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Huntington School Board OKs $109 Million Budget

Tax rate would rise 3.15 percent; vote set for May 17.

The Huntington school board adopted a $109 million budget Monday night after several weeks of debate over how much more taxpayers were willing to pay or accept in cuts.

The budget for 2011-12, hammered by state aid cuts and rising costs, represents a 3.15 percent tax rate increase, and a .23 increase over this year's budget.

Trustees voted, 6-1, with Elizabeth Black the only one to oppose it. Though during discussion, the votes of other trustees seemed to hinge on the restoration of various elements of the budget, or the extent of the tax increase, Black had said that several aspects of the budget disturbed her and she would not vote for the budget regardless of the tax rate.

Among other things, she cited disparities in the level of cuts affecting different schools.

Gone from the budget, despite pleas from parents over the last several meetings, is . The board had previously decided to limit funding for the band, with the band parents' organization already raising funds to close the gap.

Pulled back from the chopping block were eight kindergarten aides, the Saturday Academy, which is designed to help students to achieve proficiency on state tests, netbooks and one psychologist's job. Saturday Academy had been restored last week, then was targeted again for cost savings during Monday's meeting, only to make it back into the budget again before the evening was over.

Staff layoffs increased from 102.6 to 105.4. The budget total is $109,037,301.

School board president Bill Dwyer again emphasized the difficulty of reaching an acceptable budget this year, because of state aid cuts and mandates. He also said the board had made the teachers' union "an offer to save a substantial number of positions but to date the unit has not accepted the offer. We would love to put some positions back but we cannot."

The evening started with a real decline of $129,238  in the projected budget from the current, but quickly rose as trustees debated the willingness of taxpayers to pay higher rates or the value of various programs that had seemed slated for elimination.

At one point, Dwyer surveyed board members on what rate increases they would support, and responses ranged from under 3 percent for Richard McGrath and Dwyer, to 3.5 percent for Christine Bene and Emily Rogan. The conversation soon turned ot which programs most needed to be rescued.

Several parents spoke once more of the need to save full-day kindergarten or at least the need to learn which session their children would attend. Others upbraided the board about what they saw as waste or the need to cut administrative staff.

The budget will be come before voters May 17.

