As is the case in all of the school districts in Nassau County, the planning for next year’s budget has become a waiting game for West Hempstead Superintendent John Hogan and his assistant superintendent for business, Richard Cunningham.
“We’re waiting for the State Legislature and the courts to make determinations on issues that directly impact our budget,” said Hogan. “We’re waiting to see if the high-tax [aid] cuts that were made by the governor last month will be restored, or at least partially restored. We’re waiting for the courts to decide if the schools have to pick up the burden of the tax certiorari payments — waiting to see if the county will appeal the decision that it can’t turn that burden onto the schools.”
The West Hempstead district’s state aid was cut from $7.8 million this year to $7.4 million for 2013-14, most of the reduction coming in the high-tax category, traditionally provided to high property taxe districts.
Hogan said he had spoken with several state legislators, including Senate Majority Coalition Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Center), and was assured that everyone in the county delegation was working hard to restore the cuts.
“We have done our budget to the best of our ability, and now we’re waiting for factors beyond our control,” Hogan said. “Over the past five years, we have cut this budget to the bone. Now we’re down to cutting it to the marrow.”
He added, “If we don’t get some of the state aid returned, and if the court allows the county to pass the tax certiorari to the school districts, then we’re going to have to step back and make some tough determinations.”
Cunningham said that the district had lost 100 full- and part-time positions over the past five years, as well as some athletic and music programs. This year, officials plans to excess 15 positions “unless the aid is restored, and then the positions can be restored,” he added.
Most of those excessed positions would be the result of a reduction in the school day from nine periods to eight in the high school and middle school, a controversial move.
Hogan said that the West Hempstead community has been good to the schools, and remains supportive. “The community recognizes that we are the largest business in town, with more than 400 employees, and we are doing the best for the boys and girls in our care,” he said. “We realize the challenges that the taxpayers face, with many of them out of work or working part-time. We don’t want to put a higher tax burden on them.”
“We are accountable to them to be fiscally reliable, and we do that,” Cunningham said. “We spend to within 1 percent of our budget, and that is really being accountable for the money we’re given.”
Hogan said he hopes the State Legislature comes to an agreement on the budget this week in order to end the waiting game. He said he expects that the county will appeal the tax certiorari issue to a higher court, and that will play out over the next year or so.
The Board of Education will meet on April 2 to finalize the district spending plan, which must be finalized by April 16. Residents will vote on the budget on May 21.