Elementary enrollment drop expected: Perez

Bill San Antonio

The Roslyn Board of Education continued its breakdown of the 2013-14 budget at its March 21 meeting with presentations in enrollment projections, salaries and benefits, and its fund balance. 

Though the school district projects a decrease in elementary enrollment for the upcoming school year, and a decrease in the number of full-time equivalent teacher positions it needs districtwide to coincide with the enrollment, the board thinks it is stable enough to not need an increase in the property tax levy.

“We are now in a better financial position than many of the school districts in Nassau County and I think that we can now afford to give some relief to taxpayers without jeopardizing the future,” said Joseph Dragone, assistant superintendent for business.

Carlos Perez, the district’s assistant to the superintendent for human resources, said in his enrollment presentation that Heights School would see a 14-student drop in enrollment, from 333 in 2012-13 to 319 in 2013-14. 

Perez projected only a two-student decrease at East Hills Elementary, which would be accompanied by the elimination of second grade class and the addition of  a third grade class.

The largest change in projected elementary enrollment came at Harbor Hill Elementary, where its 504 student total would be down 45 students from 2012-13’s student enrollment of 549.

Elementary enrollment had decreased, Brenner said, for three reasons: the increasing trend of Roslyn parents to enroll their kids in private pre-K and kindergarten programs, and crossing over into the district at later grades; a demand in the housing market that has kept younger families out of Roslyn; and a statewide decrease in the birth rate.

“In the context of the tax cap, decreasing the enrollment lessens the burden on the community,” Brenner said. “With decreased enrollment, you take away a section. Increased enrollment can be a nightmare for a district.”

According to Dragone’s presentation document, salaries and benefits would represent 81.87 percent of the budget, up from 81.77 percent in 2012-13. 

The largest increases budgeted toward benefits include the state employees retirement fund, with an 11.67 percent increase, the state teachers retirement fund, which increased 34.36 percent, and workers’ compensation, which increased 24.1 percent, according to Dragone’s presentation document.

Health insurance throughout the district also increased by .84 percent, which Dragone said was a misleading figure because Roslyn’s contracted employees have agreed to increase their individual contributions, so the health insurance burden on the district hasn’t changed that much.

The document also budgeted for a decrease of 6.36 full-time equivalent staff as reflected in Perez’s presentation. 

“Manhasset is about to implement an 8 percent tax levy increase,” Dragone said, “and the only reason some other districts aren’t presenting tax levy increases like that is because they’re eliminating 20 or 30 teaching positions.”

Roslyn’s flexibility in enrollment allows the district to move teachers from grade level to grade level, Dragone said. 

“Our school community has no idea what it has been protected from,” board President Meryl Waxman Ben-levy said. “So much of what conservative planning has provided for us even as those things we have been warned against are actually happening, we’ve been able to protect our budget and our school system from the adverse effects.”

“This is a different conversation at other districts, where you have to cut teachers as a result of the budget, but here it’s because of enrollment,” Trustee Clifford Saffron said. “It just goes to show how lucky we are.”

Dragone said the district budgeted for $99.4 million in revenues for the 2012-13 school year, but projected $94.7 million in expenditures, resulting in a net variance of $4,75 million.

Dragone said the board projects that $2.488 million of the $4.75 million will go toward lessoning the tax levy, $1 million toward the district’s capital reserve, and $1.3 million that has yet to be placed.

The board also addressed its dissatisfaction with the state education department’s changing of ELA and math requirements for elementary students.

Brenner cited a March 6 memo in which the state announced changes to its 2012-13 Grades 3-8 core assessments that would reflect benchmarks set by the Common Core State Standards, in an effort to get students reading at grade level and finding mathematical solutions to real-world problems.

The state predicted that the number of students who typically score at or above their grade level will likely decrease. The state also noted that the decrease in scores should not be interpreted as a decrease in learning or educator performance, but rather give a more honest understanding of how prepared students are for college-level performance. 

Brenner said the ELA sample he’d reviewed, a fiction passage at the fourth grade level, was from Tolstoy – not Tolstoy written at the fourth grade level, but the same translated read in college English courses.  

“It’s going to appear like Russian to our nine year olds,” he said. “And if it looks like Russian to them, imagine what it’d look like to students without our resources.”

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