The West Hempstead school board warned residents that significant program cuts are looming if the board’s revised budget is voted down.
During a May 31 meeting, assistant superintendent Joel Press unveiled to the West Hempstead school board a revised budget of $71.2 million, a reduction of about $190,000 from the board’s first proposed budget, which was voted down on May 17, the only school budget on Long Island to fail.
If the revised plan also fails, the school district would be forced to adopt a contingency budget, a reduction of nearly $1 million.
Press said that under a contingency budget, the average single-family homeowner in West Hempstead would pay roughly $153 less in taxes than under the revised budget. Several board trustees stressed that this sum is small compared to the potential cuts to services that would occur under a contingency plan. “It’s two pairs of shoes,” said board vice president Patricia Greaves. “Or a cheap cup of coffee,” Press added, “at 43 cents a day.”
Press and the board described what could be lost for the price of “two pairs of shoes.” Press said that under a contingency plan the district would have to consider increasing class sizes due to staff reductions, eliminating athletics, clubs and extra-curricular activities, reducing elective course offerings and limiting the use of district facilities by outside groups.
“And we’d have to look at transportation very, very closely,” Press said, adding that reductions to transportation could see the district introduce “centralized pickup” for students going to school out-of-district, with fewer buses taking them from fewer central locations.
Several community members raised concerns about the role of reserve funds in the budget. Unused funds from previous budgets are generally placed into reserves, rather than reinvested in other projects. One member of the public even hinted that the district was “hiding something” in the use of funds. Press said that state law restricted the allocation of that money, and that new budgets are generally drawn and adopted before the end of the fiscal period when the board can see what funds have not been used.
“This is a very transparent process,” said trustee-elect Byars Cole. “I know how efficiently we
run this district. Any notion that there’s something being hidden, please encourage your friends and neighbors to look, to listen to this presentation.”
Press added, “If there are questions, feel free to reach out to me or the central office. I encourage people, if they do have questions, to call.”
Cole urged residents to consider what a contingency budget would mean for the schools. “I welcome the community to be a part of this,” Cole said. “I encourage all of us to go out and talk to our friends and neighbors in this community and let them know how important this is. To think that we could potentially vote this budget down again and go to a contingency budget which would save this community, what, two pairs of shoes, two tanks of gas, at the expense of our children, our community?”
The school board is scheduled to meet in West Hempstead High School on Tuesday, June 7 at 7:30 p.m. to adopt the revised budget, which will be put before voters on June 21. The trustees encouraged the public to attend the meeting and ask any questions they want about the revised