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Valley Stream school districts present budgets

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For the past few months, administrators at all four Valley Stream school districts have been presenting their proposed 2019-20 budgets, which residents can approve or vote down on May 21.

The budgets, and the taxes levied at residents to pay for them, make up the single largest expense homeowners can expect to pay when property-tax rates are set in August, and those bills start to come in. Additionally, the budgets determine what school programs, equipment and resources will stay or be cut.

Central High School District

Central High School District Superintendent Bill Heidenreich and Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Wayne Loper presented South High School parents with a proposed $121.2 million budget at the high school’s Parent Teacher Association meeting on April 1.

The budget, Loper said, would be 3.18 percent, or $4.1 million, larger than last year’s mainly due to debt-service payments, or costs associated with paying off the district’s $41 million bond, which voters passed in 2016.

To fund the budget, he said, the district would collect $84.6 million in taxes, which is 2 percent — or $1.7 million — more than it is collecting this year from Valley Stream’s three elementary school districts. Loper said that he cannot determine the tax levy impact on the average homeowner with Nassau County’s new assessment system, but Heidenreich said the proposed budget is compliant with the state’s 2 percent tax levy cap.

More than 78 percent of the proposed budget would fund the district’s programs, but it would also pay for security upgrades, including the implementation of the ScholarChip system. Using this, Heidenreich said, security officers could swipe a student’s identification cards when they enter and leave the building to ensure that nobody is entering the school without permission. If students lose their card, he said, district administrators could deactivate it and give them a temporary badge with an individualized bar code. He added that the district is looking to implement a system in which administrators can program students’ lunch periods to see if they are leaving the school outside of their scheduled breaks. “It just gives us a better idea of who’s in the building,” Heidenreich said.

Valley Streamers will also be asked through a referendum to allow the school district to use $2.8 million of its reserves to pay for additional facility enhancements, including the addition of security vestibules at all of the schools. The infrastructure would ensure that visitors hand over their identification before they are granted entrance into the school buildings. The measures would not affect the budget, although the option to approve or deny the district’s use of reserves will be on budget approval ballot in May.

Heidenreich also told parents that the district is always modifying its budget and will soon start to plan for the 2020-21 budget, saying, “Budgeting is a constant and continual process.” He encouraged parents to speak up about anything they would like included in future budgets.

District 30

In February, District 30 Assistant Superintendent for Business Brian Phillips presented the public with an almost $37 million spending plan. It would be 3.89 percent, or almost $1.6 million, higher than the current budget.

Driving the increase, Phillips said, are rising health care costs and contract negotiations, adding that the budget maintains all programs without any major additions. “Our budget’s roughly the same in the six categories of expenditures,” he said at the February Board of Education meeting.

To fund the budget, the district would collect $22 million in taxes, which would be $39,572 — or just 0.18 percent — higher than the current tax levy. Phillips said the board discussed increasing the tax levy further, but decided against it. “We believe that would be the best for the district, and we will be one of the lowest districts from a tax levy perspective probably not just locally, but throughout Long Island as well,” he said.

Superintendent Nicholas Stirling also noted that since 2015, the district has collected fewer dollars in taxes. But, he said, residents may feel that they are being over taxed due to payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deals, which take businesses off of tax rolls to incentivize development. In 2015, the Town of Hempstead Industrial Development Agency granted the Green Acres Mall a PILOT, which reduced the mall’s tax burden by about $6.5 million each year. As a result, Stirling said, the tax burden was shifted onto residents and business owners.

“It’s not as though we are collecting more than we need,” Stirling said. “We are very careful … as to what we are developing in regards to our budget.”

He added that next year, the district would collect $5.8 million in PILOT revenue from nine businesses, which represents about 16 percent of the budget’s revenue. “It’s highly unusual for a school district to have such a high percentage come from PILOTs,” Stirling said.

District 30’s board has yet to adopt the proposed budget, but is expected to do so on April 16.

District 24

Jack Mitchell, the District 24 director of finance and operations, presented an almost $29.9 million proposed budget at a Board of Education meeting on March 27. It would be 3.9 percent — or about $1.3 million — larger than the current one.

If passed, the budget would be funded by an almost $21.4 million tax levy, which would be 3.85 percent — or $794,182 — more than the current tax levy.

At the meeting, Mitchell said that more than 70 percent of the budget funds programs, but added that there were large jumps to the cost of salary obligations and transportation costs. The budget would be tax-cap compliant, he said.

Its school board adopted the budget that night, and a budget hearing will be held on May 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the William L. Buck School.

District 13

District 13 Superintendent Constance Evelyn and Assistant Superintendent for Business and Human Resources Gerard Antoine presented their district’s $53 million proposed budget at the district’s board meeting on March 26.

The budget, they said, would be 3.1 percent  — or almost $1.6 million — larger than the current budget. It would fund electronic devices for students in kindergarten and first-grade, as well the expansion of the district’s social-emotional learning curriculum. But, Antoine said, “The lion’s share is between salaries and benefits.”

To fund the budget, he said, the district would implement a $37.4 million tax levy, which would be 2.9 percent — or $1.05 million — more than the current budget.

Voters in District 13 would also approve the district’s use of reserves to spend $300,000 for the installation of air conditioning at all four district schools, and another $300,000 “for the acquisition and installation of classroom furniture and blinds at all four schools,” according to the presentation. Evelyn said the expenditure would support the district’s classroom redesign program, in which teachers could request classroom furniture and equipment that they need for instruction.

District 13 will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget on May 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the James A. Dever School.