School budget hearing is an oddly quiet one


School board budget hearings are often noisy, sometimes even raucous affairs. But at the Long Beach school board meeting Tuesday night, matters were quite different: No one spoke — for or against — the proposed $151.6 million budget, which has a tax levy increase of 1.5 percent.

“May 9, tonight, is the public budget hearing,” Michael DeVito, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said at the hearing at Lido Elementary School. “It’s an opportunity for anyone in the community to come up and say how they feel about it. They can express their feelings about the budget.”

But no one did, perhaps because they had no problems with the proposed spending plan, whose tax increase is well below the state cap. Or perhaps because they thought there was little they could do to change any of the proposals.

The district’s 2023-24 budget is smaller than the current year’s $151.9 million in spending.

“The increase in the tax levy … for next year, is about 1.5 percent,” DeVito said. “That 1.5 percent increase is after two years of a zero percent increase. So we’ve had that tax levy number for three years, and now we’re now asking for a modest increase of 1.5 percent just to keep pace with inflation and some of the cost increases in the budget.”

Administration officials said that the proposal does not include any funding for capital projects, but there is a plan to spend $5.2 million from the capital reserve fund on work at Long Beach High School, the middle school and Lindell Elementary.

The funds would be used to replace and relocate water heating pipes at the middle school, and to install new uni-ventilators for fresh air heating and cooling there; to remove and replace four HVAC units at the high school; and to replace the kitchen sewer line and the sidewalk on the east side of the Lindell school.

“We had some problems in the middle school over the winter with pipes, and we fixed those pipes,” DeVito said. “Now we’re asking to put the remaining pipes that are still in the crawl space above in the ceiling, so that they don’t continue to deteriorate and we don’t have any problems at school next year. That’s the main issue. We have this $5.2 million request, but we’re asking the community for permission to spend it.”

The current budget includes nearly $4.3 million for capital projects.

District officials estimate that they will receive about $16.9 million in state aid, 4.8 percent more than this year. The district also plans to receive about $29.9 million from a LIPA payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan next year, compared with $26.6 million this year.

School board candidates

School board trustees Dennis Ryan, Nora Bellsey and Pamela Banks are running for seats on the board. Incumbent Maureen Vrona is not seeking re-election.

Banks has served on several school committees, including the high school curriculum and health and wellness committees, and is a member of the State Education Department Curriculum and Instruction Committee. She was the high school PTA president for three years, and spent seven years as an elementary school board member.

Banks is also involved in the Long Beach community, a member of two civic associations and the city’s Advisory Board for Seniors. She has been a regular attendee at school board meetings for five years.

Banks said that she wants to make the district one of the leaders in academic excellence. She said she would like to have individualized career path programs designed for students, to enhance the district’s mental health programs, and to keep budgets fiscally responsible without compromising programs.

Bellsey is a 48-year Long Beach resident, and raised her children, all Long Beach High School graduates, here. A retired educator, she said she believes the school board needs an educator’s voice, and that with her career experience, she would offer great insight into the implementation of district curriculum and management of the schools.

Bellsey said she is also concerned about school attendance, which has been an issue in the district recently. Administrators have acknowledged an absentee rate that at times has been as high as 30 percent, and have said they are working on ways to deal with the problem.

Bellsey also wants to focus on the post-coronavirus well-being of students, and to continue to expand vocational training while maintaining a strong college prep program.