Officials in the North Bellmore School District are eying a small spending increase for the 2018-19 school year, with a $57.2 million budget. Complicating matters, however, are two transportation-related questions that could change the budget substantially.
The North Bellmore district takes in students from North Bellmore and part of North Merrick.
A number of residents petitioned the district to expand school bus transportation for students, so that rather than requiring students in grades four to six to live more than a mile away from their school in order to be picked up by a bus, they would only need to live a half-mile away.
If voters OK the proposal, it would add $610,000 to the budget, to pay for up to 11 new buses for the additional students who would be eligible (see sidebar), according to the district’s superintendent for business, Mark Schissler.
In response to the push for expanded transportation, another group of parents submitted a proposal on March 15 to eliminate transportation for students in kindergarten through sixth grade, except for those who live more than two miles away.
If voters supported the reduction, the budget would be cut by $410,000.
The transportation line in the budget is set to increase by $335,826 in 2018-19, should neither proposition pass.
Schissler minced no words about the two opposing propositions’ effect on the budget, calling it “a tricky one.”
“We’re really talking with the district’s attorney now, in terms of the wording of the propositions,” he said. “You don’t want to confuse people, so we’re working on that right now, in terms of clarifying.”
But will both propositions appear on the final ballot? “Right now, it appears that way,” Schissler said.
Almost half the 3.45 percent budgetary increase the district is projecting — leaving aside the transportation questions — comes from a principal and interest payment on the North Bellmore Public Library expansion, which was approved by voters in 2015.
The library board of trustees is unable to bond, so the question had to come before school district voters, and the money for the $809,000 payment will come from the library. The school district is including the money as “other unclassified revenue” in budget documents.
“We put it in as an expenditure, but they’re going to give it to us,” Schissler said. “So it’s really a wash.”
A report earlier this year by the state comptroller found that the district was “susceptible to fiscal stress,” and that officials should carefully watch their budgeting and fund balances.
For the 2017-18 budget, North Bellmore tapped $2.3 million of its unassigned fund balance to reduce taxes and fund 2.8 percent of its budget, according to a 2017 audit performed by Nawrocki Smith, an accounting firm. This left the school’s unassigned fund balance at $1.5 million.
Phil Marciano, of Nawrocki Smith, advised the district “not to go too much lower” with its reserves and fund balances in the future, at the Nov. 2 Board of Education meeting.
Currently, between the fund balance and reserves, the district has close to $3.2 million. Schissler said that this year, the district will use about $2.3 million to help keep the tax rate down.
“Each year, for the past four or five years, in order to keep our budget in balance without raising taxes beyond a certain level, we’ve needed to pull out money from those reserves,” Schissler said.
Superintendent Marie Testa agreed. “To be fiscally responsible, for the past five years, the district has purposely and appropriately used its fund balance and reserves to keep annual budget increases at or below the district’s state mandated levy limit,” she said.
The school board will meet on April 12, when trustees are expected to approve the budget that will go before voters on May 15.