special education staff and programs, and higher Teachers Retirement System contributions. Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz said, “Despite the challenging fiscal environment in which we operate, we have been able to preserve the educational programs and small class sizes that we value. We have also looked into ways to increase revenue and reduce costs. We’re managing as well as possible during these difficult times.” Board Vice President Lawrence Gross said, “This is a very responsible budget. We’ve been able to maintain the support of the community over the years by finding ways to spend money intelligently, and by increasing revenue. One of the bedrocks of education in Great Neck is structuring the curriculum to meet each child’s needs. Small classes allow us to do that.” Board Trustee Susan Healy said, “It is always humbling to be a part of a community that places such a high value on our schools. This year’s budget continues a long tradition for this Board--it is fiscally responsible to our community. We will continue to look at ways to reduce our costs, increase our revenue, and not only meet the needs of all our children, but enhance their educational experiences.” Board Trustee Monique Bloom said, “I have enjoyed being involved in the budgeting process and I appreciate the perspective that I have gained by being on the other side of the desk. The administration and the Board are committed to developing a fiscally prudent budget using a high level of data analysis and strategic planning. The budget that has been developed serves our students and the community while maintaining our high standards for teaching and learning.” Dr. Thomas Dolan, superintendent of schools, said, “The 2014-15 budget accelerates the essential mission of the district. It enhances the programs that our parents and students have come to expect, and it does so in the face of economic pressure. All reductions were kept at great distance from students.”

Use of Reserve Funds - The 2014-15 budget includes $3.2 million in appropriated reserves, which are unspent funds from prior years. Most of this money had been set aside last year for anticipated tax certiorari refunds in 2013-14. The New York State Court of Appeals ruled recently that school districts will not have to pay these refunds, so the money became available for use in other areas. The reserves will be applied primarily to capital projects, such as the purchase of a new generator, and to reduce taxes.

Key Programs Maintained - Mrs. Berkowitz said, “Let’s take a step back and reflect on all that we’ve been able to save--all of the programs that are still part of our budget. Our extracurricular programs are alive and well. It is a balancing act to maintain programs during and after school while still presenting a conservative fiscal picture, and we are succeeding through various initiatives to do so.” An example is the creation of earth science classes for eighth grade students in 2014-15. Dr. Dolan said these classes will allow students to take higher-level science courses when they get to high school.

New York State’s Property Tax Cap - The 2014-15 school year is the third in which school districts must abide by New York State’s tax-cap legislation. This law requires districts to limit their tax-levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation--whichever is lower. There are multiple factors, however, which affect the actual limit. John Powell, assistant superintendent for business, said, “The tax cap is actually a calculation that does not necessarily result in a 2-percent increase in the tax levy. According to the state’s formula, the allowed increase in the tax levy for the 2014-15 school year is 2.39 percent. The calculation incorporates changes to the tax base, the rate of inflation, payments in lieu of taxes, debt payments, capital project expenditures, transportation equipment purchases, and pension increases above a certain percentage.”

State and County Play Roles in Setting Tax Rates - Tax rates and property assessments in Nassau County are set by the County, not by boards of education. To minimize the impact of the County’s shift of property-tax burdens to homeowners and away from businesses and utilities, the Great Neck Board of Education has been proactive in promoting legislation to either eliminate the shift or to cap the increases caused by the shift to 1 percent (rather than the 5 percent allowable by law). Mr. Powell explained, “Commercial real estate in Nassau County was reassessed in 1986, but residential property was not reassessed at all between 1938 and 2002. As a result, commercial property owners were bearing a disproportionately high tax burden. By law, the County has been shifting the liability to residential--or Class I--property owners by between 1 and 5 percent per year. Our Board has successfully lobbied our state legislators to keep this shift to the minimum annual amount.” While there is no meaningful way to predict how the district’s tax-levy increase will impact an individual’s property tax, Great Neck’s Class I (homeowner) school-tax rate continues to be the second lowest of all school districts in Nassau County.

Independent Audits - An annual, external audit of every public school district is required by State Education Law/Commissioner of Education Regulations. The certified public accounting firm of Cullen & Danowski, LLP, consistently presents extremely favorable reports on the district’s management of finances, emphasizing a strong financial position, including wise investments and an excellent control system of checks, balances, and procedures supported by Board of Education policies. A required internal audit of risk assessments was performed by the firm of Nawrocki Smith, LLP. The district again received satisfactory reports, the highest rating.

Moody’s Aaa Rating - Board Trustee Donald Ashkenase said, “The Great Neck school district is one of only 23 Aaa-rated public entities in New York State according to Moody’s Investors Service. There are a total of 4,720 local governments in the state.” The district’s Aaa rating means that its financial obligations are judged by Moody’s to be of the highest quality, and subject to the lowest level of credit risk.

Government-Mandated Services - The district is required by the Federal, State, and County governments to provide a substantial number of mandated services, without sufficient aid to meet their costs. As a result, these costs must be borne by district taxpayers. For example, the district is mandated by State law to provide transportation, textbooks, and health and other services to more than 1,600 students who reside here but attend dozens of private and parochial schools. Transportation alone is budgeted at a cost of about $4.3 million for these students in 2014-15.

Revenue & Savings - More than $13.7 million in revenue, other than property taxes, reserves, and fund balance, is anticipated in 2014-15 from various sources, including Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs), tuition from nonresident students, Adult Program fees, driver education fees, summer program fees, rental of space in school-district buildings by community groups, interest on deposits and investments, and State aid. In addition, district employees are paying an increased share of their health insurance premiums. Dr. Dolan said, “Over the last few years, we’ve talked a lot about the revenue side of the budget. It is appropriate to ask those who are taking advantage of the facilities and services we offer to pay for them. At the Village School and SEAL, we’ve had a great deal of success with attracting out-of-district students who pay tuition. Our colleagues in other districts are sending their students to our programs.” The Great Neck school district participates in a number of successful, cooperative ventures with neighboring districts, the Nassau Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), and the county, such as the Nassau School and Municipal Savings Initiative. These efforts bring cost savings to the district in the areas of insurance, special education, transportation, information technology, telecommunications, and cooperative purchasing. An example is the Nassau BOCES “Bo-TIE” service, which enables the district to purchase bundled Internet, telephone, and wide area network (WAN) services at a savings of about $50,000 per year. The district also participates in the federal government’s E-Rate program, which reimburses 41 percent of the district’s expenditures on Internet, local, long distance, and cellular phone service annually. Since 1996, when E-Rate was enacted, the district has received over $2.2 million in reimbursements.

For More Information - Printed copies of the 2014-15 Proposed Budget are available at the Phipps Administration Building, 345 Lakeville Road. Printed reference copies can be found in the schools and public libraries. The Proposed Budget is also on the district’s Web site at http://greatneck.k12.ny.us (click on “2014-2015 GNPS Budget Details” in the center column, under “District Notices”). Registered voters who live north of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) will vote at the E. M. Baker School. Those who live south of the LIRR will vote at the William A. Shine-South High School. For more information about the budget, voter registration, absentee ballots, and voting, please call (516) 441-4020.