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At 1.45%, Bellmore-Merrick Central tax levy increase is the lowest in years

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Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District administrators held a public hearing on the 2021-22 district budget on May 5, the first in-person school board meeting held by the district since last year. Residents will vote on the budget next Tuesday.

The district will present voters with a $170 million spending plan that comes with a 1.45 percent increase in the tax levy — the total amount in taxes that will be collected from all district taxpayers. That’s the lowest increase in the past 10 years of district budgets, with the past four above 2 percent.

Despite the smaller increase, Bellmore-Merrick is maintaining all student programs. The question remains, however, just how different hallways and classrooms will look after the district faced a flurry of unprecedented circumstances and changes this school year.

As of now, masks are still required, and plastic barriers still line students’ and teachers’ desks, among other sanitary requirements. One parent at the meeting said the barriers should be taken down, citing student complaints.

“We are currently looking at our classrooms — we know that our classrooms are not 100 percent conducive to learning because of barriers,” said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Michael Harrington, who will take over as superintendent in June when John DeTommaso retires. “We know that there’s a really awkward silence that we don’t like. . . We need kids to get back to connecting with one another and connecting with their teacher, and barriers are the first thing we’re looking at.”

Locker access, which is still restricted in the district, is also being re-evaluated, according to Harrington. The district may adopt a plan that phases in locker use grade by grade, but the most important safety measure, he said, “is not having kids congregate.

“I’m really confident that next school year will look quite different,” Harrington noted, saying evidence shows that transmission in schools has been low.

“I think that’s just the natural evolution of this,” DeTommaso said.

Re-opening committees, comprised of administrators, teachers, parents and more, have reformed after working together to plan the district’s reopening last May. The committees are focused on maintaining health and safety in the coming months.

“We know that the reason why we were so successful this year, being back in school in person, was because of our re-opening committees,” Harrington said. “It’ll all depend on the guidance, but right now we’re working really hard to get families back in person. We believe in in-person instruction. . . We’re going to be prepared for the social-emotional and the academic support kids will need.”

The district will also receive a significant boost in state and federal aid, thanks in part to the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. In addition to a $3 million increase in state aid compared to the current year, the district will also receive $1.7 million from the American Rescue Plan, as well as $425,001 from the Coronavirus Relief and Recovery Supplemental Appropriations Act.

“It’s definitely great news for the district,” said Mikaela Coni, assistant superintendent for business, noting that the $2.1 million total nears the $2.2 million the district spent on reopening this year.

A portion of the funds will be used to cover costs incurred by the district, including personal protective equipment, barriers, cleaning supplies and additional staffing — “an array of things,” Coni said. Thirty percent of the funds will also go towards addressing “learning loss” faced by students in the past year.

Aside from the programs maintained, which include Summer Enrichment, school wellness centers, Prep Academy and the Bellmore-Merrick Electrical Program, new initiatives will also be coming to Bellmore-Merrick. Chromebook laptops will be provided to every student and teacher from grades seven to 12, Chinese language instruction will expand into 12th grade, and drones will be purchased for the Technology 8 program, among other additions.

Broken down, 75.3 percent of the budget will be spent on the district’s programs, while 11.8 percent and 12.9 percent will go towards administrative and capital expenditures, respectively.