North Merrick School District avoids budget cuts

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One of the few substantial increases in the budget is for employees’ salaries and pensions, which are largely mandated by the state or defined through collective bargaining agreements, according to Stephen Draper, assistant superintendent for business and operations. The budget allocates $167,000 more for the salaries of staff with state certifications and $43,000 more for the salaries of civil service staff, and it allocates $1.21 million more for benefits for all staff. These increases account almost entirely for the budget proposal’s $1.36 million total increase from the current school budget.

The budget proposal no longer includes cuts to classroom teacher, music teacher, social worker and psychologist staffs that the district’s central office last month deemed would be necessary without greater state aid.

George Haile, the Board of Education vice president, blamed a politically driven budget process at the state level for the cloud of uncertainty under which school districts must operate before the Legislature passes a budget.

“Next year looks OK — we still have a tax levy cap that we have to deal with and the shell game that the state likes to play — but we have reserves to hopefully make it so it’s an easier budget process than it would be without those reserves,” he said.

The budget that the North Merrick Board of Education adopted stays just below the district’s property-tax levy cap, or the maximum year-to-year tax levy increase that the district could legally ask voters to approve by a simple majority.

Cuomo imposed the property-tax levy cap in 2011. It restricts school districts from raising their property-tax levies by more than 2 percent from one year to the next. A district can override the cap, but to do so it must win 60 percent of the vote to pass the higher spending plan.

The proposed budget’s total tax levy is $20.8 million, a 3.21 percent increase from last year. The increase is more than 2 percent largely due to raises in teachers’ pensions, which are exempt from the property-tax levy cap.

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