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Questions remain in budget process, as Franklin Square and Elmont schools finalize proposals

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Local school district officials are facing difficulties finalizing their budget proposals before the May 18 vote, as questions remain about state aid.

Under Gov. Cuomo’s executive budget proposal, which he presented to the public in January, various school aid categories would be consolidated into one broader category and each school district in New York would receive federal stimulus funds to support “ongoing operational and pandemic-related costs,” according to the governor’s website.

But local school district officials said last week that they do not know exactly what they can use the coronavirus aid funds for, and are still unsure how much money they are receiving from the state, as New York State Senate and Assembly members work to finalize a deal.

“Stimulus funding is like a grant, and we cannot count on it in years to come,” Franklin Square Superintendent Jared Bloom said at the district’s third budget workshop on March 24, noting that he hopes the Covid aid “supplements and not supplants” the amount of school aid the district receives because there are still “costs associated with the pandemic that will not be going away next year, and new costs that will have to be allocated to get us back to our new normal.”

Franklin Square school district officials are currently proposing a $41 million budget for the 2021 - 22 school year, which would be a $925,342, or 2.3 percent, increase in expenditures over the current budget.

If the district were to receive just a “one-time infusion of funds” for Covid relief, Theresa Hennessy, the assistant superintendent of finance and management, said, officials would use the money “in a way that would not create a funding cliff” like the creation of a mathematics lab and additional support for the district’s technology department.

Plans can change, however, because they do not know how much money they will be getting under the consolidated state aid category, making it more difficult to accurately budget.

“We need to have a proper plan in place,” Hennesy said, and “properly plan for issues in the future.”

With that in mind, she said, district officials are planning to use money from its 2016 capital reserve for air conditioning at Washington Street School, the remediation of a sinkhole at the John Street School and creating makerspaces in the school libraries — projects that have been delayed due to the pandemic.

The Board of Education is scheduled to adopt the budget on April 21.

Sewanhaka Central High School District officials, meanwhile, estimate that they will receive nearly $44 million in state aid next year, based on the unanticipated expenditures the district has already had to spend money on since the coronavirus pandemic began last year and the amounts set forth in the governor’s proposed budget, Kevin O’Brien, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said at a March 23 school board meeting.

Officials would use the funds — along with $9 million left over from the current budget, $3.2 million from payment-in-lieu-of-taxes payments and a $153.9 million tax levy — to fund their proposed $215.5 million budget proposal. The budget would be roughly $6.2 million, or 2.99 percent, higher than the current budget.

A majority of the costs associated with the increase would fund new courses at the five high schools, including:

Fashion design.

Drawing and painting.

Broadcast journalism.

“Athletes as Historical Advocates.”

“The African Diaspora in the Americas.”

“Modern Social Issues.”

The budget proposal would also provide funds for all music and Career and Technical Education equipment, create a digital system to track and maintain the district’s instruments and add art and STEM courses at the middle schools, according to Taryn Johnsn, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

As a result, O’Brien said, programming costs would account for about 75 percent of the Sewanhaka Central High School District’s budget proposal, while administrative costs and capital expenses would contribute to roughly 12 percent each of the budget.

To improve the school facilities, he said, he expects the district would spend just $1.5 million for scheduled renovations, with additional renovations made under a proposed 10-year capital reserve comprising $10 million in unassigned and reserve funds, which, O’Brien said, “can cover all kinds of work.”

The Sewanhaka Board of Education is set to adopt the budget on April 13.