UPTC panel reports Great Neck budget gap closed

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Grant Toch, chairman of the UPTC Finance Committee, and various other parental leaders rise in applause after recognition for their efforts in passing the bond and budget. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

 

The Great Neck Public Schools were able to close a budget gap for the coming year without dipping into reserve funds, the United Parent-Teachers Council’s Budget Committee said in a report last week.

The report was one of a handful from various UPTC committees at the June 5 meeting that noted their victories, goals and challenges.

The UPTC Budget Committee reported that a $3 million budget gap, set to be funded by reserves, was largely closed by the elimination by the state of the Gap Elimination Adjustment budget cuts, worth about $900,000, and retirements of older teachers, worth $1.3 million.

“Unlike the budget planning required for the 2016-2017 school year, no cuts to people or programs were necessary to bring the budget into balance,” the report said.

Among the other committees making reports were Safety and Transportation, Shared Decision Making, SEPTA, Total Community Involvement, Computer Technology, Educational Enhancement, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), Health Education and Legislative.

Grant Toch, chairman of the Budget Committee, said that recently the school district had a budget funding gap that was closed using reserve funds.

For example, the district had to close a $5 million gap for the 2016-17 year. This was accomplished by $2 million in budget cuts and using $3 million from reserve funds.

But this year was significant in that cuts weren’t needed and the school maintained all of its current programming, Toch said.

“Most people in this room probably don’t realize this, but maybe the most significant event of the year, from my perspective, was the fact the budget gap was effectively closed,” Toch said before a group of parent leaders and the school board at the June 5 meeting.

The report also noted that the UPTC, as well as its Budget Committee, were active in a large “get out the vote” campaign that drew record voter turnout. A reduced $68.3 million bond was approved 6,299 to 1,925 last month, while the $223.3 budget passed 6,772  to 1,607.

But despite these victories, the UPTC urged vigilance and long-term planning.

Pension expenses were around $7.5 million less than budgeted since 2014–15, but negative developments could put the school district under “meaningful budget stress,” according to the report.

“We raise the pension expense simply to educate the BoE, administrators, teachers, parents and students about the one budget line item that has supported the budget favorably for many years,” the report said, “but which could, under reasonable scenarios, ultimately undermine significantly programming and staffing, particularly in the absence of substantial tax increases.”

The report added it hopes to see increased public participation in budget affairs and other matters. It suggested that the Board of Education “engage our community in an even more meaningful and transparent way” to improve public confidence in the school board and prevent a repeat of this year’s tense bond and budget vote.

The report of the Legislative Committee, which meets with legislators to discuss issues relevant to the schools, expressed concern over rising opt-out rates on state tests, having too little state financial support and the appointment of Betsy DeVos as U.S. secretary of education.

The committee also noted that it had informed the community of county legislation making it a crime to knowingly serve alcohol to minors under 21 and it plans to bring up social media safety in the fall.

“We as a community must stay close together to guard our schools and our children,” the report concluded. “The Legislative Committee will continued to monitor the political and legislative headwinds and keep our constituencies informed.”

The Educational Enhancement and STEAM Committees noted they collected a comprehensive amount of data, brainstorm various ideas and expressed interest in partnering with Northwell to get speakers and internships for their students.

Safety and Transportation, which met four times to discuss new security initiatives, highlighted a new smartphone-based emergency alert system, a device in each building to bar the opening of exterior doors during lockdowns and a new safety format requiring eight drills to be conducted before Dec. 31.

Members of the Health Education Committee, according to their report, met with the cafeteria director to discuss increasing healthy options and bringing in more kosher items. The report also raised concerns over staffing to implement future changes and serve students.

The Computer Technology Committee outlined its efforts to continue the expansion of an iPad initiative in elementary schools, improve building internet security and emphasized the importance of the school being online to look out for potential concerns.

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