Spending is up in Hewlett-Woodmere

School district employee benefits and transportation costs rise

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The proposed Hewlett-Woodmere School District budget is 2.95 percent larger than the current spending plan, due in large part to a $1.5 million jump in employee benefits and an increase in transportation costs of nearly $817,000.

Louis Frontario, the district’s assistant superintendent for business, presented the proposal for the 2019-20 school year, which totals roughly $123.3 million, at a budget forum on March 26. The current budget is $119.8 million. The tax levy is also slated to increase by 2.95 percent, to $103.2 million.

Frontario said that 764 current and former employees — teachers, administrators, custodians and clerical workers — receive benefits, including health insurance, Social Security and workers compensation. “About 200 of the employees we cover are retired, while the rest are still active,” he said, adding that the increase in the cost of benefits is attributable mostly to the rising cost of health care.

The projected cost of transportation in 2019-20 is nearly $6.8 million, an increase of just under $817,000. “We have about 1,400 kids that live within our district that go to private schools,” Frontario said. “We still account for their transportation, and as a result of this, we’ve had to hire a part-time dispatcher to help out, since the students are getting home past 4:30 p.m. and as late as 7 p.m.” The dispatcher’s salary next year would be $19,915.

Francois Tenenbaum, a Woodmere resident and the Hewlett Elementary School PTA curriculum chair, voiced his belief that children are the lowest priority during the budget process. “I can’t believe that I’m sitting at a school budget meeting and the children are prioritized last in the process,” Tenenbaum said. “To me, the labor contracts come first in the process, and that is not fair to the children.”

Ric Stark, the president of the Hewlett-Woodmere Faculty Association and a science teacher at Hewlett High School, disagreed with Tenenbaum’s contention that labor contracts inflate the budget and are detrimental to students. “If you look at the 10-year period that will end at the expiration of our contract, the average annual Hewlett-Woodmere teacher salary scale increase will only have been 0.75 percent,” Stark wrote in an email. “There are obviously ‘step’ increases that add to the actual cost paid by the district, but as of 2017, only about 40 percent of our members were receiving those ‘step’ increases on an annual basis.”

The teachers union’s current contract with the school district runs until June 2022.

Three community members spoke at the forum. A Woodmere resident, who declined to give his name, asked Frontario about the growing budgets, and what the district will do to reduce the increases. Frontario said that the Board of Education would have to make difficult decisions in the future. “The board’s going to have to earn their money that they don’t get,” he joked. “There’s going to come a time down the road where cuts will need to be made. This is something that all school districts in the state are facing.”

With last week’s approval of the state budget, the district is projected to receive just under $12 million in state aid in 2019-20, an increase of nearly $1.38 million, according to Frontario.

The school board will now review the proposed spending plan, before a vote scheduled for April 10. The district will hold a budget hearing on May 8, and the public vote on the budget and trustee seats is set for May 21.

In addition to the spending plan, two other propositions are on the ballot: the use of $3 million from the district’s capital reserve fund for window replacement at Hewlett High School, and the proposed 2019-20 budget for the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library, which has not yet been finalized.

For more information on the school district budget, go to https://bit.ly/2CHeNKj.