Proposed 2012-13 School Budget

On Tuesday, May 15, from 7 a.m.-10 p.m., at the E. M. Baker Elementary School and the William A. Shine-South High School, qualified residents of the school district will be asked to vote on the:

• 2012-13 School District Budget (Proposition No. 1)

• 2012-13 Public Library Budget (Proposition No. 2)

• Two Board of Education Seats (incumbents Donald Ashkenase and Barbara Berkowitz are running unopposed).

 

2012-13 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 $199,747,079 for the 2012-13 school year. The increase over this year's budget is 3.32 percent and the increase in the amount to be raised by real property tax is 2.49 percent.

More than half of the budget increase is the result of higher health-insurance premiums and retirement-system contributions, neither of which is controlled by the school district. Other significant factors are State mandates, Social Security and Medicare, and Medicare reimbursements.

Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz said, "This year we were once again faced with the daunting task of preparing a school budget that preserves the educational programs we value in this community, while still maintaining responsible fiscal practices. As your neighbors, we know and feel the ever-expanding financial pressures on our community and we take our fiduciary responsibilities seriously. We are also aware that, through all of these current challenges, we must never lose sight of our most important mission: to ensure that our students continue to receive the best possible education to meet their diverse individual needs. Striving to maintain this balance is our obligation and our pledge to this community, and we are so grateful for your continued support and partnership."

Board Trustee Donald Ashkenase said, "I'm elated that we can present a budget in this economic climate that preserves the quality of public education in Great Neck. We are fortunate to have the best team of administrators and staff, who enable us to protect our instructional programs in these difficult and challenging times."

Board Trustee Lawrence Gross said, "The challenge for the school district is to maintain programs and provide for students' collective and individual needs, and to do so in a way that is flexible and allows us to deal with contingencies. This budget meets that challenge and doesn't reduce any valued programs we have in our district."

Board of Education Trustee Susan Healy said, "We are always conscious of the fact that children experience each grade once and only once, and we want to make every year the best it can be for all of our students."

Dr. Thomas Dolan, superintendent of schools, said, "This has been an incredibly difficult budget cycle. Many nearby districts are cutting staff, increasing class size, and even closing buildings. It's a completely different endeavor than it has been in past years."

The school district will offset the increases in health-insurance premiums and retirement-system contributions by reducing contingency funds, which are established for unbudgeted expenditures that cannot be anticipated or are unknown at the time the budget is formulated and voted upon. Aiding and offsetting the increases are reductions in buildings and grounds expenditures, and the economic benefits derived from 27 teachers taking a district-sponsored retirement incentive this year. These teachers will be replaced in 2012-13 by those who command lower salaries, which will result in an anticipated savings of more than $1,500,000.

 

New York State's Tax Cap

The 2012-13 school year is the first in which school districts must abide by New York State's tax-cap legislation. This new law requires the district to limit its tax-levy increase to 2 percent or the rate of inflation--whichever is lower. There are multiple exemptions and other factors, however, which affect the actual limit. When the state's formula is applied to Great Neck, the result is a maximum allowable increase of 2.49 percent.

Dr. Dolan said, "There are two easy mistakes one can make when discussing the state's 2 percent tax cap: It's not 2 percent, and it's not a tax cap. It's actually a cap on the tax levy, which is the amount of money the school district can raise through property taxes. The cap is based on a lengthy formula with many variables, so the actual limit will be different for almost every district in the state. We've developed a budget that's within the state's requirements."

He continued, "There is another change this year, in addition to the tax-levy cap. If a school district's budget is voted down twice, there is no contingency allowance. The tax levy must be exactly the same as it was the year before, with no increase."

 

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).

While there is no meaningful way to predict what impact the tax-rate increase will have on an individual's property tax, our Class I (homeowner) school-tax rate continues to be the second lowest of the 62 school-taxing districts in Nassau County.

 

Independent Audits

An annual, external, independent 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, the district's independent auditor, consistently presents extremely favorable reports on the 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. Also, a required internal audit of risk assessments was performed by the firm of Nawrocki Smith, LLP. The district continues to receive satisfactory reports.

Board Vice President Fran Langsner said, "Over the years, all our external and internal audits have validated the extreme care our business department takes in making sure our tax dollars are spent wisely. Our books are always open for oversight by the taxpayers."

 

Government-Mandated Services

The school district is required to provide a substantial number of mandated services imposed by the Federal, State, and County governments, without sufficient aid to meet their costs. As a result, significant associated costs must be borne by the district.

Our State aid has been on the decline for 22 years, spiraling downward from 11 percent of our budget to a projected low of 3.2 percent for 2012-13.

The district is mandated by State law to provide transportation, textbooks, and health and other services to about 1,200 students who reside here but attend more than 80 private, parochial, and special education schools. Transportation alone is budgeted at a cost of about $5,489,000 for these students.

 

Revenue & Savings

More than $12.9 million in revenue other than property taxes is anticipated in 2012&endash;13 from a number of sources, including 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.

Since January 2012, public school districts are no longer required to pay the state's MTA payroll tax, which was enacted more than two years ago. Savings in the 2012&endash;13 school year will amount to more than $380,000.

The Great Neck school district participates in a number of successful, cooperative ventures with neighboring districts, Nassau BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), 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 BO-TIE program, which enables the district to purchase bundled Internet, telephone, and wide area network (WAN) services at a significant discount.

Cost-saving efforts continue in many areas related to energy efficiency, technology upgrades, and communications. The district's fiber-optic WAN connects 14 buildings, enabling the district to centralize information systems and consolidate voice, data, and video services in a cost-effective manner. The WAN facilitates a modern phone system at a significant annual savings for phone service. The district's Going Green initiative has reduced expenditures on paper and postage with many routine communications--including report cards and progress reports--delivered to parents through the Infinite Campus Parent Portal or via e-mail.

Additionally, the school district reaps annual savings of 40 percent for all Internet, local, long distance, and cellular phone service through participation in the Federal E-Rate program. Since 1996, when E-Rate was enacted, the district has received over $2 million in reimbursements.

Three years ago, a cost-effective, major energy-enhancing project replaced many district boilers (some 60 years old), added solar-energy panels on our four large secondary schools, and renovated and improved all heating-system controls. This was accomplished entirely from energy savings, with a guarantee of no additional net costs for the improvements.

 

For More Information

Copies of the 2012-13 Proposed Budget are available at the Phipps Administration Building, 345 Lakeville Road. Reference copies can be found in the schools and public libraries. It is also on the district Web site: www.greatneck.k12.ny.us. For more information about the School Budget, voter registration, absentee ballots, and voting, please call 441-4020.