BY MICHAEL CAHILL
Board intends to dip heavily into reserves to keep tax levy down
The North Rockland Central School District school board gathered for their regular meeting, Tuesday evening in the auditorium of North Rockland High School. The big news was the budget presentation from Superintendant Eckert.
Superintendent Ileana Eckert said the tax levy increase this year for the 2012 – 2013 budget now is 2.69 percent, which is up from 1.76 percent last year. The total proposed budget is $201,525,130, the first time the district has cracked $200 million. New York State is covering $44.34 million of the district’s funding and the tax levy is set at $132,689,141.
Eckert said the school district would use over $23.94 million in reserve funds this year and a similar amount next year. After 2013-2014 Eckert indicated the district is not sure where the money is going to come from to cover the ever-ballooning budget.
The board appears to be hoping for change from Albany on mandate costs or further increases in state aid to prevent drastic cuts and/or huge tax hikes after the 2013-2014 budget year. Adding to the mix, the district must negotiate new contracts with administrators and the teachers union in each of the next two years respectively.
On a positive note, Eckert said the district would save $3.8 million in next year’s budget from the transformation project that has been worked on over the past year, and will gain a new source of revenue from the leasing of the Gerald Neary building to Rockland BOCES.
With the transformation 40 positions will be cut for next year, 18 of which are teacher positions. However if the budget for next year does not pass in May, more positions will need to be cut
Eckert also revisited the Mirant settlement and the effect it has had on taxes in the district. Since the 2003 – 2004 budget year, the district has lost $40 million in revenue because of the lawsuit. Eckert emphasized the fact that despite a bad fiscal situation the district is still in a better spot then other school districts in New York.
Following the presentation President Gatti read out a letter from a member of the board of education in the William Floyd School District on Long Island who attended the JROTC drill meet at North Rockland High School last month. The letter complimented North Rockland on its facilities and attentive staff.
During public comments local resident and taxpayer advocate Diego Aviles asked the board to meet with town assessors at some point to see how a 2.69 percent tax levy increase on next year’s budget will effect resident’s property taxes next year.
The board said that there is not yet a specific date set for that. Aviles pushed the board to release a preliminary number of what the tax increase could look like for residents, but the board said there were no plans for that.
The discussion devolved in a shouting match at times between Aviles and Assistant Superintendent Johnston.
Johnston said it is difficult to give an exact number and he did not want to put out a preliminary number to the public when it could easily change. Last year Aviles successfully organized the North Rockland community to vote down the school board’s proposed budget because he felt they should have used more reserve funds to offset tax hikes.
This week the board also recognized the top 20 seniors from this year’s graduating class.
During the opening public comments, local resident Christine Cahill spoke briefly to the board about her concern over possible nursing positions being cut if in the budget for next year.
Superintendant Eckert assured her that no nursing positions outside of the two schools that are closing would be cut.
North Rockland High School senior Trevor Swingle then delivered a speech to the board advocating for Sol Bloch’s position of chorus director. Swingle highlighted Bloch’s achievements and rapport with the students.
Following audience applause, Eckert spoke for the board saying that they are saddened by the loss of 18 teachers next year, and it is not a matter of pick who we want of do not want. But since the Mirant settlement, she said, many other teachers have lost their positions and the district is doing all it can.
School board president Deborah Gatti said she knows these decisions are difficult, but the board has to come up with a leaner budget because that is what the community wants.
The board then turned to honoring the top 20 graduating high school seniors. These students had the highest GPAs from their graduating class. Students received a certificate from the board commending them on their achievement.
The remaining items on the agenda were all passed unanimously before the board voted to enter executive session.