Despite cuts, Sewanhaka budget maintains programs

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Sewanhaka school board President David Fowler (left) and district Superintendent Ralph Ferrie are seen at Tuesday's school budget hearing. (Photo by Kristy O'Connell)

By Kristy O’Connell

The Sewhanaka Central High School District will maintain current student programs for the sixth consecutive year if the proposed budget for the 2017-18 school year passes, Ralph Ferrie, the district superintendent, said Tuesday.

“The state is paying for a significant amount of projects that we are completing throughout the District,” Ferrie said at the district’s budget hearing.

The $193 million budget is 4.85 percent larger than the previous year, and proposes a 4.80 percent tax levy increase, the maximum allowed this year under the state’s tax cap law.

To meet the state tax cap limits, however, the district had to cut $1.17 million in spending

“We will able to do that without impacting student programs,” Ferrie said.

Ferrie said cost-cutting activities include staffing changes. The reductions will not require layoffs, though, since the district will simply not fill some positions of staff who have retired and reallocate others, he said.

Other cost-cutting measures include reductions in the district’s teacher pension contributions, health care costs and the combining of the district’s virtual academy with its Endurance Program, an alternative school program.

Most of this year’s proposed spending increase is driven by increased debt payments on the district’s $86.5 million bond, which voters approved in 2014 to fund various building projects.

Ferrie said more than half of the overall increase in spending is due to rising debt service payments.

Fortunately, Ferrie said, the amount of state aid has increased by more than $2.3 million to $37.8 million, and the anticipated state aid for building projects is nearly one-half of the debt service expense.

The funding for that debt service payment, however, has already been borrowed, so should the budget pass, such an increase in debt service expenditures like this year’s will not be seen moving forward, said Ferrie.

In addition, approximately $5.5 million will be available to apply to the 2017-18 budget due to the district’s savings from the current fiscal year.

Ferrie said the proposed budget will continue the implementation of the one-to-one “Future-Ready” Sewanhaka iPad program giving every district student an iPad over three years; maintain current staff levels; and continue the implementation of teaming and co-teaching at all five schools.

While maintaining all current educational and co-curricular programs, the budget also includes capital improvements including the completion of the third phase of the 2014 bond referendum work and projects under an energy performance contract.

The district also plans to launch additional capital projects in each of the high schools totaling $300,000.

These updates include the installation of a new lock system at all five of the schools; replacement of the entrance to the large courtyard at Elmont Memorial High School; installation of a vacuum pump unit and pipe insulation in the Floral Park Memorial High School gymnasium; replacement of aluminum window panels at H. Frank Carey High School and New Hyde Park Memorial High School; replacement of the girls’ locker room exterior door and the installation of safety glass in classroom doors at Sewanhaka High School.

“One of the things I think everyone in the community will be proud of is the condition of all of these buildings,” Ferrie said.

Ferrie emphasized staff and program maintenance, and summarized the budget as one that would continue to purchase new educational resources while maintaining special education resources and upgraded facilities.

“The bad news is, if we are in the same situation next year in terms of lack of state support, our big fear is that we won’t have anywhere else to get creative and are very concerned in terms of preserving our student programs,” Ferrie said.

District residents will vote on the budget from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16.

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