JSC April 13, 2011 at 12:40 AM
We will never know what the truth is behind the story that Dwyer tells about the unions not playing ball. I have heard from two teachers and one administrator that both their unions have been trying to negotiate, and it was the board and/or supt who didn't want to play ball. Whatever the case, neither side got anywhere with the other, and here we stand with unconscionable cuts of programs and teachers from our children's education. Frankly, the tax rate was the least of our worries, whether it came in at 2% or 3.5%, they were close enough to be acceptable for most - though, yes, I understand that any increase is a hardship for many people nowadays. As I've said all along, if the board had gotten ANY concessions from the unions it would have helped save some jobs and some programs. Why wasn't that acceptable to the board? Someone needs to ask that question. Are the two incumbents running again? I've seen one new candidate's sign out already, any others? This year, of any, it's important to know all the candidate's stands on several important issues. I'd like to see a clear direction for the future, not some piecemeal discussion every other week that never gels into a coherent, well-thought-out decision. PLAN AHEAD, KNOW WHERE THIS DISTRICT IS HEADED AND MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON THAT PLAN! That's what I want to see in a new board candidate.
suzanne ridenour April 13, 2011 at 02:23 AM
Do you really think It's $14.00 month? Saving our schools? Why does it always come down to "saving our schools? Our educational system has spun out of control. There is waste everywhere we turn. We are not saving, we are trying to reorganize a system that is broken. Why is it a crime to equate education as a business? The future of our country is hinged on the students of toady. We are in the business of educating these students, give them the tools to be successful. We need to raise the standards, set the guidelines for all involved. Responsibility is on the shoulders of every citizen.
Lisa April 13, 2011 at 03:59 AM
There is a PTA meeting (Auditorium of Finely Middle School at 7pm on 4/13) to discuss these budget cuts again. I really can not believe they are looking to cut of our Kindergarten classes from full to half day. I have a 3 1/2 yr old who I will have to either put in private school or pay for a half day program at a preschool b/c our school district is a mess. I pay 13K in property taxes and I can't even send my son to Kindergarten full time! I am so angry over this and even more so disappointed in our school district. Make the cuts somewhere else ( staff, sports, activities etc...) not at the kindergarten level. Young children deserve a full education- it is critical!! I'll be at the PTA meeting tomorrow! :(
Karen April 13, 2011 at 11:12 AM
JSC - thank you for speaking up... The union president has a rebuttal that is posted in Newsday today - you can access it at newsday dot com. The negotiations you speak of where the union would have accepted salary cuts to save positions was not accepted by the board. Finally, the other side is being heard. Lisa - you are correct. Its a mess - and outrageous that no cuts in non academic areas have been made. Whats sadder, attending the pta meeting today will have absolutely no impact on that fact whatsoever. Your voice and many others echoing the same sentiment were heard and ignored...period.
Amy April 13, 2011 at 01:06 PM
The Newsday article, to me, illustrates that the teacher's union wanted a 2 year deal while our district would only offer a one-year deal. Knowing how fatally starved we will be for money next year, I understand why we can only offer a year right now. God knows what next year is going to bring. I would also hope that the deal includes increased contributions to health care--seems to be where we continue to hemorrhage money.
Christina April 13, 2011 at 01:12 PM
Lisa, did you attend your elementary school PTA meetings where these topics were discussed BEFORE the budget adoption? It may be a little out of place to discuss full day kindergarten and your property taxes in a room full of people that pay the same, and more and less, that are concerned about their children getting into COLLEGE and how the budget topics affect that. You are more than welcome to attend the Finley Middle School and HHS PTA meeting, but do not be discouraged when the talk is about accelerated classes, advanced placement courses, college preparation, electives, clubs and organizations, and yes, dare I say, ATHLETICS! (and if any of the ATHLETIC critics would like to debate IF sports changes lives, check out the movie "The Blind Side".) If any of you know some of our athletes, you know we have our own stories right here in Huntington. Sports changes lives for some of these kids. When they are given a pair of cleats or equipment donated by fellow students, so they can feel like "everyone else" on that field, court or track, they know they have to go to class, maintain a high GPA, and act appropriately in school. So, yes, ATHLETICS is just as important to all our children as all the other classes.
G April 13, 2011 at 02:10 PM
Amen Christina!!!
Jim April 13, 2011 at 02:38 PM
I am a candidate for school board. Budget cuts hurt students. Part of the problem can be addressed by changing the way we operate as a District. Generally board meetings lack discussions about the things that matter most to our district including student programs, electives and curriculum. Likewise, when the time came to pass a budget we only received a “code based budget” that didn’t detail cuts or funding. It’s understandable people are frustrated. I get that people are upset over the cuts. I am too. I am more upset that we sort out the management of the District in a haphazard last minute way. We only deal with problems when we have a crisis. We did it with JAI. We did it with schools in need. Now we are doing it with the budget process. We need to address budget and curriculum at every meeting. We need to discuss how to fix poor test scores on a regular basis. We also need to discuss what will attract people to this District now that we have approximately 25% of the students opting out of the public system. Most importantly we need to let the public see what is happening at board meeting by making every meeting accessible through the internet or a cable access channel. Tight budgets and increased costs will not magically go away. People will naturally feel frustrated when they don’t hear all the details of the budget, don’t have easy access to meetings, the problems are not publicly addressed and we keep revisiting the same issues. Jim Cahill
