Costlier School Budgets Offer More Security

Budgets in the communities’ five school districts for the 2018-19 fiscal year are reflecting changing priorities in the face of new  realities that have quickly encroached on school boards, such as school safety concerns after 17 people were killed in a Florida school – which lead to student walkouts in the three high schools and two middle schools over fears of becoming targets of gun violence, and reductions in state and local tax (SALT) deductions that residents will be allowed to take as the state relaxes caps to permit districts more spending – and, thus,  modest tax increases.

Merrick School District’s 2018-19 budget of $51,791,334, an increase of 5.10% from last year’s $49,277,857 requiring collecting $39,863,661 in new taxes from residents – will in fact come in at 2.9% for the fiscal year, up over a percentage point of 1.77% last year.

With the school district’s state aid at $6,650,211 for the new fiscal year, a decrease of .88% or $58,789 from last year’s $6,709,000, it would have been expected to stretch the district’s budget capacity to implement new security measures necessary to protect lives. Instead, school district Superintendent Dr. Dominick Palma told Your NewsMag in an earlier email that the district transferred $2 million from cash fund balances to the new budget to steady the tax levy at 2.9%. In the transfer, $1.5 million was being earmarked for new security measures, such as one new school guard at each school and redesigning spaces while strengthening doors and windows to make them bullet-proof, for example.

The other $500,000 was expected to be used for new HVAC units in two schools.

NO CRYSTAL BALL ON SALT

Dr. Palma reserved judgment on what a 2.9% increase could mean to residents now under a limit to deduct no more than $10,000 in local tax deductions, as dictated by new federal tax law guidelines. “There is no crystal ball here,” he said of the SALT deductions’ impact on residential household bottom lines. “We’ll have to see how district residents react [in passing or failing the budget]” before any modifications could be made to the budget, he concluded.

Meanwhile,  Kate Freeman, assistant Superintendent for Business at the Central High School District, told Your NewsMag that “New legislation regarding ‘donations’ of property tax monies to school districts was enacted with the New York State budget” and that, the CHSD Board of Education, too,   “will explore the feasibility of this legislation” to measure its impact on local SALT deductions, depending on whether the budget passes or fails.

At a recent Board of Education meeting Freeman told those in attendance that the 2018-19 budget would be $159,788,043, an increase of $6.1 million, or 3.9%,  with an overall proposed tax levy of 2.65%.

She noted that “For the first time in the history of the ‘tax cap’, the Consumer Price Index came in at or above 2%.” She said the Allowable Levy Growth Factor, a significant calculator in the tax levy formula, is the lesser of 2% or CPI, resulting in 2% used in the formula.  The rise in the Tax Base Growth Factor, she continued, also contributed to the increase.

But, she added, “Bellmore-Merrick’s allowable levy is 2.65% for 2018-19, a decrease from 2017-18’s 2.98%,” suggesting the board finalized budget figures on a tax cap that had actually gone down for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

ALLOCATING FUND BALANCES

With state aid increasing a modest $266,000, or a 1.9% increase, it was “not sufficient to cover increases in the budget,” she said.   An additional $2 million of fund balance and reserves were included in the 2018-19 budget.

Even with a 2.65% tax levy increase expected, Freeman explained what the new budget would cover. “The following have added expense to the 2018-19 budget: health insurance premiums increased 9% (increases of 9-12% for the last three years); social security tax maximum rose $1,200 (and have risen $10,000 since 2016); Teachers Retirement System rate increase; increased population of students with special needs; and added security and wellness programs.”

She concluded, saying $390,000 was added to the budget for additional security guards (number of and hours) and $200k for a wellness program.  Already in place are added security staff, cameras, Lobby Guard; exterior door alarms and buzzer system.”

[Ed. Note: In September 2016 local school districts began working with local police precincts to implement security tools being developed by the Nassau County Police Department after the Sandy Hook shooting in which 27 died. The tools are designed to thwart active shooters by using mobile apps on phones to alert police immediately to activate school cameras and see where the shooter is in the school, isolate the event and address the threat through appropriate force.

Several cameras have been routinely added to the schools since, to be activated by consoles at police headquarters, for even closer looks inside the schools is the event of an outside intrusion. See Your NewsMag, September 2016, or http://yournewsmag.com/2016/09/07/local-school-districts-to-implement-security-against-active-shooters/]

The North Merrick School District budget proposal of $32,492,312 was a $1,102,848 increase from 2017-18’s $31,389,464 budget. The increase will result in a 3.34% tax levy increase, a .35% increase from the 2017-18 budget.

Tom McDaid, Jr, Esq., assistant superintendent for business and operations, remarked that “In order to keep 2018/19 property taxes lower, the district allocated an additional $390,000 to offset the levy.  Had the district not made this allocation, the levy-to-levy increase would have been in the 5.11% range, rather than 3.34% in the proposed budget.”

He noted that the budget would allow STAR-eligible residents to continue to receive the state property tax rebate.

McDaid said that the 2018/19 budget presented the difficult task of creating a financially reasonable document that also dealt with rising costs of pensions and health coverage, and the first principal payment of the 2015 voter-approved bond.  “North Merrick, like other school districts, has budgeted for enhanced security measures, including updates to vestibules, security film, and additional fencing,” he said.

He added that the 2018/19 budget continues to maintain all current programs, all clubs and all after-school activities, such as the Theatre Arts program. [The budget reflects an additional $20,000 into the district’s theater arts program.] The budget also preserves current class sizes and supports writer’s workshop, math and movement, hands-on science experiences, technology, library media and character education.

The Bellmore School District’s 2018-19 budget will be $35,267,556, a $664,901 increase, or 1.92%, from its 2017-18 budget. With $4,980,317 offered in state aid or a $124,136 increase from last year. $24,882,650 will be raised in taxes, for a 3.32% levy, up from 2017-18’s 2.19% tax levy. The state capped the school district’s tax levy higher for 2018-19, at 3.4%.

$750,000 was being appropriated from reserves and balances toward the 2018-19 budget to stabilize the levy at 3.32%.

North Bellmore School District’s 2018-19 budget  of $57,228,137, a $1,907,006 increase from 2017-18’s $55,321,132 budget, will require raising $38,289,002, or 3.4%, to fund the increase – up from 2.18% in 2017-18. The state set the school district’s cap at 3.4%.

With the state also providing $14,166,00 in aid, a spokesperson for the North Bellmore School District told Your NewsMag that $2.2 million in fund balance was carried over from the 2017-18 budget to stabilize the tax levy to meet the state cap – while still maintaining the district’s crucial curriculums and student programs.

DOUGLAS FINLAY

 

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