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Community Voices Concerns with School Budget Plan

Restructuring, class size increases are points of contention at board meeting.


This is the second article of a two-part series
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Ellen Feldman, co-chair of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee, offered the Long Beach Board of Education a taste of the recommendations in their formal report on the school district’s proposed $122.1 million budget for 2012-13.

The committee of volunteers and school officials who study the new budget mostly focused on the high costs of health insurance, retiree benefits and workmen’s compensation, Feldman said when she addressed the board after the document was unveiled to a packed auditorium at the Long Beach Library last Tuesday. Other recommendations after forthcoming, too.

“Based on our research and the information supplied, we have noted that the Long Beach School District is grossly out of line with other Long Island school districts in terms of per pupil spending,” she said.

Feldman was among a number of residents who voiced concern about the new spending plan that is 2.9 percent increase over the current budget and comes without an increase to the operating costs but has a $3.9 percent, or $3.5 million, increase to the tax levy, the amount of money raised by taxes.

When Superintendent David Weiss and Chief Operating Officer Michael DeVito presented the proposed budget, they warned about the costs of voting it down, which would lead to a contingency budget that they characterized as potentially devastating to the schools.

The proposed budget, though, seeks reductions to part-time employees, substitute teachers and administrators. DeVito said a “fairly large number” of retirements are expected in June. But by not replacing all staff members and restructuring some positions and with a decline in overall student enrollment, especially at the middle school, the district will be able to maintain all services and programs. “We’re going to be doing some shifting of needs, and we feel we can afford to do that because the number of students has gone down,” DeVito said.  

Chris Connolly, a Point Lookout resident, believes that eliminating teachers’ aides represents a false savings. “You might save a few dollars in this budget, but it seems to me it might have a knock-on effect when you have to address or re-address problems that were not caught on an early level,” he said.

The district also looks to restructure administration, Weiss said, based in part on talks with residents who believe there are too many administrators. “We may be removing the function in the person of a dedicated individual; we will instead be spreading that function around,” he explained.  

Lynn Gergen, a former school board trustee, however, strongly encouraged the district not to eliminate the position of guidance director for grades 6 to 12. “That’s one of the most important positions ever,” she said.

Gerri Maquet and Jackie Miller, co-presidents of Central Council PTA, called on the district to maintain all programs and current class sizes. But through restructuring at the middle school, the average class size there is expected to rise from 20 to 25. “In middle school, that’s still very low and very manageable,” said Dr. Vincent Butera, assistant superintendent for curriculum.

Jennifer Sarafin, whose child will attend middle school next year, said the district promised last year that school classes would not increase when the honors program was replaced by heterogeneous classes. “So now, the teacher is going to have 25 kids, and the kid who is slower and doesn’t get it, she’s going to take up more time and the kid who gets it is going to be bored,” Sarafin said. “What happens then?”

Weiss called the measure a moderation to class sizes that still maintains the support structure. “This really is a tweak to class size,” he added.

An issue that threaded through the meeting was the absence of any line-by-line budget, whether in hard copy or posted on the district’s website. “When I see you’re cutting five full-time teachers from the middle school,” said resident Lisa Mackay, “it would be nice if you gave us the information from the principal on how you’re planning on doing this so we have a clue as to what we’re voting on, rather than just voting on numbers.”

Gergen said the community deserved to see a line-by-line document even of the proposed budget, and board trustee Darlene Tangney called on the superintendent to post it online. “I think everyone should get a line-by-line budget, I think it should be up on the website, I think you should have a hard copy in your hand,” Tangney said.

A detailed budget will be posted on the website, Weiss said, but he cautioned residents that it is still a work in progress and the numbers may change often.

“...[P]art of what we’ve been doing is a process, I think Mr. DeVito has led over the past few years, is to make sure that items in the budget are assigned to the correct code under the state rules, which allow for the kinds of comparisons that some in the audience have asked for,” he said. “You can’t do line by line if the content of those lines are in fact inaccurate.”

Weiss noted that he and administrators are available at board meetings and other forums to answer questions about the budget, and board President Dr. Dennis Ryan offered to postpone a work session on capital projects March 27 to devote the meeting to the budget.