Maria Sakarin April 13, 2011 at 05:01 PM
The damage to quality public education in Long Island is not over. Every parent needs to get active, write to Albany and start campaigning for change -- in advance of next year's cuts. Without pressure on Albany for meaningful, substantial change this situation will only get worse. Put pressure on Cuomo NOW for real mandate relief - http://www.governor.ny.gov/mandaterelief . Contact your Senator http://www.nysenate.gov/contact_form
JSC April 13, 2011 at 07:24 PM
Jim, I'm glad that you posted here with your views. As an "emptynester" I can see how things are running now compared to how they used to run a few years ago. I agree that the board seems to have given up the reins on important things like curriculum and facility planning. The board used to have committees where each member was assigned to two committees and they met maybe once a month with any and all administrators affiliated with that specific area - curriculum, facilities, public relations etc. Once a couple of board members decided that the committees weren't important anymore, they disappeared - and so did the board's involvement with the things directly important to the students. Each committee chair would report back to the rest of the board on what was discussed and to see if there was anything that needed further discussion or a vote. I'd say this is the missing link NOW. I would hope you'd consider adding this idea to your list of important reasons to get elected!
Jim April 13, 2011 at 07:49 PM
@ JSC - I think it is a great idea to explore. Do you recall the committees that previously existed and the structures? Jim Cahill
Amy April 13, 2011 at 08:09 PM
Adam Spector is another candidate. Please look at his website where he lays out who he is and where he stands on the issues. www. adamspector.net
Amy April 13, 2011 at 08:11 PM
Sorry for the typo: adamspector.net
JSC April 14, 2011 at 01:42 AM
You could ask the District Clerk to let you see the Policy Book, and under the section for School Board, there should be a page or two regarding the board committees (not advisory committees). Hopefully, they weren't deleted when the old board decided to get rid of them! The Policy Book should be considered public information, so there is no need for a FOIL I believe.
Karen April 14, 2011 at 10:12 AM
Christina and G - no one, including me, has said that sports and extracurricular activities aren't important. But the fact is - not 1 afterschool sport or activity, at any school in this district, has been impacted by this budget. Period. That is RIDICULOUS! How can you write about the importance of sports, and the movie Blindside - which is about 1 boy making it in the NFL (the chances of that happening to any child is statistically like winning the lottery) yet you write nothing about losing 1/2 day kindergarten, reading teachers, increased elementary classrooms, etc. If you look at the common denominator of schools who have turned around their status on state reports nationwide - it's an increase in academics, not sports, that has taken them from failing schools to schools in good standing. Sorry but those are the facts. By the way, I was a HS athlete who enjoyed sports throughout my youth. In times of a tough economy we need to look at all areas, including sports and clubs. Especially when there are programs outside of school where all students can participate - like the St Pats baseball and football programs - CYA, etc.
Christina April 14, 2011 at 12:03 PM
Karen, I was simply writing about what issues were important to me. I was not writing about the 1/2 day kindergarten because my children went through the full day program at the "kindergarten center". But, I also have friends with children that went through the 1/2 day program here and they are successful young adults contributing to society in the workforce. Athletics are an important part of our family life and definitely come AFTER academics, but they are a part of who we are. My children do very well in school as do most of their friends. But, regarding the "Blind Side" moment, it may not be the NFL, BUT there are very real children that we know in this school district that have been greatly affected by sports and being a part of a "team". I will fight for athletics and after school activities because they are important to me.
Karen April 14, 2011 at 12:48 PM
Christina, I appreciate your comments, and I am truly not trying to be argumentative, but don't you think that when people only fight for things that "are important to me", rather than important to the whole - that's an issue here? Would you be fighting for the full day kindergarten program if your children were affected? They had the benefit of a full day program, wouldn't it be nice if that program was kept intact for other children to benefit instead of having an A, B and C football team at Finley for example? Why not cut a few sports at Finley and a few at the HS to reduce class size or add back the kindergarten program. I believe much of the discord in this district is from people thinking only about what impacts them directly as opposed to what benefits the district as a whole. For the record, I have no kids in the district, but I'm a life long resident, and taxpayer, of the district. In my 40 plus years as both a student and an adult in HUFSD I've seen so much restructuring, cutting, adding, closing, opening - it would make your head spin - most of which was done at taxpayer expense with limited input/direction from the public.
