The Freeport School District Board of Education approved a $195 million budget on April 20 for the 2021-22 school year, a $7 million increase over the current year.
The final budget includes a $10.8 million increase in state aid, as well as a decrease of 0.1 percent in the tax levy. This would be the sixth time in seven years that the district would lower the tax levy.
“It has been a long process over a difficult year . . . but now we have a budget that maintains all current programs, staff and services while also expanding on some of these areas,” said Kishore Kuncham, superintendent of schools.
“We’re thankful to have a budget that continues to improve on all the amazing programs we have in our schools,” added Maria Jordan-Awalom, a school board trustee.
After Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package last month, New York state allocated an additional $9 billion for schools and promised to increase foundation aid to all of what districts are owed, which would be phased in over the next three years. This would bring a total of $45 million in foundation aid to the Freeport School District by the 2023-24 school year.
The current increase in aid would allow the district to add 16 new staff positions, 14 of which were supposed to be added last year but were ultimately excluded from the budget because of the financial impacts of the coronavirus pademic. The new positions would include five teachers, seven assistant teachers, one district administrator for instruction technology, one assistant principal at J.W. Dodd Middle School and two at Freeport High School and two family outreach coordinators.
District officials added that the staffing increase would allow the district to address learning-time loss during Covid-19. Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences found that students lost up to one-fifth of a school year because of the impacts of the virus, with losses to 60 percent higher in communities of color like Freeport.
The district would put extra focus on the classes for students with disabilities and English as a Second Language students, two groups whose educational experiences were severely impacted by the lack of in-person learning.
The district also plans to expand its summer school program for students in grades kindergarten to eight. While the district has been able to serve 300 to 500 of these students in previous years, it would now be able to take in as many as 1,000 students in the upgraded program, which would include academic, athletic, arts, language, literacy, STEM and special elective activities.
The increase in funding would also allow the district to pay for all students’ Advanced Placement tests, which are normally priced at $95 per test. Kuncham said he hoped this would entice more students to take the tests, as some students take more than 10 of these exams every year.
The district would also be able to purchase new uniforms for the Freeport High marching band and color guard.
District officials added that if schools continue to operate under the hybrid-learning model, for which students can opt to learn from home because of Covid-19 concerns, the district would need to purchase 500 more laptops and additional technology items, which the budget takes into account.
Along with the boost in state aid, the district is expected to receive a $21.5 million grant from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and a $6.5 million grant from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. The details of how the district can use the grants, which need to be spent in four years, will be released in the coming weeks.
The Board of Education will hold one final review of the budget, with a question-and-answer segment with the public, on May 5.
The budget also includes a list of capital improvement projects to be completed with $2.5 million from the district’s capital reserve fund.
Residents will vote on the budget and capital reserve proposition on May 18.