The Mineola School District is floating a $89.1 million budget for the 2015-16 school year, a 2.1 percent increase from 2014-15. Mineola is touting a 1.37 percent tax levy increase which if adopted for public vote, would be the eighth straight year the school district had been under 2.5 percent or lower.
“The entire school budget is collected from a combination of what we ask from the taxpayers and what we receive in revenue from various places,” School Superintendent Michael Nagler said.
At issue for the district is New York State aid. Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed boosting education spending if legislators change teacher evaluation rules to put more emphasis on standardized test results. Detractors argue Cuomo has withheld projections as a negotiating ploy.
New York State announced a budget deal on Monday, March 30, with a school aid increase nearly $1.6 billion. The state agreed to implement new ethics laws, put teacher evaluations in the control of a state agency and raised teacher tenure eligibility from three to four years. The state budget wasn’t ratified as of press time.
Mineola is drafting its budget under a state aid figure at $6 million, a 2.5 percent increase from last year.
“It’s still an estimate,” Nagler said. “We’re using the estimate from the governor’s budget without the hostage money. When that gets resolved, we’ll be able to amend that [$6 million].”
Assistant Superintendent Jack Waters said Cuomo’s original proposal topped Mineola off at $6.15 million in aid. He reduced the additional $150,000 because of Mineola’s commitment to its universal pre-K program.
“I think it’s a solid number,” Waters said. “We had a little bit of an increase of what was projected last year. I think $6 million is a good number to start with.”
Miscellaneous revenues total $2.45 million, a $200,000 decrease from last year.
“We try to look at the major drivers of all of our increases,” Nagler said. “Salaries and benefits make up a good 80 percent of our budget.”
Salaries saw a 1.06 percent bump to $49 million, with benefits dipping 3.4 percent to $22.3 million. Early and teacher retirement system benefits remained flat, while teacher retirements saw a $1.4 million dip to $5.1 million. Health care costs rose 6 percent to $10.7 million.
“Benefits are not only ERS, TRS and health,” Nagler said. “Those numbers do not add up because benefits also include workman’s comp, social security. We focus on the three biggest drivers under benefits.”
District reps are recommending curriculum enhancements, including an increase in science labs in grades K-2 and math options in grades 7-12. Nearly 4.5 teaching positions will be added from these suggestions. Eight teachers retired last year, which enables Mineola to hire the new teachers with a slight increase in the budget, officials said.
“I think it’s important that every child get the same experience in school with science labs,” Nagler said. “We feel strongly that we can increase the time in math and continue to have students take all the regents level courses.”