West Hempstead school officials will not have to persuade 60 percent of school district voters to approve a school budget that exceeds the allowable property tax cap, district officials say. That’s because the Board of Education adopted a budget on April 16 totaling $55.6 million, an increase of just 0.88 percent over the current spending plan — which will keep the property tax levy below 3.55 percent, the state’s limit for the district.
While many believe that the state’s property tax cap law holds increases to a strict 2 percent, Superintendent John Hogan said that is not necessarily so.
“I always want to share with everybody that what has been portrayed as a 2 percent tax cap is, in fact, a misnomer,” Hogan said at the meeting. “I don’t know if there is any school district in Nassau County, never mind Suffolk or even throughout the state, that actually is at 2 percent. You are allowed to build back in, as I like to put it, certain expenses, whether they be capital projects or those sorts of things that allow us to go a little bit above 2 percent.”
Hogan said that the budget, helped by the restoration of state aid, will allow the district to restore two secondary teaching positions and one elementary position. This will keep average class sizes in the middle school and high school in the 25 to 30 range, said Richard Cunningham, the district’s assistant superintendent for business.
The restoration of “high tax” and other aid, he said, gave the district about $400,000 more to work with. “It wasn’t enough to restore the nine-period day,” Cunningham said, “but it was enough to address areas that residents involved in the budget café program were concerned about, such as growing class sizes in the secondary schools.”
Doing away with the ninth period had the beneficial effect of adding five minutes to the other periods, giving teachers more time with their students. Nonetheless, Cunningham said, “It pained us to do away with the ninth period. We don’t know if we’ll ever be able to return to the extra period, because we don’t know if the money will ever be there again.”
Under the 2013-14 spending plan, the reading teacher at Chestnut Street School will expand from a part-time to a full-time position, and there will be a special-education teacher for the district’s Rising Stars Program for autistic students. And four special-education students in kindergarten and first grade who were moved to other school districts over the past two years will return to West Hempstead.
“We’re very excited about bringing these little ones back,” Hogan said. “They are our students. They are our children. They belong in our district, and we believe that we can provide a quality program here in West Hempstead.”
The budget also includes $400,000 in capital expenditures for roof repair and masonry work at West Hempstead High School. In the event that any money is left over from these projects, the surplus would be used to fund other improvement projects in the district.
“These buildings are worth a substantial amount of money,” Hogan said. “They are, in many ways, the largest investment our community members have here in West Hempstead, so we have an obligation to make sure that we maintain our facilities as we move forward.”
He added that it is hard to tell what impact the new budget will have on homeowners. Much depends on the county’s assessed evaluations and on adjusted base proportions, which allocate the total percentage of taxes among four classes — single-family homes, condominiums and apartments more than three stories high, utilities and commercial property.
“A shift of even one percent in what each of the classes pay can have a major impact,” Cunningham explained. “That won’t be decided until July or August, long after the budget vote is done.”
He projects, however, that if the proportion of the taxes that homeowners pay does not move from its current 80 percent, the new budget will increase taxes on the average homeowner by about $85 for the year.
The budget vote will take place on May 21 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the West Hempstead Middle School gymnasium.