New electives, modernized classrooms are focus of Roslyn superintendents’ proposed additions for 2019-20

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Allison Brown, superintendent of the Roslyn School District, proposed a list of construction projects to be funded by the 2015 capital reserve. (Photo by Teri West)

The Roslyn School District kicked off budget season Thursday night with assistant superintendents outlining desired new programming – from computer science lessons to ballroom dancing – followed by the reveal of the estimated budget for the 2019-20 school year.

Next year’s estimated budget currently totals to $113.5 million, which is 3.22 percent higher than last year’s after being slimmed down considerably during its preparation, said Joseph Dragone, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and administration.

That figure will likely continue to slim, he said.

He also estimated that the district would end the current school year with a $5.8 million surplus.

“That budget number and that estimate is a really, really healthy starting point,” said Board of Education President Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy.

The bulk of the increase in the budget is a result of five groups of expenses: contract services, employee benefits, capital funds restoration, salaries and tuition, particularly tuition devoted to students with special needs who require services outside of the school district.

Those five budget items are up $3.43 million when combined, Dragone said.

He estimated salary expenditures to increase by $1.5 million, the most significant of the five big-ticket groups, Dragone said.

At about $55 million, salaries are always responsible for consuming the largest chunk of the budget, he said. The increase next year, however, is due to new teacher contracts responsible for raises, which Dragone so far has only been able to guess at, and teachers moving up the pay scale as they gain seniority.

The district’s two assistant superintendents pitched curriculum to the board – primarily new electives for secondary students and additional pullout programming for primary – as well as redesigned classrooms to promote modern learning through materials like standing desks and additional Chromebooks.

One new technology program for elementary students that Karina Baez, the
assistant superintendent for elementary education, proposed is a self-directed computer science program called kidOYO.

Through the program, students would earn badges as they complete educational challenges, eventually gaining Stonybrook University computer science students as mentors in their learning, Baez said.

She also suggested introducing cognitive behavioral therapy and a ballroom dancing program to enhance student mental wellness.

“Through dance, social skills are enhanced,” Baez said. “It’s also a way of encouraging self-expression through movement.”

Eighth graders in the district should get Chromebooks, said assistant superintendent for secondary education Michael Goldspiel.

The district should also continue hosting “science café” seminars with professors and other professionals in science fields for middle school students during lunch, he said.

“They’re middle schoolers, but we’re noticing that when we expose these kids to their interest whether it be scientists coming in or coding professors or comp sci professors, it’s sticking with them,” Goldspiel said.

He proposed several how-to-style courses for high schoolers, including an “adulting” course that would cover issues such as consent and self-care and a business basics course.

The foreign language department could add a Spanish course focused on tourism as well as Mandarin 4 and 4 honors, he said.

The high school is also ready to launch the next course in the INCubatoredu program, an entrepreneurship program that Roslyn was the first in the state to introduce into schools, Goldspiel said. The new phase, called “ACCELeratoredu,” is for students who have already designed a business in INCubatoredu and are ready to launch it.

The district has about $7.4 million in its 2015 capital reserve fund that expires in 2025, and Superintendent Allison Brown proposed a list of facilities projects that she said deserve funding.

Five she deemed most important were renovations to the high school girls locker room, Harbor Hill School and Heights School playgrounds, middle school interior doors, building exterior doors and high school science rooms.

“We have kids that we believe…that are going to cure cancer,” Brown said, “That are going to do things for all of our children and grandchildren. We’ve got to give them state of the art science labs.”

She additionally proposed a walkway and spectator area for the high school’s tennis courts, a Heights School gymnasium renovation and renovated ceilings and lighting for the high school main gymnasium and Heights School gymnasium.

Together, all of the projects total about $6 million, she said.

Dr. Alison Gilbert, a clinical psychologist, parent of two young district students, and one of the few meeting attendees, said budget discussions mark her favorite time of year, during the public comment period following the presentations.

“It’s just amazing to see such creative, innovative, brilliant people working together to brainstorm to teach our young people,” she said.

Gilbert highlighted her support for several proposed initiatives including the “adultling” course for high schoolers.

She treats young people who develop mental illnesses in their transition from high school to college, and guidance for launching into college while students are still in high school would help, she said.

“They get into school and they’re just inundated and overwhelmed and they get sick,” Gilbert said. “And so I think just across the board giving everyone those skills is essential.”

On March 7, the board will host budget presentations about transportation, physical education, health, athletics, technology and capital and facilities.

Presentations on the office of pupil personnel services and special education, enrollment, personnel and salary and benefits will follow on April 4.

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