At the Polls: Residents Hoping to Avoid Contingency

(Full story as published  June 19, 2012 at 10:20 PM)

For the second time in just over a month, Mount Sinai School District residents headed to the polls to vote on a budget for the 2012-13′ school year.

With the original tax cap-piercing budget failing to receive supermajority approval, concerned community members flocked to the polls hoping to avoid another failed budget, which would lead to contingency for the district.

A resident for 14 years, Joe Rutolph thinks it’s imperative this budget passes to avoid additional cuts, but he wasn’t surprised the first one failed.

“We knew it was going to be close,” he said. “Getting 60-percent of anyone to vote either way is a lot to get, and I think it was a crapshoot so to speak. We were hoping it would pass but certainly you could understand for some of the older folks who don’t have kids in school, the amount of money that we pay in taxes is high, you could see both sides.

“If this one doesn’t pass the amount of cuts that will take place to all the programs, it will be just too deep.”

Maureen and Jim Clark currently don’t have children in the district, yet still support the proposed budget.

“We are very much pro education, so we supported it the last time even with the larger increase to try to maintain programs and we supported it now,” Jim Clark said.

“It is a very fine school district,” Maureen added. “It’s produced some wonderful students and you have to give what you can to keep it going like that.”

With 20 years in Mount Sinai under her belt, Laura Williams, a teacher at another district on the island, is also crossing her fingers that contingency won’t be needed.

“Yes, it is imperative this passes,” she said.  “I have two in high school for next year, so I think it should pass, without a doubt.”

Some were surprised that it has gone this far, and the district is hoping the support is enough to get an already lower budget approved.

Polls remain open in the Elementary School gymnasium until 9 p.m. Tuesday. Stay tuned to Patch for breaking results later in the evening.

Miller Place Board Adopts Budget Under Cap Without Full-Day Kindergarten

(Full story as published 4/4/13)

The proposal of full-day kindergarten in the 2013-14 school budget in Miller Place has been a hot topic since first proposed by Superintendent Marianne Higuera. On Wednesday the Board of Education made a decision to adopt a budget without the proposal.

After including kindergarten in the superintendent’s budget, the school board listened to varying community views on the topic for about a month before ultimately deciding against it.

“We are all cognizant of the educational merits of doing it, but at this particular time the sustainability issue is just too much for this board to pass,” said trustee Michael Unger.

The budget would have been $67,757,777, a 4.3-percent increase, with full-day kindergarten. Instead, the adopted budget of around $67.3 million will be an increase of 3.64 percent from last year.

“They are putting together the best educational program they can for 2013-’14 and I support their decisions,” Higuera said of the board’s adoption.

The budget not only retains all staff and programs, but also includes other initiatives and comes in under the tax levy cap. The district’s maximum allowable tax levy increase was 4.3 percent but the board managed to reduce the increase to 3.94 percent after initally projecting to be at the cap.

“The board really put a lot of thought and energy into offering the best educational programs for the district they could at the time and also considered the economic and fiscal constraints in the community,” Higuera said. “Their decision to come in under the tax cap was reflective of their beliefs.”

While full-day kindergarten is in the rear-view mirror for this upcoming budget, Unger noted that time taken to analyze the program was beneficial and it is something they will look at again in future budgets. They will also have to monitor whether or not they will still have the New York State Conversion Aid for the program in upcoming years.

“We’re going to keep in contact with legislators to find out the possibility of the aid going away,” Unger said. “The good thing is we looked at it now in detail. It’s important for the community to know that it’s now fully in our laps and we’re going to continue to look at it.”

Debate Persists On Contentious Miller Place Kindergarten Proposal

(Full story as published 3/14/13 on Miller Place-Rocky Point Patch)

Full-Day kindergarten continued to be the topic of contention at Wednesday’s second budget workshop as the district pitched the proposal again while now including a four-year projection.

Clearly the most controversial topic after the first workshop, the program would come at no cost to the district the first year and little cost in 2014-‘15 thanks to Kindergarten Conversion State Aid that would be received. The first two years of full-day kindergarten would come at a net cost of $105,370 thanks to a projected $750,000 in aid.

After the original meeting the board and residents asked for a projection extended past the first two years of the program. Superintendent Marianne Higuera delivered that on Wednesday. The projections showed that the total net cost of the program to the district over four years would come to $975,513. Teachers, parents and other residents spoke and shared their support or opposition with the proposal with the superintendents and the board.

“I’m concerned about its stability and what it’s going to do to us in three years,” said parent Lori Murphy. “We’ve made a lot of progress this year. How is it possible we can say that we can sustain that and it’s not going to pit everyone against each other once again in years three, four and five?”

Assistant Superintendent Susan Hodun also delivered a presentation on the effects of a full-day program, which included a comparison of the half-day and full-day schedule for students. The current half-day program lasts from 9:15 to 11:45 a.m. and includes four half-hour lessons. The full-day program would last until 3:45 p.m. and include 10 half-hour lessons as well as a 50-minute lunch and recess for the kids.

“I know that people will say, in the past we’ve always had half-day kindergarten and it’s worked, but we’re moving ahead now,” said parent Lauren Getz. “We need to give these children the opportunity and the resources to be the great citizens that I know that they can be.”

Another parent, Lisa McNulty, added, “It’s the time. This is the opportunity to go full-day and see how well our children can do by first, second and third grade.”

The Board of Education is continuing to look at all aspects of the superintendent’s proposal before adopting a budget, including the kindergarten proposal. According to projections, the proposed budget would be $67,757,777 with full-day kindergarten and $67,320,399 without. The budget includes other new initiatives and zero cuts.

“Personally I don’t think the board’s made a decision yet,” board member Michael Unger said regarding the kindergarten proposal. “I think clearly we feel that the educational impact is something you can’t argue. The other side though is the sustainability. Where are we going to be in three years?”

Budget adoption is scheduled for March 20, but at the request of some residents, the board is considering pushing the adoption back in order to leave more time for public comment.