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Long Beach school budget passes, Conway elected

Library spending plan approved, Guarini elected

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Residents approved the Long Beach School District’s $142.4 million budget for the 2019-20 school year and elected Anne Conway to the Board of Education on Tuesday.

The spending plan is about $2.5 million larger than the current budget, and comes with a $104 million tax levy that is under the state’s 2 percent cap. School officials said they anticipate a tax increase of about $200 per year for the average household.

Conway defeated incumbent Perry Bodnar, a retired Long Beach High School teacher, earning a three-year term on the board. Bodnar, who finished his first term, received 962 votes, while Conway had 1,294 votes, according to school officials.

The results were announced at a meeting of administrators and Board of Education trustees at Long Beach Middle School Tuesday night.

“I’m just happy I’m going to be able to help the students of Long Beach and the community,” Conway said. “I’m so excited I’m going to get that chance to do it. I’m really looking forward to it. I know we have a great team, and I know we’re going to make a lot of good.”

At a candidates forum last week, Conway said her main goals would be to increase transparency between the district and public to help residents stay informed, and to encourage teachers to devote more time to developing better relationships with students.

“I voted for Anne Conway because she’s an independent school board trustee who will serve equally the children, the teachers, the parents and the taxpayer,” Long Beach resident Phyllis Libutti said at Tuesday’s meeting. “She’s a person who’s looking to pay it forward because she’s had such a wonderful experience in education.”

“I’d just like to congratulate Ms. Conway and wish her good luck,” Bodnar said at the end of the meeting.

Residents also approved the Long Beach Public Library’s $3.6 million budget, and elected MaryEllen Guarini to the board of trustees, defeating Joe Sinnona.

School board trustees and community members commented on and asked questions about next year’s spending plan at a budget hearing on May 9. “There’s a lot in this budget for 1.76 percent of an increase,” Chief Operating Officer Michael DeVito said at the meeting, held at Long Beach Middle School. “It’s chock full of new items to support our students.”

The spending plan includes staff additions to the business and athletics departments, as well as the elementary program. Administrators said they plan to hire more teachers to fill needs in the math and reading departments at the middle school, as well as a permanent substitute teacher and a special education teacher.

The budget also includes construction plans like upgrading sound and lighting systems, building restrooms on the high school field (with assistance from a State Assembly grant), revamping the high school and Lido Complex entrances to make them safer, and a plan for the district to cover all field trip costs to promote equity among students.

At the May 9 meeting, board Trustee Sam Pinto asked administrators if the road safety projects at the Lido and high school complexes would be included in the budget or if the district would have to borrow money. DeVito said the projects were included in next year’s budget.

Pinto also inquired about tax rebates for residents.

“For all taxpayers who are eligible for this rebate of the additional tax — and it depends whether you’re eligible for STAR — then you may be eligible, depending on your income level, for a rebate from the state on the increase of the taxes,” DeVito said. “That program is still in effect.”

Additionally, PTA members announced that the Special Education PTA would disband but continue under the umbrella of Central Council PTA.

At Tuesday’s meeting, school board President Dr. Dennis Ryan commented on the low voter turnout, as he did last year.

“I’m terribly disappointed in a community of 35,000 residents that only 2,200, by my official count, came out to vote,” he said. “Education is such an important right and function in society, and for that few number of people to come out to vote, to me, is appalling.”

He attributed it to Facebook and social media, explaining that he believes residents share their opinions online and fail to head to the polls.

“I’m becoming more convinced that social media is becoming the vehicle for civic participation for people, not only here but throughout the country,” Ryan said. “I think it’s a very sad commentary on society today, and it’s something we’re going to need to look at and remedy.”