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In North Shore School District budget talks, tax questions loom

Class size, LIPA settlement are budget unknowns

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Looming over budget discussions in the North Shore School District this year is an open question: How much will property taxes rise after the Long Island Power Authority recently won a tax-certiorari case focusing on a Glenwood Landing property that will, over time, cut its taxes in half?

With less revenue coming into the district, taxes for homeowners will likely increase. Exactly how much, however, is uncertain, as is when the settlement will take effect.

“We don’t know where it’s going to be,” Board of Education Vice President Dave Ludmar said at the Feb. 7 board meeting, comparing the unpredictability of the tax increase to that of a hurricane and saying the district has reserve funds to help cover the revenue shortfall.

LIPA currently pays $17.3 million in school taxes per year. The district has $16.3 million in reserves, district Superintendent Dr. Peter Giarrizzo said, and its proposed tax levy is $91 million.

With this concern in the background, North Shore officials recently presented a $110.6 million budget for the 2020-21 school year, which, if approved by voters, would raise spending by 2.6 percent over the current year’s $107.8 million budget, Giarrizzo said.

The biggest spending increases are for instruction — $1.8 million — and employee benefits — $1 million. Drilling down further, the key budget drivers, Giarrizzo said, are increases for new classroom technologies, contributions to the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System and health insurance.

On the technology side, Giarrizzo said the district is looking to move toward a new student management system, which he described as the “nervous system” of the district. North Shore has used PowerSchool for many years, but Giarrizzo said it is outdated.

“The transcript work for the system is not as powerful as we would like it to be,” he said. “It doesn’t integrate with all of our systems in a way that we want it to, and so we’ll be making a recommendation to upgrade that student management system.”

Transitioning to a new system will take a year, he added. The district is looking to use Infinite Campus as its new system, Giarrizzo said, and the transition should cost $140,959.

The district also has funding set aside for additional staff if they are needed, Giarrizzo said. He said student enrollment is fluid, and the district can never predict how many kindergartners will enroll in the district, nor how many students will enroll in certain courses. A total of $120,343 has been set aside across the district, the first time this funding has been earmarked during the tenure of Giarrizzo, whose first budget was for the 2018-19 school year.

As of now, funding is set aside for increased math support at all elementary schools. North Shore Middle School could receive funding for extra English as a New Language and reading staff, as well as an eighth-grade dance course that could be taken in lieu of phys. ed. Additional funding could also be provided to North Shore High School for mandated support for ENL students, Mandarin courses, an advanced dance class, and a music production and technology course.

After Giarrizzo’s presentation, school board trustees expressed their approval of the first draft of the budget, provided there are contingencies in place to account for unknown factors such as student enrollment next year and the LIPA settlement. If elementary enrollment increases by more than predicted, Giarrizzo said, the district could add a class in a given grade.

Ludmar noted that there is a distinct difference between having 20 and 25 students in a kindergarten class, and having the ability to add new sections to maintain lower class sizes will be important going forward.

“These numbers look right to me,” Ludmar said. “I’m glad we have a contingency position . . . It always gets spiky here and there, and when that happens, we’ll adjust.”

The board will hold its budget meeting in the North Shore High School library on Feb. 27 at 7:45 p.m.