Sewanhaka schools:$4.1 million in cuts projected to meet cap

Proposal includes eliminating up to 20 teaching positions


Sewanhaka Central High School District officials are projecting budget cuts of $4.1 million in programs and personnel at the district’s five high schools as they finalize the 2014-15 spending plan in anticipation of an April 3 vote by the Board of Education.

The proposed reductions include the elimination of up to 20 teaching positions, one administrative position and one assistant principal. The total budget is projected to increase by $6.4 million, to $178.2 million, and $4.6 million of the increase is earmarked for employee benefits. District officials point to large increases in retirement and health insurance costs as the main drivers of that increase.

Eliminating the teaching positions would save the district an estimated $1.8 million. There is also discussion of doing away with one department chair in each school by combining the duties of the art and music chairs.

According to the state’s three-year-old tax cap law, the district’s maximum allowable tax levy increase for 2014-15 is 1.56 percent. The projected cuts would allow the district to meet the cap and to pass the spending plan with a simple majority vote. If there were no cuts, the budget would necessitate a 4.7 percent tax levy increase, and require a supermajority to pass.

“We are not proposing exceeding the cap or looking for a supermajority,” said Cheryl Champ, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Sewanhaka Board of Education President David Fowler agreed, telling the Herald that “the board is not, as far as I can see, going to attempt to pierce the cap.”

Superintendent Dr. Ralph Ferrie said that the final dollar figure for the cuts would be contingent on the state aid the district receives. It has received $27.8 million in aid this year, and the estimated increase for next year is just under $203,000. In January, Ferrie said that state aid “definitely needs to be higher than $28 million,” but district officials look back with envy at the more than $30.5 million the school received in 2009-10 — a total that would slash the cuts planned for 2014-15 to $1.63 million.

The spending plan includes nearly $840,000 in capital projects, including steam pipe and trap replacement and a refurbished softball field at Elmont Memorial, and the replacement of an elevator at Carey — at nearly $270,000, the most expensive project planned in any of the schools.

Sewanhaka’s proposals have recently drawn the ire of some local residents. In December, officials saw a $100 million bond referendum for districtwide improvements go down to defeat, though talk of a new bond proposal has resurfaced since. Most recently, Franklin Square residents spoke out against a rumored transfer of one of Carey’s most popular administrators, Assistant Principal John Kenny, to another district schools, a move that has been neither confirmed nor denied.

Ferrie has, however, acknowledged the necessity of belt-tightening. “We are going to have to make some very difficult decisions to get to that $4.1 million [in cuts],” he said in February. “That’s the environment in which we are operating.”

The district — which comprises Elmont Memorial, H. Frank Carey, Sewanhaka, Floral Park Memorial and New Hyde Park Memorial high schools — expects to see an estimated decline of 142 students in 2014-15.

District residents will vote on the budget on May 20.