No doubt, these are tough times, for school districts and taxpayers. Districts are constrained in their spending by a state-mandated tax-levy cap. Homeowners, many of whom have seen anemic raises in their own jobs in recent years, are hurting.
So crafting a school budget is a high-wire balancing act. We believe the Seaford School District has performed that act admirably, so we are endorsing its 2018-19 spending plan.
The budget proposal includes an expansion of the district’s Advanced Placement Capstone program, repair of the ceilings at Manor Elementary School and the basketball courts at Harbor Elementary, an addition to the security guard staff and other unspecified safety enhancements recommended by a recently hired security consultant.
Clearly, the district has the best interests of students in mind.
Still, we offer cautionary words. The Seaford district is asking voters to approve a $68.4 million budget for 2018-19, with a increase a 2.7 percent tax levy increase, which, if passed, would cost the average homeowner an extra $197 next year. The spending plan is $1.7 million, or 2.62 percent, larger than this year’s budget.
Also on Tuesday’s ballot is a proposition to establish a capital reserve fund that could collect up to $20 million over 10 years, which would be set aside for repairs and renovations in buildings throughout the district.
Taxpayers should understand that the reserve fund would accumulate leftover funds — what remains after actual expenditures are subtracted from what was budgeted. This could potentially lead to overestimating and overbudgeting, intentional or unintentional, as has been the case in other districts.
If the budget and proposition are approved, residents should keep a close eye on the Board of Education, which manages not only the district’s educational programs but also its finances, to be sure trustees are doing all they can to operate more efficiently with the reserve funds they already have.
The good news for voters is that the district’s proposed spending plan does not exceed the state’s tax cap. But if you have concerns or questions about the district’s spending and finances, use these final days before the vote to call and ask the district superintendent or assistant superintendent for business. If you don’t understand the answer, ask for a better explanation.
At the May 3 budget hearing in the Seaford High School auditorium, the final budget presentation, there were more than a dozen students in attendance but what appeared to be only a handful of parents. No questions were asked during or after the presentation of the proposed spending plan, given by the district’s assistant superintendent of business, Elisa Pellati.
Pellati noted the loss next year of payments in lieu of taxes from a local Nissan dealership that recently moved out of the area. She explained that the district will receive more state aid, but less non-resident tuition — or tuition for students who come to Seaford schools for services not available in their home districts.
So the district is clearly facing financial headwinds. Let’s support Seaford’s spending plan, but let’s do so with eyes wide open.
In the race for the district’s lone contested Board of Education seat, we endorse Andrea Parisi, who is challenging incumbent Patrick Rail. In the spirit of rotation, the board could use a breath of fresh air.
Rail is a Nassau County police detective who has campaigned for a second term. Parisi, an educator, persuaded us that she believes in initiatives we think will produce more well-rounded high school graduates who are prepared for the challenges of life. She’s a young mother who is vested in the community and in the social welfare of its children. She has been involved in the PTA and other school-related groups in Seaford.
The current board initially resisted speaking with or hearing from parents about safety concerns after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February. The trustees relented, however, after feeling the pressure from the community, and held meetings with parents.
The board also initially declined to join the free Rave system, which gives Nassau County police instant video access to school buildings’ interiors and exteriors in emergency situations. Parents can be thankful that the trustees came around, and approved joining Rave this year.
We commend Rail and his colleagues for finally doing so, and for all they have done for the educational betterment of the students. But we think the board could use a change, in the interest of becoming more responsive to and engaged with the community. We believe Parisi could help bring about that much-needed change, and we urge voters to support her on Tuesday.