Christina April 14, 2011 at 01:11 PM
You want to know why I think you should keep sports intact? (by the way we did lose a Varsity team)... Because I think more will get done in a half day Kindergarten class than an overcrowded Kindergarten class. That's why. To answer your question Karen, the issue here is I am fighting for what is important to the students that love sports. Not just my kids, but for all kids that love being on a team, love going to practice, being a part of a "community" that screams for the home team, that congratulates any child that participates and gets praise for a great play. That might be the only kind thing they hear all day, all week. You have no idea what sports mean to some of these kids. So, if it makes a difference to one child, I will feel that all my "cheering" will be worth it. I'm done with this post. No more from me. See you on the field! Go Finley Falcons! Go Blue Devils!!!!
Lisa April 18, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Christina- Yes, unfortunately I did attend the Finely PTA. I was told to go to Finely to hear the budget proposal and I did; however I was not aware there was a PTA meeting before the budget discussion. I did not feel comfortable nor welcomed by the Finely PTA. When the discussions started about the proposed budget cuts and I asked a question about the 1/2 day kindergarten cuts I was immediately cut off by one of the Finely PTA members. This PTA member went so far to say "Oh... they don't cover that much curriculum in Kindergarten anyway, your son will be fine". Who the hell is she to make that statement. Why should it matter if I attended the budget meeting at Finely, H.S or Southdown! I asked a question that pertained to the proposed budget cuts.period. I thought she was rude and certainly not the calabur person to sit on any PTA. I don't have any children in the school district yet. My son will be 4 years old and attending kindergarten in a another year. I attended the budget meeting at Finely b/c that where I was told it was being held. Had someone explained the process in a more professional way then I would've left and met the committee at Southdown. Don't worry I won't be attending PTA meeting at Finely.
Lisa April 18, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Clarification: I was told the budget meeting was starting at 7pm- Had I known 7pm was PTA- I would attended later. Regardless I sat through it and listened. The budget meeting started at 7:30pm and that's when I asked my questions. Even then it was uncomfortable. As simple explanation of what topics were welcomed would've helped.
Clifford Sondock April 25, 2011 at 12:43 AM
The current Government compulsory K-12 school system does not work. The time has come to consider a parental choice, school voucher system. Schools should compete for our children and parents should have choices. Market competition would increase quality and selection while lowering costs.
bill April 25, 2011 at 01:10 AM
Amen!!!!!!!!!!!!!
bill April 25, 2011 at 01:32 AM
Just like the South Huntington board, Patch shut down the blogs. Editor Pam Robinson: Heard some news you want us to check out? Let me know: Pam.Robinson@patch.com Pam open it back up and let the people write, I'm done. It's not any fun if we can not be honest. It's funny you spoke about facts and yet you don't want to hear them. One last question, who was right the court or Jim Kaden? let me know on this blog. Thanks, It was fun to pass the time. I have sorrow for the kids just starting out in our district.
JSC April 25, 2011 at 07:13 PM
Keep to the discussion Cliff. We aren't here to discuss if the country or the state is willing or able to change the whole educational system. This is about the budget for next year, period.
Clifford Sondock April 26, 2011 at 04:13 AM
All the school districts are on borrowed time. They are abhorently inefficient. A mediocre education on Long Island costs over $22,000 per student, more than twice the cost of the rest of the country. There are over a dozen school districts with less than 1,000 students and a superintendent and administration costing well over $2,000,000 per year. Parents have to sell their home and move to another neighborhood to have their child attend the school that they want. Most of the policies and ciricullum is dictated by the state. Schools can't fire bad or underperforming teachers. The system is totally broken beyond repair, most schools fail at educating their students and all you have to say is "keep to the discussion?" You will be answering the same question for many years until the county and school disticts go bankrupt. Oh, I guess Nassau County already is insolvent. You better change the conversation and begin talking about some revolutionary change...fast.
Christina April 26, 2011 at 12:14 PM
It is spelled "curriculum". What school district did you go to? If you say Huntington, I am going to cry.
JSC April 26, 2011 at 09:41 PM
Yes Cliff I do say keep to the discussion. That is the rule on this board! If you want to have your own Opinion piece started go ahead. You don't even live in the Huntington district. People can agree or not with you, just go to a blog of your own here, please.
suzanne ridenour April 26, 2011 at 10:27 PM
My goodness now we are going to correct the spelling! Exactly what is the discussion?
suzanne ridenour April 26, 2011 at 10:29 PM
and by the way JSC, I thought real names where the rule!
Clifford Sondock April 28, 2011 at 03:06 AM
Kim, very interesting article and relevant to Long Island's highly inefficent school system. Rather than increase the school budgets and costs per student, residents need to focus on changing the current system. JSC is simply "kicking the can down the road." Long Island schools will cut programs and fire great teachers, focusing on budgets and not improving the inefficieny of the education system.

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