Mineola school board OKs $89.7 million budget proposal

James Galloway

The Mineola Board of Education adopted its $89.7 million budget at its meeting Thursday, continuing its focus on technology and math with a small increase to the tax levy.

The budget, which adds four math-teacher positions to the district, is about $1.9 million higher than the current fiscal year’s budget, an increase in spending of 2.1 percent.

The tax levy, however, would increase by just 1.37 percent to $80.1 million, about $1.1 million higher than last year.

If voters approve the budget in May, the 2015-16 school year would be the eighth consecutive that Mineola’s tax levy increase would be less than 2.5 percent.

“We remain lower than the rest of the county by far,” Superintendent Michael Nagler said at the district’s board meeting Thursday. “We’ve been able to do that four years prior to the tax cap being implemented — Mineola has flat-lined” its tax levy.

Mineola spends about $33,000 per student, on par with districts such as Great Neck and East Williston and significantly higher than Herricks and Manhasset. Nagler said the district benefits by a large commercial sector, which contributes property taxes without adding students.

“We have a large commercial tax base that offsets the residential tax base and therefore…it’s a wealthier district but not necessarily because” residents are wealthier, he said. “The flip side of the commercial base is that the taxes in Mineola are relatively lower than the surrounding areas.”

The four math teaching positions, which would be split between the middle and high schools, would allow the Mineola to offer double periods of math for students, Nagler said.

Nagler has said the district’s goal is to get all students to pass trigonometry, a class he called one of the “gatekeepers to college.

 At Thursday’s board meeting, he said that after district experimented with spreading trigonometry over two years, it found students were more successful with double periods and increased “time on task.”

“We have much greater success with a double period, but that increases staff,” he said.

Mineola already teaches algebra, typically a ninth grade class, to all eighth graders to allow students provide students who need it additional time to learn higher-level math in later grades.

“We’re trying to get every student through trigonometry,” Nagler said. “In order to do that we’ve started algebra in the eighth grade.”

The cost of the additional teaching positions is offset by a number of retirees at higher salaries.

The budget would also add several other programs to the curriculum, including the expansion of science labs for kindergarten through second grade, add third grade to the Spanish immersion program and increase staff for project-based learning for middle schoolers, where they work independently to complete tasks.

Two of the more interesting projects included in the budget are the creation of a robotics lab at the high school and an interactive electronic learning space at the Jackson Avenue School called a SMALLab, which teaches science by incorporating student movement on a large digitally-projected map on the ground.

In a video Nagler showed at the board meeting, students hand movements would impact frequencies and waves on the ground to represent color frequencies.

“I think that something like the SMALLab is going to be so great for kids that need to move to learn and kids that need to learn in ways that don’t get addressed in the traditional classroom,” board member Margaret Ballantyne said.

Non-instructional spaces, such as cafeterias, would also receive air conditioning under the budget, which board members said is particularly important to areas where state tests are administered.  

The three non-incumbent candidates — Joy Renner, Mark Swensen and Brian Widman — running for Mineola’s Board of Education all attended the board meeting and budget presentation Thursday, as did Christine Napolitano, the vice president of the board.

Correction: A previous version of this article had the incorrect first name of school board candidate Brian Widman. It is Brian, not Josh.

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