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West Hempstead Confronts School Budget Challenges

District officials and residents brainstorm ways to resolve $2.25 million gap.

Faced with a $2.25 million gap between expenses and revenue for its 2013-14 budget, West Hempstead School District officials, faculty, parents and other community members spent Wednesday night racking their brains for solutions that would cause the least amount of pain to students.

"We are all in this together," West Hempstead Schools Superintendent John Hogan told the roughly 100 people gathered at the Feb. 6 budget cafe. "We have to figure out how we make revenue match expenses, and continue to provide a solid educational product for the boys and girls of the district that is comprehensive."

In the past two weeks, school officials were able to reduce the gap from $2.9 million by removing money from the budget that had been used in the to pay for unanticipated expenses.

“We have just taken out any cushion we may have had, but we are kind of in crisis mode,” Deputy Superintendent Richard Cunningham stated.  (Should the district encounter any unexpected expense next school year, it may need to tap into its general fund, its reserves.)

For the past five years, West Hempstead has been working with very tight budgets, excessing roughly 100 positions and cutting sports and co-curriculars in order to preserve its academic programs, but that leaves little to no fat to trim now. Plus, the district must also comply with the state tax cap law introduced last year. The latest calculations show that unless West Hempstead attempts to override the cap by getting approval from a “super majority” of voters, it could only raise the tax levy for 2013-14 by a maximum of 2.18 percent or $892,199.

That figure is almost equal to the amount West Hempstead’s revenue for 2013-14 is expected to decline, $861,945. This includes a potential $522K reduction in state aid, and a loss of $600K due to less Island Park students coming to West Hempstead High School in September. And even though the district may have a tenant to rent part of the Eagle Avenue School when Nassau BOCES leaves in June, it would still lose $300K in revenue.

Meanwhile, increases in salaries and pension contributions are expected to drive the district’s expenses up by $1,766,215.

“The reality is we can not continue to do things the way we have done them in the past,” Hogan said. “We have to be willing to step back and coldly analyze where we are, where we have to go and how we fulfill our goals and our mission.”

If the district switched from a nine- to an eight-period day in the middle and high schools, it could save $900K, but it would result in electives being offered on a rotational basis. Restructuring the administration would slash another $260K and consolidating clerical and custodian positions would could cut $76,903. By leasing rather than purchasing computer equipment the district could save an additional $69K, and it was also confident it could lower transportation costs and attorneys’ fees by $500K and $45K, respectively. All these steps would lower the budget gap to just under $367K.

Administrators presented three possible options: override the cap (Option A); reduce one staff member at the high school/middle school, increase class sizes at the elementary level and reduce extracurriculars (Option B); and close Chestnut Street School (Option C).

Shuttering Chestnut, which houses the district’s central offices and most importantly, its Kindergarten center, “in my mind, is a last resort,” Hogan said. “We believe in the Chestnut School.” Limited space at Cornwell Avenue School would also make it difficult for the district to move its Kindergarteners there if Chestnut closed.

Most of the suggestions coming from community and faculty members focused on looking into starting revenue-generating programs such as a Pre K, and a before- or after-school program similar to SCOPE, only run by the district. (Officials agreed to look into these ideas but said often these types of programs barely pay for themselves let alone make a profit.) Pursuing corporate sponsorships and allowing private companies to advertise on the district’s fields were also mentioned, as well as offering retirement incentives.

The Princeton Plan, which calls for schools to be restructured so, for instance, all K-2 students would be housed in one building instead of split between two, was also mentioned. Malverne successfully implemented this in 2010, however, space limitations would be a problem if West Hempstead pursued this strategy. It could even increase its transportation costs because more students would be entitled to busing.

Hogan thanked the crowd for their ideas and urged them to attend the next budget café on Feb. 26 to continue the discussion.

“We are going to get there," he said. "We are committed to maintaining the best possible program we can [but] it may be a smaller program.”

Click here to view the presentation from last night's budget cafe.

How would you solve the West Hempstead School District's budget gap? Share your ideas in the comments space below.

Tara Conry February 12, 2013 at 07:11 PM
I believe NYS law requires the district to provide busing to residents who live within a certain distance from their schools. One person asked during the meeting if residents could "waive" their rights to busing, but Cunningham told her 'No." The district could opt to centralize bus stops, which would require students in Grades 7-12 who attend schools outside the district's boundaries to walk as far as 1.5 miles from their homes to catch the bus to school. Those in Grades K-5 could have to travel as far as 0.75 of a mile and six graders up to 1 mile. These maximum walk distances are actually lower than those required by New York State (2 miles for Grades K-8, 3 miles for 9-12), so the board could also consider raising them, but would need voters to pass a referendum. If it passed then less public school students would be eligible to receive transportation and under a centralized-bus-stop model, private school students would have to walk even further to their stops.
Tara Conry February 12, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Manny, To answer some of your questions, if the district moved to the 8-period day the actually school day would start and stop at the same time but remaining periods would be longer. Offering courses on a rotational basis means that if only a small number of people sign up for say an AP class, the district will postpone offering it that school year and instead offer it next year when it is likely that enrollment will be higher. So some electives will be offered every other year instead of on an annual basis.
william signorile February 27, 2013 at 02:19 PM
A few ways to close the buget gap 1, To defer two weeks salary for all 405 employees ! Till Retirement saving well over 1.million 2. To offer Incentives for Older Workers to leave the Workforce to retire. 3 To increase medical deductions and Wellness programs lower insurance premiums 4 .AASA :: School District Consolidation: The Benefits and Costs(2)
william signorile February 27, 2013 at 02:30 PM
I also have two great kids in the west hempstead high school One ready to go to college ranked 3th in his class and soon the other child who is well on her way . I am very grateful to the west hempstead schools system for a great level of education that was provided to my children . I intend to stay living here in west hemptead . so I offer the above ideas so we can maintain the level of education for all children in the coming years , but we should understand we are in a deep prolonged recession. and based on historical models like that of 1929 to1945 and 1966 to 1982 we still have till 2017 we need to plan
william signorile February 27, 2013 at 02:44 PM
My view is very clear we Do Not need to LAYOFF One Teacher we need to advance the A.P. levels . to add time to classes in writing skills in middle school and math . I see this as a great opportunity As we are at a crossroad .As a single parent I always think how do I improve and prepare the future for my children the above four ideas in my first post is good for the children of this area so they can have a good future .

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