Susette Prezios, the mother of three Hewlett-Woodmere students, attended the district’s public budget forum on March 21 and said that the decision to eliminate adult education programs in 2013-14 would have a negative impact on the community in which she grew up.
“Our community is dwindling,” Prezios said. “While I’m happy to hear that we’re keeping the children’s programs, not having adult education will pull apart our community.”
The district’s tentative 2013-14 budget is $109.53 million, $3.7 million more than its current spending plan. The Board of Education is scheduled to adopt the budget on April 17, and the public vote is set for May 21.
Dr. Peter Weber, assistant superintendent for business, said that the district’s main focus is to support children’s education, and that eliminating adult education would save the district nearly $398,000. “This will impact everyone — people win, people lose, and we recognize that,” Weber said. “The only way to cover [adult education] is to take from the reserves we need for the future. We could take funds out of the reserves quickly or slowly, but there will be no place left to turn once the money is gone.”
Out of the district’s control
Diminishing state aid and unfunded mandates continue to be financial burdens for school districts, Superintendent Dr. Joyce Bisso said, adding that Hewlett-Woodmere has been preparing for more than a decade to survive these difficult times by using less reserve money. Next year, the district is expected to receive $203,395 more in state aid. “We’re looking to maintain the programs in our district, professional development, sports teams, opportunities for enrichment and continuing services for those with disabilities,” Bisso said.
She added that the district’s tax-levy cap, according to a state formula, will be 2.49 percent. A budget with a tax levy increase greater than that must be approved by a supermajority of at least 60 percent of voters.
Weber said that although the district determines the tax levy — the amount to be raised through property taxes — it is forwarded to the Nassau County assessor, and some property owners will see an increase, and others a decrease. “It’s a strange system,” he said. “The district sets the levy and the county sets what your home is worth. Some homeowners see a $20,000 increase and some a $10,000 decrease in their taxes.”
Parents seek more ways to save
One district parent, Ryan Goldstein, said he was concerned about the $2.7 million increase in employee benefits in the proposed budget. “I don’t see us having adult education, but I also don’t see salary costs being reduced,” he said. “Maybe we should move towards high deductible health insurance and cutting out an employee’s spouse so we can save more money.”
According to Weber, the district has no control over rising health care costs because the state determines how much it will pay. “The only way around that is to leave the state’s health insurance,” he said, “and almost every district in Nassau County stays in the state health insurance, because the advantage is that there are lower increases.”
Weber emphasized that the district has maintained its class sizes and continues to make improvements to its six buildings. “We have a geothermal system at the high school and the middle school, which provides heating, cooling and ventilation,” he explained. “At Hewlett Elementary and Franklin Early Childhood Center there haven’t been renovations since 1993, so we’re looking to add air conditioning to the cafeteria.”
The district’s enrollment is stable, Weber added. “Our class size range has been maintained at the elementary and secondary levels,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, the same amount of class sections are offered, and then there are shifts as class sizes go up and down.”
Woodmere resident Kenneth Rochler, who has four boys in the district, said that the public forum offered parents an opportunity to get together and discuss their budgetary concerns. “I wonder if we really look at the whole thing, and that maybe there are more savings out there,” he said. “All in all, Hewlett-Woodmere is a great district. There are a lot of programs and kids thrive, but the tax bill kills you, and it hurts paying for it.”
Mary-Anne, a Gibson resident who has three children in the district and who did not want to give her last name, said she was disappointed by the low turnout of district parents. “This is the time to make a difference,” she said. “We need to come together as a community and voice our concerns.”
The Hewlett High School graduate said that the reason she decided to enroll her children in the district is the exceptional administrators. “It’s a wonderful school system,” she said. “I can’t afford to live here, but I do, and I don’t know how people are surviving; I really don’t. I hope this proposed budget is a fair assessment of what’s happening and the economic climate many of us are experiencing.”