The board will adopt the budget at the April 17 meeting, a budget hearing is scheduled for May 8, and the community will vote on the budget May 15. The seats of board trustees Darlene Tangney and Gina Guma are up for election.  

inplainsight March 19, 2012 at 12:03 PM
The guidance office is one of the busiest in the school and the director is very important. you cannot spread this out to someone with other responsibilities. A plan has to be adopted to deal with the rising pension costs, there is still a few more years of higher contributions. And please, stop holding the children hostage- "if you vote No", we cut this and that affecting the well rounded student we all pay for. No wonder there is such apathy in the vote.
Eddie March 19, 2012 at 12:05 PM
The district leaves the taxpayer no choice but to vote down the $500/year tax increase. Only a blind man can fail to see the absurd waste of money everywhere in the system. Homeowners certainly have no choice, and renters are looking at $50/month increases in their rents. The only ones who'll vote yes this are district employees, their families and those brainwashed to believe it will benefit "the kids". How can any rational person assess the taxpayer with a 5% increase in this economy?
inplainsight March 19, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Spread the work out to the principals and their staffs as it once was and start the cutting and saving at the highest administrators positions, most of the work is done by their staffs anyway. lower those positions from asst supt to supervisor or director and you will find qualified people at reduced costs.
Lloyd March 19, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Whatever happened to class sizes of 30-35 back in the "prehistoric'" days when teachers were paid about $4k yr? If you look at the statistics, there were Fewer dropouts back then and teachers worked and taught because they loved their job and it provided good vacations, benefits, and security. Now thety are spoiled by the school board with executive level salaries and expect to retire as millionaires......all on the taxpayers backs.
Lobster March 19, 2012 at 12:36 PM
"The committee of volunteers and school officials who study the new budget mostly focused on the high costs of health insurance, retiree benefits and workmen’s compensation" but they made no recommendations on these particular points, taboo subjects,yes? More retirements coming in June just equates to more taxpayer burden.
Castles Made of Sand March 19, 2012 at 01:03 PM
"voting it down, which would lead to a contingency budget that they characterized as potentially devastating to the schools"!!! Say it isn't so. We NEED that second stadium stadium built now more than ever. We could be thrust back into the days of education centric philosophies, separating students by abilities, my God, teachers might have to start saving for their retirement years. We might even have to de-fund the the IB program and get back to teaching American Exceptionalism in the classroom.
Lloyd March 19, 2012 at 03:00 PM
There was a time not too long ago when teachers and adminidtrators didnt get paid like Yankee starting pitchers, and class sizes were between 30-35 students. The U.S. was No. 1 in education, technology, inventions, exports, and manufacturing, Now we are rated about No. 15 in the world in education...behind North Korea and Zimbabwe, and China is pulling our strings and forging ahead of us. So maybe all our priorities are screwed up and this local school district arrangement shoukd be radically overhauled or scrapped altogether?
Misty March 19, 2012 at 03:42 PM
It's not the low-level employees that are sucking the schools dry, it's top heavy and needs to be pared down from there. The support staff are the hardest working people in the school district and the lowest paid.
The real bear March 19, 2012 at 03:57 PM
I agree with Misty.
Lloyd March 19, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Misty....Who said anything negative about the low level employees? They ate not the ones eith the six figure pensions and many of them sre just sides bsrrly making a minimum wage, but working just as hard and indispesible as those admins making 4 times their salary.
Lloyd March 19, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Sorry anout all the typos. Its very sunny out here on the beach.
Mr Dunes March 19, 2012 at 07:31 PM
In the late 90's The People actually stood up to the Budget and voted no. For people to fear monger and say a vote no is an attack on students, you're completely wrong.
Sidney March 19, 2012 at 11:59 PM
Its simple- just VOTE NO to the budget. The budget protects educational bureaucrats and not the taxpayer. The tax increase will be even greater than the percentage increase in budget outlays because there are fewer taxpayers living in the district and more illegals, and out of district kids from Rockaway and Brooklyn. Watch all the cleaning ladies from other areas picking their kids up from school in the afternoon along Broadway.
Kevin Martinsen March 20, 2012 at 02:24 AM
Eddie your concern about a raise in taxes is legitimate, however by voting "NO" on the budget would not only hurt our school district, but you would also see a decrease in property sales and cost. When families go out looking for a house to purchase, they have one main concerns on there mind and that is," how is the school district doing". In addition the increase is not because of the operating budget. They were able to keep the school district operating budget at a $0 increase. I would invite you to attend a school board meeting, there is one next Tuesday at the middle school. Come down and ask some questions. I hope you will see the benefits of re-considering your vote to a "YES" on the school budget.
