Sewanhaka okays budget

James Galloway

A recently announced 7 percent increase in state aid has allowed the Sewanhaka school district to revise its $179 million budget proposal to restore a small portion of the teaching positions cut during the economic downturn.

In total, Sewanhaka received a 6.78 percent or $2 million increase in state aid from the 2014-15 school year, bringing total projected state aid for 2015-16 to $31 million.

Sewanhaka Superintendent Ralph Ferrie said at a recent budget presentation that the district would use the additional funds to restore four teaching positions to “address class size issues in mathematics and foreign language.”

In 2013-14, the district cut 17 teaching positions and four teaching assistant positions.

Sewanhaka’s tax levy would remain at $138.5 million, a 1.9 percent increase over this year’s budget. Total spending would increase by $3.5 million, just under 2 percent.

The Board of Education adopted the budget  following the presentation Thursday evening.

By percentage, state aid is more important to Sewanhaka than nearby districts. But Sewanhaka’s increase in aid by percentage was lower than neighboring districts even if the actual dollar amount was higher.

State aid for Great Neck School District increased by 12 percent, despite the fact that it has an enrollment of nearly 2,000 fewer students and a tax levy $11 million higher than Sewanhaka’s entire budget.

East Williston and Roslyn also saw their aid jump by more than 10 percent. All three districts, including Great Neck, spend upwards of $30,000 per student, about $10,000 more than Sewanhaka.

School districts received their aid projections unusually late this year as a dispute between the governor and state Legislature over education reforms threatened to tie up a 6.1 percent proposed increase in funding for public schools in the state budget.

Like all school districts statewide, Sewanhaka benefits this year from a decrease in employer pension contributions, which had ballooned in recent years as markets fared poorly.

Beyond the teacher additions using state aid, the budget includes a number of program enhancements including a talented and gifted program for seventh graders; rewritten seventh-grade curriculum in science, social studies and English; and expanded technology for staff. The adult education program would be maintained.

The budget also includes several capital projects, among them asbestos abatement, new athletic fields and new roofs at all five high schools.

Just outside the Board of Education meeting at Sewanhaka High School Thursday, a trash bin in the hall collected drips of water from a leak in the ceiling

“No more buckets in the hallways because the roofs will all be replaced this summer,” Ferrie said at the district’s first budget meeting.

He added at the initial budget meeting that the district is also looking to switch to gas from oil to reduce energy costs.

The Sewanhaka Central High School District comprises five high schools: Elmont, Floral Park, H. Frank Carey, Sewanhaka and New Hyde Park.

Students come from four feeder elementary school districts, including New Hyde Park-Garden City Park. Two Board of Education members from each feeder district make up Sewanhaka’s board.

The adopted budget proposal goes before voters on May 19.

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