Spending hike hits record low in East Williston school budget

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The Wheatley School is seen in Old Westbury.

The East Williston school board adopted a $58.3 million 2017-18 budget last Wednesday that school officials said keeps spending growth to historically low levels.

The 1.4 percent hike is tied with the current year’s budget for the smallest year-to-year spending increase in the last decade, said Stephan Leccese, chairman of the district’s Financial Advisory Committee.

If approved by voters in May, the budget would increase revenue from property taxes by 0.98 percent, less than the 1.48 percent hike allowed this year under the state’s tax cap law.

As they built the budget, administrators sought to keep the district’s long-term fiscal strength in mind while continuing to build its academic curriculum, Elaine Kanas, the district superintendent, said.

“We’ve never lost sight of what we do is the education of children, and we’re proud that we can continue to not only support our existing programs but offer new program initiatives that enhance our academic program on a much broader level,” the school board president, Mark Kamberg, said.

The district plans to continue, and in some cases finish, implementing long-term curricular plans, such as a four-year engineering program for ninth- through 12th-graders and a capstone course for high school seniors, Kanas said.

The programs have created educational opportunities that will pay for themselves once they are in place and teachers are trained to execute them, Kanas said.

The district also continues to make small repairs at its three schools as they’re needed, using capital reserve funds to pay for many projects — practices praised by its Capital Facilities Advisory Committee, Kanas said.

The district is seeking voter approval this year for $1 million in capital reserve spending for security vestibule fixes, landscaping, eco-friendly parking pavers along part of Downing Road, and field reconstruction and drainage at the North Side School’s baseball fields and basketball courts.

“This way, we’re spending smaller amounts of money now so we won’t need to be spending larger amounts of money otherwise,” or borrowing to cover construction costs, Kanas said.

East Williston has fared well relative to other districts under the state cap on property tax increases, deciding last year to keep its tax levy flat.

But a recent Financial Advisory Committee report found the district may have to cut as much as $39.2 million in spending over five years to keep to the tax cap’s limits. Cuts of that magnitude would only be required in the worst case scenario, and many other school districts will likely have to make similar adjustments, district officials said.

Leccese said the adopted budget shows the district has a transparent budgeting process and is making “investments relative to student achievements.”

The school board and administration have also secured labor agreements in recent years that keep spending increases to a minimum, Leccese said.

“They’ve done a very good job of engaging the key stakeholders to look at all areas within the budget and try to focus the ones that they have influence on,” he said.

District residents will vote May 16 on the budget and the $1 million capital reserve spending proposition.

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