In 2015-16, Bierwirth looks to add services

James Galloway

Herricks Superintendent John Bierwirth recently released his budget recommendations for the 2015-16 fiscal year, saying that for the second-straight year the district will need to make no cuts and can even look to add additional ones.

Bierwirth’s budget memo suggests the district is on the rebound after the financial downturn and a restricting tax cap decimated the district’s staff and programming for years.

Building on preliminary gains in 2014-15, Bierwirth projected that in addition to maintaining all current services, the district could also pursue a number of one-time and recurring expenditures, most notably 15 additional teaching positions, increased investments in technology, rebuilding the transportation fleet and creating a capital project reserve.

The memo also includes encouraging cost and revenue projections through fiscal year 2017-18, which suggest that “based on reasonably conservative assumptions” the superintendent’s recommended budget additions could be sustained through at least then.

“It’s important we don’t add something now that we would have to turn around and cut a year from now or two years from now,” Bierwirth said later in a phone interview.

The Herricks Union Free School District has about 3,900 students and comprises five schools: Center Street, Denton Avenue, Searingtown, Herricks Middle School and Herricks High School. The superintendent’s budget memo represents Herricks administrators’ suggestions to the Board of Education as it develops the budget to go before voters in May.

The most significant boon for the district this year, Bierwirth said, came in the form of a decrease in employer pension contributions, which over the last 15 years had ballooned to 17.53 percent from 0.36 percent.

The memo predicts that contributions may have peaked last year. And favorable investment returns led the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System to estimate the rate will drop to between 13 and 13.5 percent for next year.

Each percentage point dropped, Bierwirth said, represents about $500,000 in savings for the district, and the total savings will likely exceed $2 million.

In addition to the teaching positions, which would lower class sizes at all levels, the memo includes several other recurring costs for the district, including a $150,000 increase in the annual technology budget and the restoration of 11 assistant coach positions eliminated due to budget cuts, which would total about $50,000 per year.

Creating a capital project reserve, which the memo recommends, would need to be approved by voters in May independently of the budget.

Previously, Bierwirth said, capital projects were funded through bond issues and the district’s general fund. But the creation of the reserve, according to the memo, would give the district the ability to address major capital projects “in a more flexible and timely fashion.”

“Instead of waiting for something to become irreparable and, thereby, become ineligible to be replaced on an emergency basis or held aside until enough projects had accumulated to put out another bond, the District would be able to tap the reserve,” the memo states.

The reserve would not eliminate the need for “periodic bond issues,” according to the memo, but the freedom of the reserve could lead to some savings for the district.

“The District will be more likely to minimize the cost of repairs and ancillary damage caused when something is in the last stages of decline,” the memo says.

The bond recommended by administrators would have a 10-year life and $5 million maximum. The initial $750,000, according to the memo, could come from excess funding in the district’s unemployment reserve, which is anticipated to have a surplus due to a “favorable contract agreement with the teachers.”

The possible capital improvements listed in the memo for the next four years total $13.38.

The memo also suggests a number of one-time expenditures to come from the general budget, including two new buses, a computerized lunch system and technology upgrades, such as iPads for students and high-quality laptops for teachers.

The memo predicts the district’s revenue total from all sources in 2015-16 will be about $108 million, with a base cost of $104.5 million to maintain current services. It anticipates the tax cap limit for 2015-16 to be 1.62 percent and estimates a 3.5 percent increases in state aid per year until 2018-19.

Last year, voters approved a $107.59 budget and $3.5 million bond for Herricks by a 2 to 1 margin.

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