School Budget: Looking Ahead

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apAt the March 31 Great Neck Public Schools Board of Education’s second budget hearing, much discussion focused on the board’s strong, continuing commitment to class size and the long-term planning that is involved in the school district’s financial plans. The proposed budget for the 2014-2015 school year is $213,502,695. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Dolan has termed this proposed budget “a strong foundation for future budgets.”

Dolan opened the March 31 informal budget hearing by expressing extreme disappointment in the district’s very small increase in state aid. He said that despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo adding much state aid for schools in the final budget, the Great Neck district would only receive an extra $186,000. And while the governor touted great increases for pre-kindergarten programs, Great Neck’s funding would remain frozen, as it has been for many years.

As for the property tax freeze, Dolan said that, at this point in time, “there is very little (information) available.”

According to Dolan, at this time, the budget is largely the same as first introduced weeks earlier, but recommendations from his office will come later on. The final numbers will not come until mid-April.

Dolan then, once again, emphasized the district’s “commitment to low class size.” Great Neck schools have the lowest class size numbers in Nassau County. He reported that the administration carefully watches the student numbers for next year; they especially closely watch any classes that come close to the district’s limits; they also have faculty available if new classes must be added.

While some parents in the audience questioning funds needed to maintain the small class size commitment (Kindergarten classes are limited to 19 students; first and second grade, limited to 22 students; third, fourth and fifth grade limited is 24 students), Dolan again stated the value of an eduction in a small-class setting. Trustee Donald Ashkenase stressed that this is “the highest value of the school board.”

Dolan also spent considerable time detailing the steps taken to reduce budget costs. He said that already $320,000 has been cut, half from the elementary level budgets and half from the secondary school budgets.

The cuts were recommended at the building levels. Cuts were not made in instruction (teachers), but were made in hours (hourly teachers). Also, some savings were made by not hiring to replace some retirements. For example, in the case of the retiring school registrar, no one will be hired, but the work will go to existing employees.

John Powell, assistant superintendent for business, emphasized that the school budget is “a continuing process.”

When audience questions arose concerning long-term planning, members of the school board spoke up, explaining how the Board of Education has always addressed long-term plans, very often discussing the issues at school board public action meetings. “We do not just look at the budget for each year … we always look ahead,” stated Board President Barbara Berkowitz. “We are keeping our programs alive and well,” she added.

Vice President Lawrence Gross added that they are currently working with a five-year plan and looking beyond that as well. “We believe in public education,” Gross said.

“We are constantly re-evaluation,” Berkowitz said. “Things are happening everyday,” added Trustee Monique Bloom.

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