Port Washington schools may pierce tax cap for 2016-17 budget

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Port Washington Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Mooney on Wednesday defended the possibility of the district exceeding the state-mandated tax cap in developing the 2016-17 budget, 

“I think those who have taken the time to come out to the meetings and understand the details, they will be more supportive of the budget,” Mooney said, a day after a heated public hearing in which some parents expressed objections to any budget that exceeded the tax cap.

Port Washington school officials announced on Feb. 23 that they considering a tax hike that exceeds a projected 0.85 tax cap to accommodate the district’s growing student enrollment.

Officials at the meeting said they need to spend more than $1.5 million in new hires to deal with an increasing in student enrollment.

Board members said they are considering other options as well such as staying within the 0.85 tax cap. Another option would be exceeding the tax cap but still keeping the increase under 2 percent. 

Several residents who attended a standing-room only community forum at Paul D. Schreiber High School on Tuesday expressed opposition to the district exceeding the tax cap.

“We as taxpayers and parents have to live within our budget,” said Marybeth Tarder, a parent of five, according to Newsday. “I would appreciate if the district within theirs.

But others defended the possibility of exceeding the tax cap.

Michelle Duran, co-president of the Manorhaven elementary school PTA, said at the forum she’s witnessed first-hand the squeeze on class sizes and how the district has no choice but to exceed the tax cap. 

Mary Callahan, assistant superintendent of business for the school district, said the district needs to exceed the tax cap to hire enough teachers to accommodate the more than 100 students who have enrolled in the past year.

“Classrooms should not be larger and there becomes an issue of teachers not having enough time,” Callahan said. 

She said that if the budget stays within the levy limit the district wouldn’t be able to add more staffing, including a new guidance councilor. 

She said the additional money raised by exceeding the tax cap would allow the district to reinstate positions that were lost in the past as a result of employees retiring. 

School officials noted at  the meeting that elementary school classes currently have up to 28 students. 

Mooney said she was not surprised that there would be some “mixed reactions” to the district considering a plan to exceed the tax cap.

She said the district understands there’s going to be different issues influencing people’s decisions and whether or not they’re in favor of the increase. 

“Each individual property owner has their own circumstances,” Mooney said. 

School budget votes statewide are scheduled May 17. The proposed budget would have to be approved by 60 percent of those voting in order to pass if it exceeds the tax cap.

Callahan and Mooney both stressed that if the tax cap isn’t pierced the use of reserve funds wouldn’t be enough to maintain class sizes.

 “If we were to take more money then from our fiscal stress, the rolling number becomes negative,” Mooney said. “If we drain our reserves and we’re not raising revenue then we will be in a challenging financial situation.” 

Port Washington’s 2016-2017 final budget won’t be calculated until the district knows how much in state aid they’ll receive. 

That amount is determined by the state budget by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the state Legislature.  The state budget, by law, must be passed by April 1. 

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