School Budget Proposal Doesn’t Tax To The Max

The Phipps Administration Building, which serves as the office for 70 school-district employees, was originally the 39-room Georgian mansion of Henry Phipps.

The 2019–20 Great Neck Public Schools (GNPS) budget will address an increase in student enrollment across Great Neck, as well as a timely need for enhanced security and mental-health services, according to the current proposal.

The changes addressed in this year’s budget also include building projects and other expenses, such as an addition of one “section,” or class, at John F. Kennedy, E.M. Baker and Saddle Rock elementary schools, along with the creation of a new prekindergarten program at JFK.

In an effort to enhance security, this year’s and next year’s budget will also provide funding to purchase thousands of ID badges that all North and South High students will use for identification and access to the building. The badges, to be introduced next school year, are “to be worn at all times [as] one more security measure,” Board of Education President Barbara Berkowitz, said.

The district hopes to eventually give ID badges to all secondary school students, according to Berkowitz.

The new budget also outlines an increase in psychologists and social workers, according to Dr. Joseph Hickey, assistant superintendent for special education and pupil services.

“The additional staffing allowed us to assign one full-time social worker to each of our high schools and better schedule the psychological services that we provide to both GNPS and the private schools within our community,” Hickey said.

In light of recent tragedies, the increased mental-health services will dually serve as another security measure, according to Berkowitz.

Hickey also cited an overall increase in students with Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, during the past two years.

For the 2016–17 school year, 989 students had an IEP. That number increased to 1,098 this school year. The preliminary budget subsequently reflected this increase.

Though the new budget hopes to meet a multitude of new needs, Berkowitz stressed that the budget was prepared with both the students and taxpayers in mind.

“We’re very proud we don’t tax to the max,” Berkowitz said in a March 23 budget meeting at South High. “The administration sets this budget based on exactly what is needed. We, the administration and the board, have to honor our responsibility to be fiscally responsible.”

Yet, even with fiscal responsibility, the cost of instruction for students at GNPS next year will remain among the highest in the state.

According to John T. Powell, assistant superintendent of business and finance, the approximate cost of instruction will be about $16,000 per elementary student and about $23,000 per secondary student in the next academic year. However, the approximate cost of instruction for special-education students will be about $80,000 for elementary school children and $92,000 for secondary students.

Powell also noted that the cost of instruction for each pupil is not the same as the total budget divided by enrollment. Rather, they are two are very different numbers due to “revenues that reduce those expenditures,” as well as other costs that don’t go toward instruction, like buses, buildings and maintenance.

During the meeting, Berkowitz also said that it is a “very unusual time in history for all of us here in Nassau County,” in terms of taxes.

“We’re dealing with reassessment of homes,” she said. “For 50 percent, probably of our population, they will see a reduction in taxes, but for the other 50 percent, they will see an increase in their property taxes.”

Though James Daszenski, president of the Great Neck Teachers Association (GNTA), commended the board for their moves to address problems, such as security and class size, speaking on behalf of the GNTA, Daszenski hoped for the preliminary budget to be altered in order to address unmet needs.

“The district is proposing to tax well under its potential to generate revenue,” Daszenski said. “While we are not suggesting that the district tax to the max, this preliminary budget leaves behind approximately $4 million in untapped revenue without addressing several critical issues.”

Daszenski specifically commented on how the proposed budget needed to do more to address the high needs of the ENL (English as a New Language) population and the starkly low salaries of GNPS school nurses.

“Our nurses, when they start here in the district, are offered a salary that is approximately half what they would make if they were to go work in an emergency room in a hospital,” Daszenski said. “On more than one occasion we’ve had qualified candidates not even consider an interview once they learned what the salary would be.”

Daszenski addressed the board by saying that undertaxing the Great Neck residents will set a bad precedent for years to come.

Rather, he insisted that the district access the additional dollars to meet the aforementioned needs.

“The district, in our opinion, has the funds,” said Daszenski. “We are asking that you find the will to invest in personnel for the benefit of our students.”

In response, Dr. Teresa Prendergast, superintendent of schools, noted that the budget is not final, and that multiple aspects are still being worked on.

“There are still some moving parts before we are in a position to submit a final budget for you to consider for adoption,” Prendergast said.

The official budget hearing and adoption will be held on Tuesday, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. at North Middle, 77 Polo Rd.

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