LIPA payments drive change in East Williston school levy

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The East Williston school district’s tax levy could see a larger tax levy increase next school year than originally expected, district administrators said last Wednesday.

The proposed $57.7 million 2016-2017 budget includes a revised 0.47-percent, $52,685,359 increase in the tax levy, up from the 0.35-percent increase Assistant Superintendent for Business Jacqueline Pirro presented Feb. 24.

The number was changed to account for payments in lieu of taxes for the current and coming school year from the Long Island Power Authority, Pirro said, the subject of a lawsuit East Williston and dozens of other Nassau County school districts filed against LIPA and Nassau County in January.

The revised tax levy increase is still below the district’s allowable hike of 0.89 percent.

The proposed budget includes more spending for technology and less for personnel expenses, district administrators said Wednesday.

The budget would allocate revenues toward maintaining small class sizes, increasing student access to technology, increased targeted student support and ground maintenance, in addition to implementing a capital reserve as a form of insurance against unexpected costs.

The school district will conduct a technological overhaul by deploying 300 Google ChromeBooks to incoming seventh- and eighth-graders and 75 new Apple MacBooks, along with replacing all servers district-wide, and other technology products.

The district will continue teacher training in technology, said David Casamento, director of science and technology.

Director of Pupil Personnel Services Shari Senzer presented the board with a $2.6 million budget, a $425,000 decline from this year, primarily as a result of a number of students reaching the maximum age of 21.

The district’s proposed athletic budget would drop slightly to $842,610.

The budget reflects a 1.83-percent increase from the current year to maintain and expand the district’s educational programs, Pirro said.

The overall budget is designed to “enhance the alignment of resources to support student and program growth,” Pirro said, highlighting the district’s 127 AP Scholars, a U.S. Presidential Scholar Nominee, and five National Merit Finalists, in addition to the district’s recent athletic achievements.

The three biggest expenditures are special education, technology and athletics for the ninth-rated district in New York State, which currently spends about $30,809 per student annually, roughly triple the national average.

The main budget drivers were identified as staff salaries and health insurance, followed by technology equipment and support, with respective proposed increases of 4.08 percent, 5.85 percent and 21.73 percent.

District contributions to the state Teacher’s Retirement System would see the starkest decrease of 7 percent, or $239,000.

Proposed health and safety capital projects include exterior lighting upgrades and interior door replacements at the Wheatley School, ceiling-hung ventilator replacements and concrete replacement at Willets Road School.

North Side School would receive cornice replacement and strobe light installation as needed for all areas of public assembly, Pirro said.

If the budget were to be voted down twice, the district would take on a contingency budget, leaving the district without an appropriate fund balance, Pirro said.

“The 2 percent we hear about is just one part of a complex eight-step formula,” Pirro said. “Although the law has been referred to as a ‘2-percent tax cap,’ it does not in fact restrict any proposed tax levy increase to 2 percent.” 

The final budget workshop and deliberations will be held March 16. The school board will vote to adopt the budget March 30. District residents will vote on the budget May 17 in the Wheatley School gymnasium from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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