Middle school upgrades top school budget priority list


Roof repairs and a new artificial-turf field at South Side Middle School are top priorities for the Rockville Centre school district in next year’s budget.

At a budget workshop on Feb. 15, Robert Bartels, assistant superintendent of business, detailed how the district plans to transfer $4.3 million from its fund balance to cover the cost of the capital projects.

“We were given additional funding from the federal government for different Covid expenses, and it actually allowed us to increase our fund balance over the last several years,” Bartels explained. “So we wanted to take part of that fund balance and apply it towards some capital projects.”

He said that by using $2.5 million from its existing fund balance, along with $1.8 million set aside from last year, the district will be able to cover the cost of the renovations without impacting taxpayers.

The proposed $136.4 million spending plan for 2023-24, which the district presented at the workshop, includes $31.2 million in increases in teacher and employee benefits, $13.2 million in administrative costs, and $7.8 million for capital projects and debt services. If approved by voters in May, it would increase overall school spending by 5.72 percent — or $7.4 million — next year.

The tax levy is projected to increase by 1.99 percent — or $103.8 million. Due to reassessments of residential property in Nassau County, Bartels said, the tax levy could increase up to 2.21 percent without exceeding the state-mandated cap.

State and foundation aid, the latter of which is based on a formula designed to help provide more money to schools with high-need students, are expected to increase by 17.8 percent, or $19.3 million. The hike in state aid comes as part of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed executive budget, which would increase funding for public school districts across the state by $3.1 billion in 2023-24.

In his presentation, Bartels emphasized that the spending plan would not impact existing programs, would add new cybersecurity protection, and would fund the district’s plans for an integrated co-teaching model at South Side middle and high schools.

It also includes plans for new coding and robotics curriculums throughout the schools, upgrades to the high school basement locker room, new football equipment, and six new sports teams.

Bartels also shared some of the administration’s suggestions for capital expenditures in the future, which he said could be put to a bond vote. They include the addition of space to enlarge classrooms, hallways, and buildings, devoting more space to the district’s pre-K program, and upgrades to HVAC and fire alarm systems as well as athletics facilities.

“If there was something where we decided to do things much larger, in a bond,” Superintendent Matt Gaven explained, “we would use that same money that we already have built-in to offset anything that would be used to increase (the cost to) the taxpayer.”

Bartels said that by moving funds between its capital fund and debt services, the district would be able to set aside money, outside the tax cap, to help fund future upgrades.

After the presentation by Bartels, members of the Board of Education and district administrators discussed some of the budget’s highlights.

“It’s no easy task to try and take everything that we’re doing here with our proposed budget, and explain it in a way that makes sense,” board President Kelly Barry said. “Not just what we’re doing, but why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it. It allows us to make decisions and plan effectively, given our economic reality.”

District officials plan to continue the budget discussions — including the rollout of the new curriculum — at a public work session on March 9. The budget vote and school board election will take place on May 16. Two trustee seats will be on the ballot, and voters will also decide on the proposed 2023-24 budget for the Rockville Centre Public Library.