The Long Beach Board of Education devoted a work session on capital projects to the proposed 2012-13 budget, which turned into a three-hour meeting when the Citizen’s Budget Advisory Committee giving its report on the $122.1 million spending plan.
Lilly Newman, a member of the advisory committee of volunteers and school officials who study the new budget, proposed a reassessment of benefits such as workers compensation and medical and dental, as well as several other areas the committee believes the school district has over compensated their employees.
“It’s the big gorilla in the room,” Newman said. “No one wants to talk about it, and it’s the second largest expense category that we have.”
According to Newman, the Long Beach School Board allocated $30 million to benefits in the proposed budget, including a $4 million increase in health insurance over two years, half a million more than the projected increase for the total budget ($3.5 million).
The committee compared health insurance costs with similarly sized neighboring school districts and discovered that Rockville Centre is spending $4.9 million less than Long Beach, while Oceanside is spending $3.3 million less.
“Long Beach is doing something wrong,” Newman said. “Health insurance makes up almost half of all the other fringe benefits combined.”
She added that Long Beach also pays roughly $600,000 more than Rockville Centre and close to $300,000 more than Oceanside in workers compensation benefits.
“Today, when every dollar counts, these are vast differences we really have to think about,” Newman said. “We don’t want to see our employers lose their jobs and we don’t want to see our students lose programs.”
The board thanked the committee for their report, although they didn’t directly comment on its specifics after its presentation.
Meanwhile, Long Beach teachers, parents and community members had time to research the district’s proposal after it was first unveiled to a packed auditorium at the Long Beach Library on March 13, and many voiced their concerns with the some of the suggested cuts.
Several people asked the board to reconsider proposed cuts in various departments, including music, guidance and special education, as well as a number of other areas, including teachers’ assistants.
"With our Ivy [League] push in high school, and our increased need to succeed in four-year colleges, is it wise to cut back on this department,” one commenter asked about a proposal to make cuts in the guidance department.
Dr. Dennis Ryan agreed with those who were most concerned about reductions in guidance, and he asked the board to look into making cuts to clubs in order to save reductions to first grade teaching assistant positions.
“We’re not going to put music against athletics, we’re not going to put elementary against middle [school], and middle against high school because we are one unit,” Ryan said.
While Ryan and other board members agreed that they were concerned with some of Superintendent David Weiss’s proposed cuts, he commended the first year superintendent for the budget package.
“It’s a sort of democratic budget,” Ryan said to Weiss. “You've picked on every area of the district, and you haven't shown any discrimination and I know that’s a difficult thing to do.”