After much thought, deliberation, and fine-tuning, the North Bellmore Board of Education formally adopted their proposed budget for the 2011-2012 school year.
Board vice president Grace Cramsie put the matter of passing the final budget figure up to a vote with her fellow board members. The amount of $40,217,000, a 2.18 percent increase over the year before, was unanimously passed.
The board also revealed that the budget's tax levy is 4.46 percent.
District Superintendent Arnold Goldstein stated that it wasn't easy bringing in the budget at that low of an amount.
"That budget-to-budget increase is the lowest we've had in more than 10 years and was even lower than last year, which was the lowest up until that point," he said. "We believe that this is a conservative, cost-efficient budget that invests in our children's future."
"There were a great many challenges we face this year," Goldstein added. "We've lost a great deal of state and federal aid. We're currently getting $402,000 in federal aid, and this is the last year we're getting that. The state has decreased [more than] $1,300,000 over the last two years."
According to the board, in 2001, state aid accounted for 38 percent of the district's budget. In 2011, 10 years later, it now accounts for 21 percent. The loss has to be made up by taxpayers.
Goldstein also cited multiple Nassau County mandated taxes and fees being imposed upon the North Bellmore School District.
"There's an unprecedented move to shift costs to the district," he said. "We already have assumed the cost of a sewer tax for next year and for the school budget of 2012-2013. We're anticipating picking up the cost of tax assessment errors. So mandates are added, oil is going up, everything is rising, and that's the context in which we had to put the budget together."
Goldstein said that the board always does everything in its power to try and put money back into the hands of the residents of their district whenever possible.
"North Bellmore tax payers received an additional $450,000 back from the district last year," he said. "Last year, when you voted on the budget, the tax levy that was approved by 60 percent was 3.95 [percent]. But the board voted to give back $450,000, so in reality, the tax levy was 2.52 [percent] – that amount was given back because the board feels strongly that it was the community's money, and if we have it, we give it back."
However, such a refund is unlikely this year.
"If we had it in the budget this year, the tax levy would be lower," Goldstein said. "But when you average the two years together, it's the same, and it's beneficial to our community."
Goldstein assured those in attendance that the district is spending every penny of their money as wisely as they can.
"The cost per pupil is among the lowest in Nassau County," he said. "We received statistics that we rank 48th out of 57 districts in what we spend per pupil, so we are efficient. And despite that efficiency, our students continue to perform academically very, very well – better than most other Nassau County districts."
Sacrifices had to be made when putting together this year's budget, including cuts to staff and some small increases in class size. These factors will be outlined in the district's upcoming public budget meetings.
One staff cut publicized at the meeting was that of physical education teacher Mandy Heigh, whose position will be abolished on June 30 of this year due to her being the teacher with the least seniority in the physical education tenure area. However, a part-time position is being created in it's stead, which will be offered to Heigh.
Despite the hardships, Goldstein believes the district made the best out of a tough situation.
"As you can see, despite the financial pressures that we face, not only in North Bellmore, but everywhere, the board is guided by our mission to reach and challenge all learners in a culture of respect and kindness," he said. "I believe that this budget allows us to do that."
The final vote on the district's adopted budget is on Tuesday, May 17, at Newbridge Road school. The voting runs from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Other news covered at the board meeting included the granting of tenure to two members of the school district. Laura Dust, a speech teacher at Martin Avenue school, and Carol A. Eskew, deputy superintendent, have both achieved this prestigious honor, and many congratulations were bestowed upon them by both staff members and students at the meeting.
Another positive note included the recognition of John G. Dinkelmeyer Elementary School fifth-grader Andrew McGuinness, whose poem entitled "Nature" was included in a nationally-published anthology called A Celebration of Poets. McGuinness recited his poem at the meeting in front of his proud parents and little sister.
The next regularly-scheduled meeting of the North Bellmore Board of Education is on Thursday, May 5, at 8 p.m.