Thanks to a substantial decrease in transportation costs, a performance grant and a half-year freeze in Step salary increases for teachers, the Valley Stream District 30 preliminary school budget for 2013-14 should mean a minor tax increase for residents.
Superintendent Dr. Nicholas Stirling and his administrative team gave the community its first look at the proposed spending plan for District 30 at a forum at the Forest Road School on Feb. 13.
The proposed 2013-14 budget of $33.2 million is an increase of a little more than $800,000, or 2.48 percent, over the current year. The tax levy would rise 2.34 percent to $26,591,128, which is less than the allowable maximum tax levy so a simple majority vote would be needed for the budget to pass in May.
Driving the budget increase are numerous mandated expenses. Health insurance premiums are rising 10 percent, and contributions to the state retirement funds for teachers and staff are also increasing drastically. There is a technology initiative in place allowing for more iPads for instruction and additional interactive white boards for classrooms.
Stirling and his team began working on a preliminary spending plan in November. “We are very conscious about the dollars we are proposing for our budget, but at the same time we are committed to a program of excellence and it does cost for that,” he said, “but we have to make it economically sound as members of the school community.”
He and Assistant Superintendent for Business Lisa Rutkoske credited cuts in previous budgets for this year’s low increase. “We also looked at all of our budget lines and we made reductions in our budget lines to the point where we are just having enough to get by in terms of what we need,” Stirling said.
A decrease in transportation costs of 14 percent, or $131,600, gave the budget a much needed boost. Also, district officials are most proud of a performance grant for high student achievement, which netted the district a quarter of a million dollars and is funding some salaries as well as technology initiatives.
“Because of the hard work of our superintendent and our assistant superintendent for curriculum, we are the only Valley Stream elementary district that was fortunate to receive a performance grant,” Rutkoske said. “A lot of this is through efforts of our faculty and staff to leverage grants that are out there.”
Stirling, not resting on his laurels, also is grateful state aid didn’t drop. “That helped us,” he said. “Some districts dropped and some went up. The last piece is we also used some reserves, so our ‘rainy day’ fund has been reduced.”
Planned additions for the 2013 school year include a teacher to support both Academic Intervention Services and enrichment programs, one co-teacher, special education aides, a part-time data support clerk, a technology assistant, a computer aide, school monitors, noon aides and a psychologist. Stirling noted that a parent survey indicated a need for the district to look at the level of supervision at lunch time in order to provide a better social environment for students.
Voters will recall a social worker was cut during last year’s budget process, prompting the Board of Education to call for the creation of a task force. “One of the recommendations was for a psychologist to be added back to the program,” Stirling said. “Funding for this will be from a grant so it’s not impacting the budget for this year,”
Rutkoske spoke to the community about how sacrifices in previous school budgets have helped the district with the proposed spending plan. “Out of the elementary school districts in Valley Stream, we made some very hard choices the last two years, very deep cuts that we are now able to realize some of the benefits for,” she said. “It is a year-to-year stage right now.”
She also spoke about the Capital Reserve Fund, which has been in place since May 2007 when the district first asked voters to approve the establishment of the fund for major repairs as needed. Voters are required to approve the initial establishment of the fund as well as the subsequent use of the money. Last May, voters approved the replacement of the ventilation units at the Shaw Avenue School.
This May, a proposition requesting voter approval to replace ceilings, lighting and ventilation units at Forest Road School, and the installation of a new district-wide communication system, will be on the ballot. Since the fund was created, there is no borrowing needed or no additional cost to the taxpayer.
Stirling closed the meeting by encouraging the community to pay it forward and spread the word about voting.