Governor Cuomo's proposed tax cap was a major topic Thursday evening as the Baldwin Auditorium in Massapequa High School was the site of the final school budget hearing before voters head to the ballots on May 17.
This budget hearing was the only one that is required by the state. Before this, the Massapequa School District held four other budget discussions for their residents as part of the budget process
The purpose of Thursday's hearing, according to Deputy Superintendent Alan Adcock, was for the public to ask the administration any questions they had about the school budget.
Adcock went on with his presentation on the $179 million 2011-2012 spending plan. It calls for a 1.72 percent increase in spending and a 1.64 percent tax hike.
“The goal of our district of course is to maintain successful programs for our children,” he said.
This has been made more difficult to do given Cuomo’s proposed cap, according to Adcock. Under the cap, property taxes cannot exceed a 2 percent increase in a year. Albany is currently working on getting it passed.
The district had the tax cap in mind when creating the proposed school budget. Adcock said. The administrator’s goal was to develop a school budget in which they would be below the tax cap in both budget and tax increases.
“We sought to develop the budget underneath what would become the tax cap,” Adcock said.
This tax cap wouldn’t benefit Massapequa, Adcock explained, because the district doesn't get much state aid. According to the state comptroller, an average school district in New York State has 35 percent of its costs payed for by state aid, while 53 percent is payed for by taxes. Massapequa has 16 percent payed by state aid, while taxpayers bear the burden of 81 percent of the school costs.
The state determines how much money a district receives by using four factors to determine which districts are needy and which are wealthy. They ask:
• How many children are eligible for free or reduced price lunch?
• How many non-English speaking students are in the district?
• What is the income wealth of the community?
• What is the property wealth of the community?
Adcock believes Masapequa isn't getting their fair share of the income taxes being paid to Albany.
“If a tax cap had been in place ten years ago our budget would need to be about 60 million dollars less than it is now”.
"That’s about a third of the proposed budget. Where would that money come from? It would affect the students.
“A tax cap results in progressive year to year program reductions,” Adcock said.
The only way that the district can override the tax cap is if 60 percent of the community voted for the budget. However, according to Adcock, Massapequa usually has around 54 percent voting for the budget.
In order to get under the tax cap, the district aimed to reduce operation costs, and they are proposing to use about $5.1 million from the district’s reserve funds.
“I’ll be able to put some of that back to replenish those reserves when we look at this year’s operating service,” Adcock said.
One way the district has been able to reduce costs is by saving on utilities. It has done this by modernizing boilers, the lighting, windows, and roofs all to save on electric and gas payments. Massapequa managed to save $2.8 million over 5 years acoording to Adcock.
Administrators have also reduced costs on telephone bills. According to Adcock, buildings have been wired with fiber optics so that the district can make calls using its internet service provider. This has saved the district about $430,000 over about three years.
By reducing costs over the past five years, the district has been able to save tax payers about $10 million dollars, Adcock said.
Massapequa School District also has the fourth lowest budget on a per-pupil basis in Nassau County. The district spends about 21 percent less than the average district in Nassau County.
Recently there has been a lot made of the amount of administrators in the district. Adcock mentioned that there is a website, NYSED.gov, that has reports for every district in the state concerning staffing ratios.
There are 46.76 administrators listed for Massapequa schools. When you look at the ratio of administrators to students, the district serves approximately 22 more students per administrator than the state average.
“I would challenge anyone commenting on the number of administrators Massapequa has,” to go to the website, Adcock said.
The district would actually be decreasing the budget a little had it not been for an increase in the New York State retirement fund, the new Nassau county sewer fee, and a 13.5 percent rise in health insurance payments.
The Massapequa School District is actually involved in a that is challenging the constitutionality of the sewer fee.
After Adcock finished his presentation, the floor was opened to members of the public for any questions they might have.
Tom Adamo, a Massapequa resident for ten years congratulated the board for the work they’ve done, however couldn’t see the bright side of the lowest budget increase in 12 years.
He said according to Century 21 "three out of 10 homes had gone into foreclosure or short sales in Massapequa as of Thursday afternoon." People in Massapequa are losing their homes, while members of the administration are getting pay rises, he charged.
Adcock responded by saying many people want to live in the district simply because of the education children can receive here.
“What we hear is that people are always looking for school district 23 and that one of the reasons Massapequa is a desirable community is because of the quality of education in the school system,” Adcock said.
Another resident, Mark Davis, said he was concerned about the lack of attendance at board meetings. Although the auditorium was packed at the beginning of the meeting as several student athletes were honored by the board, many left before the budget hearing began. Davis also complained about how late the budget hearing began. It did not begin until shortly after 9 p.m. after the students were honored.
Stan Jacobs, a senior citizen of Massapequa, commented on the amount of taxes community members need to pay, regardless of the reasoning behind it.
“Somewhere along the line Albany needs to be made aware that there are older people living in Nassau County that can’t afford these taxes,” he said.
The school budget vote will be held on May 17.