Kevin Martinsen March 20, 2012 at 02:45 AM
Lloyd, I have two children in the school district and I am a property owner. I see no evidence of teachers in Long Beach not being passionate about there work. I don't understand your point about teachers making $4k a year or teachers retiring as millionaires. The teachers I know make a nice living but by no means are they killing it. It has been my personal experience that the public education system is a heck of a lot better then when I was a kid, with more opportunities for kids to do well. We should never be happy with the status quo. We should always be looking for better ways to teach our kids. Also be aware that the first thing that goes when you vote down the budget are the after school activities and Physcial Education. These kids will have nothing better to do after school, then to come down to the beach and hassle guys like you and I, while we are trying catch some of that awesome sun :)
Disgusted Homeowner March 20, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Yes and if the district went after them and decreased the enrollment wouldn't the district lose money from both the State and Fed
Eddie March 20, 2012 at 01:25 PM
So Keven, what you are saying, is that the taxes in my buildings should increase about $4500 so that the School District can baby sit your kids? Hire abysitter, and play ball with you kids, and don't expect us to pay for the ball.
Wallace Daily March 20, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Do you want to eliminate over 700 non-district residents from the LongBeach school system and do it easily? Students need to present a VALID social security card upon registration. EVERY United States citizen has one. LEGAL resident aliens residing in the district will have other supporting paperwork , of course. Why should our tax dollars go to pay for the education of kids that are LEGAL residents of Russia, Ireland, Mexico, Poland, etc? Just try going to one of those countries ILLEGALLY and sending your kid to school. The entire family will be on a plane out of the country by lunch time.
BB Boater March 20, 2012 at 09:36 PM
While you're at it, take a look at the new department directors' salaries that are more than $120,000 each. These newly created positions were up until a few years ago held by teachers who received a minor stipend in addition to teaching a full or almost full class load.
Samuel March 26, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Hey Kevin M. wake up- the property values of Long Beach District are based on proximity to the beach and water! Not the school district- if that was the case we would have the same values as Hicksvile or Valley Stream.
Kevin Martinsen March 27, 2012 at 04:37 AM
Samuel, Here is a quote from, The National Association of Realtors. "Of all the local neighborhood amenities that can influence a buyer's decision to purchase a home, proximity to good quality schools is one of the most influential. According to the 2010 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 25% of home buyers listed school quality and 19% listed proximity to schools as deciding factors in their home purchase. This Field Guide includes articles and studies on the importance of schools for home buyers and how schools impact local property values, along with a sampling of Web sites that provide data on school districts. (C. Dodge, Information Specialist)" In addition, I don't understand why you have to open up your statements with phrases like, "Wake UP"? If we were debating this face to face would you speak that way to me. I don't speak down to you so expect the same respect in return. Thank You.
Tyrell Johnson March 27, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Kevin, if you want to live in a Democrat-controlled crap-hole why don't you move to one of them instead of coming here and lobbying Long Beach into one. Since when does added spending and higher taxes equal better schools? Our school taxes have been increased 100% in the past fifteen years and yet our schools are among the lowest rated on Long Island. Our schools are right there with Roosevelt, Freeport, Lawrence and Central Islip, yet our spending is far higher, per student than any of those. Sam told you to "wake up" because you are simply puking up the union mantra of "more spending equals higher quality." Let me join him in telling you to wake up before your stupidity reduces your property values to those of Roosevelt.
Kevin Martinsen March 27, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Really? You made up a fake name to respond to my comment. How lame!
Knows When He Sees One March 27, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Doesn't matter who says it, Kevin. The truth is obvious. He's speaking the truth. You must be a pretty dim one to think that higher taxes yields excellence.
Overtime April 11, 2012 at 01:41 PM
May is coming.Time to put up or shut up!
Kevin Martinsen May 16, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Eddie I just want to be the first one to thank you for paying for my kids babysitting and their ball that we use to play catch with. Thanks for playing!
Kevin Martinsen May 16, 2012 at 03:28 AM
Boo Hoo you are going to have to pay more school taxes. Thanks for voting LOL!

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