Manhasset ed board budget exceeds tax cap

Bill San Antonio

The Manhasset School District Board of Education last week unanimously approved a $89,296,198 budget for the 2013-14 school year that exceeds the state-mandate tax cap.

The budget, which calls for a 2.56 percent rise in spending over the 2012-13 school year, would require a 5.98 increase in the tax levy and necessitate a 60 percent supermajority from voters to be adopted.

School officials said they were optimistic that the budget would gain sufficient support to meet the supermajority threshold.

“I am confident that when our community takes a step back and studies the overall implications of the May 21 vote, our residents will achieve the 60 percent majority needed to approve the budget,” Manhasset Superintendent of Schools Charles Cardillo said. “We are one of the premier public school districts in America, who, for the past five years have been able to sustain excellence while exhibiting great fiscal responsibility as evidenced by our budgets during each of these years.”

The final budget figure is down from the 2.71 percent budget-to-budget increase and 6.47 percent tax levy increase announced April 4 and considerably lower than the initial 4.61 percent budget-to-budget increase and 8.78 percent tax levy increase that was introduced March 2.

If the budget is not passed after two votes, the district must decrease its 2013-14 adopted budget by $4,533,671, to $84,762,527, Cardillo said.

That number, Cardillo said, is $2,306,897 less than the current 2012-13 budget.

“When people say, ‘vote no twice,’ to go down to the allowable tax cap, here’s the problem with that,” Cardillo said. “You’re then reducing it down by at least $4.5 million down from the preliminary working budget, and it’s impractical for us to be doing that.”

If further cuts are necessary, board members said they would plans cut 11 full-time equivalent teacher positions from the elementary level, 10 full-time equivalent teacher positions from the secondary level, and eliminate all interscholastic athletic programs and other before- and after-school programs.

“Even one failed vote, depending on what happens, could significantly undermine the programs, and once you get to that point, under the tax cap, you simply never recover,” Deputy Superintendent for Business and Finance Rosemary Johnson said. “That is why the first vote is absolutely so critical.”

The board was aided in their efforts to reduce the budget by a new state pension contribution stabilization program, which Cardillo said will reduce the working budget by approximately $1.2 million. 

Cardillo said state-mandated pension contributions to the teachers retirement system were 16.25 percent higher than last year’s and have increased 262 percent since 2009-10. Contributions to the employee retirement system, which increased 20.90 percent since last year, have increased 299 percent since 2009-10, he said.

The board eliminated $526,964 from the budget by cutting four proposed teacher’s aid positions throughout the elementary and secondary education levels, as well as one kindergarten section at Munsey Park Elementary School and one second grade section at both Munsey Park and Shelter Rock elementary schools.

“When people take a step back and really look at this and say that we have over the top spending and so forth, that is really an incredibly inaccurate statement,” Cardillo said.

Over the last four years, the district has each year increased its budget by an average of 2.02 percent and its tax levy by 1.69 percent, numbers Cardillo said are much better than county averages over the same span.

As a result, the board has become concerned that the public may only feel comfortable passing a budget in which spending is kept low, even if programs are affected in the process.

“Here we sit at our number and that 2.02 number over the last four years really has not changed, and at some point it needs to change,” Manhasset school board President Carlo Prinzo said. “We need to grow with the times. The community needs to understand that we need to spend the money to support the educational process, because it needs to grow.”

“It always astounds me, we send kids to Yale and to every great college and university in this country,” Prinzo added. “We send to kids to Europe. At some point, we have to figure out that we have to spend. It’s not going to happen in the box that we’re building and to keep squeezing and squeezing and squeezing just doesn’t work.”

While the board initially had not budgeted to use reserves, it now plans to use $249,943 taken from the more than $200,000 in the district’s fund balance as well as use transfers from a worker’s compensation reserve and a employee retirement reserve. 

“We were ahead of the curve [compared with other districts] with respect to the use of reserves to offset the tax levy, others are simply starting to catch up,” Johnson said. “It’s not a pattern, they haven’t followed that pattern. So although though their budget, they’re keeping their tax levy lower than their allowable cap by doing what we did years ago.”

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