This is the second article of a two-part series.
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.
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