East Williston’s Board of Education recommends a $63,755,174 budget for the 2021-22 school year, it announced during budget workshops on Feb. 26, March 3 and March 10. The draft budget, which is a 1.05 percent increase over the $63,091,128 budget for 2020–21, comes with a property tax levy increase of 1.67 percent.

The budget draft is made up of a $7.5 million administrative component, $6.81 million capital component and $49.45 million programs component. The administrative component and programs component both increased slightly, mainly due to contractual salary increases, as well as benefit increases to cover the greater health costs expected. 

Districtwide uses for the capital funds would include classroom door replacements with swipe access and further work on the security upgrades that began in 2020. Other projects covered by the capital funds would include a vestibule renovation at the Wheatley School and a boiler upgrade at Willets Road School. The capital component is smaller than in the previous year’s budget, however. Due to the success of renovations over the past few years, the board was able to decrease the cost of utilities in the budget by $32,000.

Across all three schools, a very slight increase is projected for enrollment and staffing. At the March 10 budget workshop, administrators from North Side School, Willets Road School and the Wheatley School broke down what the proposed budget would mean for their respective facilities.

For North Side School, the budget would remain similar to last year’s, with small increases to account for replacements of materials like walkie-talkies and textbooks. Discussing what parents and students can expect from the 2021-22 school year, North Side School Principal James Bloomgarden explained administrators are prepared to continue dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t know [what’s in store for 2021-22], but we will continue to follow the latest guidelines that are put forth by both the state Education Department and the New York State and Nassau County Department of Health to make sure that we are ensuring the safety of all of our students and staff within the building,” Bloomgarden said.

However, as the vaccine rollout makes progress, school administrators hope to return to some pre-pandemic policies. Bloomgarden said administrators plan to bring back all children for in-person learning and offer co-curricular clubs again. They also plan to return to larger class sizes, as the number of class sections was increased to allow for social distancing this year. Still, mask-wearing will most likely be required, and students will continue to eat lunch in their classrooms rather than in the cafeteria.

When school board member Tasneem Meghji asked about the safety of having students eat lunch in the classroom when class sizes are larger again, Bloomgarden said that the plans are tentative and will depend on future safety guidelines.

“Not as an administrator but just as a person living in the current world, I can’t wrap my head around 120 kids sitting as close together as they would be in the cafeteria without masks for 30 minutes,” Bloomgarden said. “We’ll have to kind of figure out the best way to handle that. I don’t know what the answer to that is, but we’ll follow whatever guidelines we get.”

For Willets Road School, the budget would be slightly decreased, bringing costs closer to where they were before the pandemic. As Principal Christine Dragone explained, school administrators were able to utilize last year’s budget and repurpose staff tactfully.

“We have been able to really make do with what we had looking forward to this upcoming school year,” Dragone said. “For the reduction in our academic support [staffing], that’s not really a reduction in academic support, rather just through restructuring of the staff and the assignments, and how we’re providing support services.”

With a slightly higher budget than last year, the Wheatley School would be able to expand its academic offerings, Principal Sean Feeney said. Science course lab periods and mathematics support periods will be brought back, and courses like the AP Seminar will likely be expanded. More electives will be offered to eighth-grade students as well.

“Most of our budget clearly goes into our core academics and focuses on the co-curricular, the library, special areas. That’s what we focus our budget on, if you look at the distribution,” Feeney said.

He ended his presentation by commending students for their resilience during the pandemic and emphasized the importance of holding in-person classes every day.

“It’s been a great year. It’s been great having the kids in, and it’s been great seeing them. Even with all the restrictions, the kids have been wonderful,” he said. “They recognize the value of being in [school], and they know most of their peers across the island are going in every other day or something. It’s nice going in every day, you know. It’s still school, but it’s really nice going in every day.”

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