Karen Schoenberger has been teaching Pilates in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District’s Community Education program for seven years. When she heard that the program was to be eliminated from the district’s 2013-14 budget, she and nearly 50 others attended the Board of Education’s meeting on April 10 to try to change the trustees’ minds.
A decline in overall enrollment in the past several years has resulted in a drop in revenue, and the Community Education program is not breaking even, according to Dr. Peter Weber, the district’s assistant superintendent for business.
Schoenberger, a Hewlett resident, said that her Pilates classes, on Monday and Thursday evenings, had nearly 30 participants until registration dropped to 15 to 20 after the district decided to stop printing the Continuing Education catalog, which lists the program’s courses, last year. “The district said everyone should have a computer to access the catalog online, but I wonder if they purposely stopped [printing the catalog] to get rid of the courses down the road,” she said. “We pay taxes here, and if we don’t have any programs, why are we paying taxes? There’s nothing to offer us.”
Following nearly three hours of budget discussions at the Board of Education's Wednesday night meeting at the Woodmere Education Center, the board decided to reconvene on April 24 at 7:30 p.m. at Woodmere Middle School, 1170 Peninsula Blvd. in Hewlett, to adopt the 2013-'14 budget and to address a potentially higher tax levy than the 2.49 percent that was initially reported.
The Hewlett-Woodmere School District decided to use funds provided by Senator Dean Skelos and Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg to support the installation of a greenhouse in the courtyard at Woodmere Middle School. According to the New York State Education Department, this type of funding for construction must be reflected in the tax levy calculation.
Also, tax levy calculations are based upon the year which expenses are paid. Last year, a contracting company which was performing heating, ventilation and air conditioning work at Woodmere Middle School declared bankruptcy. According to the district, funding to complete the work was frozen, until a permit was granted to the district allowing them to request funds from the company. On Wednesday, the district learned that it would be unlikely that the funds would be received and the work completed before mid-June, resulting in no payments being made to a replacement contractor.
Board President Stephanie Gould said the district has been exploring ways to continue the Community Education courses elsewhere, perhaps at the Center for Adult Life Enrichment in Hewlett (formerly the Five Towns Senior Center), and in neighboring districts, including Lynbrook. “Maybe we could restore them this year and come up with a plan to continue them elsewhere next [budget] year,” Gould said. “There’s not enough time to plan now [for next year].”
Before the board was scheduled to adopt the 2013-14 budget on Wednesday, Weber said, it could increase spending by not putting $305,000 in state aid into the reserve fund, or by using reserve funds for the program. But he warned the board that having enough money in the reserve fund is of utmost importance. “Each year the budget will get harder and harder, and there will come a day when the reserves end,” he said. “We have to be realistic in how we maintain these programs.”