Tax levy, enrollment pose challenges
The Westbury Board of Education presented the first preliminary draft of their 2016-17 budget at their Feb. 11 work session, which according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Mary Lagnado, is set to preserve all jobs and programs within the district, despite financial hardships coming in a number of forms.
Lagnado noted several challenges in crafting the budget, citing a low tax cap and low state aid projections, as well as continuously increasing year-to-year enrollment, among other factors. “This budget has been very difficult to put together because of all the unknowns that we have coming this year. One of them is the low tax cap while we have to comply with unfunded mandates and new registration regulations that have come down from the state,” she said. “Plus, enrollment is a very telling story. We are one of the only school districts on Long Island that has seen such a huge increase of over three percent in enrollment every single year.”
Part of the reason for the regularly increasing enrollment numbers, Lagnado noted, was the growing number of immigrant students that the district is compelled to take on due to New York State mandates.
In its present form, the budget comes in at $136,534,448, which represents a 4.45 percent increase— amounting to $5,816,106—over last year. The proposed tax levy is set at -0.37 percent—a decrease of $288,459 from last year—which Assistant Superintendent for Business
Thomas Primiano said has been one of the main factors behind the difficulty in crafting next year’s budget.
“We learned this year that inflation has still been very low,” he said. “And the factor that we have to work with means that our tax levy is in negative territory.”
In addition, this draft of the spending plan, when taking into account projected revenues for next year, has a budget gap of $3,684,016 that must somehow be addressed either through additional revenues or an increase in state aid in order to keep all positions and programs intact, Primiano noted.
Lagnado stressed that the current 2016-17 spending plan is in its very early stages and a great many aspects of it are subject to change depending on a number of different factors.
“Right now our state aid numbers are very low, but one thing that could change this budget is if we get additional state aid to which we are entitled,” she said. “Another thing is that we have about 15 teachers retiring this year, and we will not be replacing them until we know that we are getting the additional dollars we need for next year. We need additional state aid at this point.”
As the budget evolves, Lagnado said, more public presentations will be held to keep local taxpayers informed of their progress.
“We do various budget scenarios until we know what our numbers are,” she said. “But again, the difficulty is in our enrollment numbers and the fact that we have a negative tax levy.”