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Promoting ‘21st-century learners’

West Hempstead School district shares goals, challenges for 2020-21 budget

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The West Hempstead School District’s proposed spending plan for the 2020-21 school year features numerous facility upgrades, including safety and security improvements throughout the district, a pre-K center at Chestnut Street School and a media center at the high school, among other initiatives.

The district proposed a budget of about $65.6 million, an increase of 3.22 percent, at the Board of Education’s March 3 meeting — which was attended by three members of the public.

“People are going to vote down this proposed budget, and it’s because people are extremely uninformed,” said Victoria Sharvin, a district parent who comprised one-third of the audience. “It’s going to hurt the children of our community. These meetings are crucial, as that is where firsthand information is given and questions are able to be answered to the best of everyone’s abilities.”

Sharvin added that she had faith in the district, and hoped that more parents would attend future meetings. “I’m comfortable stating that I know that this proposed budget has been analyzed and reanalyzed ad nauseam,” she said.

The district did not indicate how much taxes would go up next year.

Joel Press, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, who helped to prepare the proposal, detailed many of the district’s recent upgrades. Science classrooms in the middle school and high school were updated; new elevators were installed at Cornwell Avenue Elementary School, George Washington Intermediate School and the middle school; and an emergency generator was installed at the high school.

“We are continuing to move forward with the development of our instructional spaces and our educational programs,” Press said, “to really turn our students into 21st-century learners by providing them with the facilities needed for 21st-century education.”

One of the budgetary challenges is busing. The district’s bus company, the Queens-based Rivlab Transportation Corp., went out of business in October. “Recently we have been severely impacted by a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers,” Rivlab’s operations manager, David Riveles, wrote in a letter to the schools it serviced. “In the last few years our costs, especially labor and insurance, have skyrocketed and had made competition with some of the larger companies impossible.”

District Superintendent Daniel Rehman said the company was bought out by WE Transport. The district is projecting an increase in transportation costs of $850,000, to $5.6 million, in the 2020-21 budget.

“WE Transport promised to honor the contract this year, but they’re not going to honor it moving forward,” Rehman said. “We put out a [request for proposal] to potentially look for another company.”

Another potential challenge, he said, is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s changes to foundation aid, which is the main source of state funding for public schools in New York state. Rehman said that Cuomo’s decision to roll expenses such as technology, BOCES, and transportation all into foundation aid could be an issue going forward.

“With our projected budget . . . and with the busing going up, if that gets capped, that becomes a problem for us,” Rehman said, referring to the state cap on tax levy increases of roughly 2 percent. The tax levy — the total amount that the district must collect to meet expenses — for the 2020-21 will be roughly $48.2 million, an increase of 2.96 percent, which is below the district’s allowable increase.

The board will hold its next budget forum on March 24 in the high school’s videoconference room.