Board of Education members took a grand tour of the Valley Stream Central High School District’s four schools, hopping from classroom to classroom with building administrators in tow.
Their mission? To assess the financial needs of each school and hash out an initial vision for the district’s proposed budget plan to meet those needs. In particular, they aimed to figure out, from their list of possible school improvement capital projects, which ones get funded and which ones get culled.
This budget season, board members approved securing roughly $2.23 million in what administrators described as “must-have,” meat-and-potatoes school improvement budget items, as outlined by Superintendent Wayne Loper.
These budget items include repairing and maintaining blacktop and concrete, renovating faculty restrooms, buying an additional bus and replacing musical instruments.
Additionally, administrators aimed to add even more modernized furniture to classrooms in the district. Already, district students are learning in classes outfitted with triangular desks with flattened corners that can easily be moved and joined together to create collaborative, friendly learning spaces. Science labs with ceiling-mounted charging cables. Libraries with cozy study pod chairs and swivel seats, which also serve as laptop holders.
Yet despite this trend toward modernity, traces of outdated and out-of-fashion architecture remain. Among the biggest eyesores, according to Loper, are the Venetian blinds used to shade classroom windows in all four schools, shades whose time he said has long passed and simply must go.
Beyond those items, board members were left to consider seven potential large-scale projects totaling upwards of $7 million in price. The list largely reflected what principals in all four schools saw as priority renovations for their buildings.
And some items were more urgent than others — like the need for a new $1.35 million storage space facility at South after the district’s architect ruled that South’s garage, its current storage place, is to be knocked down and must be rebuilt from scratch.
“There’s no basement at South because this school is built on a flood plain, so storage is at a premium,” said Loper. “The garage needs to be torn down and replaced with a butler-type building. It’s one of those large projects that need to be done.”
But there were also more innovative, big-leap projects worth mulling over. These projects include giving Central High School’s decades-long, districtwide cosmetology program a nearly $1 million upgrade to its classroom and salon station and shoring up money for the district’s first barbering program. Another consideration: Riding the momentum of school districts like Baldwin in incorporating “smart lockers” that open with the swipe of a student’s smart card ID badge.
In the end, rather than selecting their top picks from the wish list, board members decided on taking from the district’s $2 million in capital reserves and using its current operating fund balance of $6.5 million to fund all seven of the proposed projects. The difference would be made up by pooling from the school’s lunch fund.
“Though I’m not recommending it, if the board chooses to vote on a capital reserves and fund balance proposition, even after that money is set aside, the district still has left over a fund balance of 5.8 million dollars in reserve,” said Loper at the Jan. 7 board meeting.
Despite some board members’ initial hesitation to propose extracting everything from the district’s capital reserve funds to pay for all of the pitched projects, that plan won out in the end.
“These projects take forever to actually happen, and it is a while before it happens,” said Board of Education President Kenneth Cummings. “There’s nothing frivolous on here. We saw that everything here will make the student experience better. It might be a stretch, but doing the right thing would mean doing it all and giving the taxpayers the opportunity to vote at no additional cost since these are capital projects.”
A clearer picture of how well the budget’s funding proposition holds up to reality and gains the confidence of voters will come into focus in the coming weeks with, among other things, word on how much the district receives in federal and state funding.
All eyes are on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed budget plan for the new fiscal year — which, as of press time, was set to be released on Wednesday — to see if she will inject a significant source of funding toward education or tilt toward more tight-fisted spending.
“Hopefully our new governor comes through with their promises of aid that they put out last year and if so, the district should be in a fine position for the upcoming budget season,” said Loper.