As budget season approaches, the Board of Education held a town hall meeting last Thursday night to hear concerns and suggestions from residents living in the North Shore School District.
Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo led a general discussion on the 2018-2019 budget process and status. “We are in the process of revising the budget book to include detailed RFP’s, which are balanced against revenues, as well as narratives that explain why certain line items are there,” he said.
He along with district Assistant Superintendent for Business Olivia Buatsi, had worked to remove $1.5 million worth of initial requests from the budget since October.
The superintendent said that a number of factors would better inform the budget, such as the district’s consumer price index and the number of state aid runs. “The CPI, which will be available at the end of January, will better inform the budget — we can’t calculate the tax cap without it,” he said. “In addition, the governor will release his budget for state aid runs on January 18, which will inform the budget as well.”
Giarrizzo said having the extra time to iron out the budget is “beneficial,” since the district’s enrollment projections, programming, and staffing numbers for the next school year are still preliminary. He added that he plans to offset spending for the coming school year by using the district’s reserves “to the extent that we can.”
Trustee David Ludmar asked if new mandates under the federal tax reform would affect the formation of the budget. Buatsi said the bill “doesn’t directly affect the district.”
The meeting was then opened to public comment.
Glen Head resident Agatha Nadel, a community activist, discussed how the New York American Water issue should be factored into the formation of the budget.
“Those who get private water are footing a much larger and disproportionate share of this tax burden, and it is simply unacceptable,” she said. “This district will still receive its taxes from the county, but they will have to come from somewhere else, and in a more fair and equitable way and not from one segment of the population.”
Nadel added that the district should no longer create a budget based on an “open checkbook mentality.”
“The increase in school taxes along with the increase in cost per student is following the same path . . . of unsustainability,” she said. “What I am paying in half of my school tax bill is what I paid in both my general tax and my school tax bills combined 20 years ago. That is outrageous.”
Real estate agent Steve Warshaw, of Glen Head, brought some expertise to the conversation, reporting that a school district accounts for 6-7 percent of the property value of a house. “Our neighboring districts are spending $10,000 less,” he said. “It’s important to consider that [percentage], and get the best value for it.”
Senior citizens also addressed the board.
Ruth Miklis, of Greenvale, asked the board if they had considered bidding other insurance carriers to change the district’s health insurance policy. Giarrizzo reported that the 2018-2019 school budget includes an $835,000 increase in health insurance. “That percentage is direct to us, it continues to increase, and there’s nothing we can say or do about it,” he said.
William Schraldi, of Glen Head, told the board to consider the impact the budget has on senior citizens living in the district. “The seniors in this community are in a bind,” he said. “Those living on a fixed income can’t afford to keep increases in the budget.”
Schraldi suggested the board take a look at the economies required in consolidating schools in the district, and consider classes with low censuses to be cancelled or removed altogether. “Close a building, and save some money,” he said.
In his closing remarks, Giarrizzo assured concerned residents that their voices were heard. “I heard clear concerns tonight, and as we formulate the budget, we will keep in mind the desire to pay attention to the levy and keep it low, and balance program needs while keeping a world class education,” he said.