WE NEED YOUR HELP — Support your hometown newspaper by making a donation.

Freeport School District presents $194M budget

Posted

The Freeport School District presented a $194 million budget proposal for the 2021-22 school year in a series of workshops this month.

If passed, the spending plan, nearly $6 million larger than the current budget, would allow the district to expand its educational services and staff slightly after a tough fiscal year because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The district would also raise the tax levy for a second straight year, but officials said they would avoid raising it to the 3 percent cap that the district is allowed, knowing the financial hardships that Freeport residents are experiencing.

“The community is struggling financially due to the impacts of Covid,” said Dr. Kishore Kuncham, superintendent of schools, “and it’s our job to bring a responsible budget that understands the realities of the times.” 

The bulk of the budget increase comes from the $4 million raise to the district’s academic program.      

Salvatore Carambia, assistant superintendent for business, said district officials hoped to add 14 new staff positions next year — three teachers, three teaching assistants, two bilingual teachers, two technology support staff members, one administrator for instructional technology, two deans for Freeport High School and one dean for the J.W. Dodd Middle School.  

Last spring, the district hoped to add 16 new staffing positions this year, but the plans were scrapped when the district lost nearly $3 million from the state because of Covid-19. 

The district must also contend with the Covid-19 expenses that were incurred the previous year. 

To ensure equity and access to remote learning during the shutdown and for the hybrid-learning model, the district spent about $1.2 million on laptops and webcams for district students, and an additional $65,000 for remote Wi-Fi access for students who lacked an internet connection. 

The district also spent about $2 million for desk guards, motion sensor faucets, personal protective equipment and custodial overtime to combat the spread of Covid-19 in the district. 

About half of the $3.2 million spent last year was carried over to this year’s budget, Kuncham said. 

While Covid-19 cases have continued to decrease in the village and state, district officials estimated an additional $1.4 million in Covid-19 expenses for the 2021-22 school year.  

As of March 23, 278 students, teachers and staff had tested positive for Covid-19, according to the State Department of Health. 

Despite the tough budgeting year, district officials were optimistic about the future after Congress passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act stimulus package, which brings $3.5 billion in school aid for the state. 

Because of the incoming funds, the State Legislature proposed increasing foundation aid to at least 60 percent of what school districts are owed, which would be phased in over the next three years. 

Foundation aid, the largest form of state aid, which factors in a district’s average per capita income in its formula, had remained relatively flat for the previous two years. 

Freeport is estimated to be owed $45 million in foundation aid, so it would see a minimum of $27 million in additional state aid by 2024.   

“I’m glad they finally acknowledged the problems with foundation aid,” Kuncham said. “It means our advocacy has paid off, and we’re closer to getting our fair share.” 

The State Assembly and Senate also rejected Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to consolidate and reduce 11 expense-based aid categories into a single share services aid. The Freeport School District would have lost $6.5 million under the proposal.  

The state’s final budget proposal is due on April 1. 

The Board of Education will continue to review and edit the district’s preliminary budget plan in upcoming workshops in April, with the next one being April 7. 

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.