Herricks proposed budget reaches tax cap amidst lawsuits

Herricks proposed budget reaches tax cap amidst lawsuits
Center Street School students perform at the board of education meeting Thursday. (Photo by Taylor Herzlich)

Herricks School District board members continued to emphasize that the district faces budgetary challenges for next year due to costs from settling sexual  abuse claims against the district.

The district is facing a number of lawsuits filed under the Child Victims Act, which extended the statute of limitations for survivors of child sex abuse.

There are currently two trials against Herricks being heard by a jury in Nassau County Supreme Court. The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages for alleged abuse by a past school employee, Vincent Festa.

The district has paid $1.1 million to settle four of 21 claims thus far.

“In terms of general support, we are looking at a $4 million increase this year,” said Lisa Rutkoske, the district’s assistant superintendent for business. “That [increase] is really driven primarily by, as we have shared previously, the claims and legal fees associated with those claims.”

General support includes costs associated with claims and legal support, cybersecurity, insurance, security and utilities.

The proposed 2024-2025 budget for the district is $141,710,364. This number is up a whopping 5.2% from the approved 2023-2024 budget of $134,719,970. The budget-to-budget increase is $6,990,394.

Without the costs being allocated toward legal fees, the budget would only increase by 3.25% as opposed to 5.2%.

The district is set to receive an estimated $27 million in state aid according to Rutkoske, which will be the district’s second largest revenue funding source. This is an increase from the district’s 2023-2024 state aid, which was an estimated $25 million.

“We were fortunate as a district,” said Rutkoske. “We are seeing an increase.”

The proposed tax levy is up 2.38% last year, from a tax levy of $104,763,474 in 2023-2024 to a proposed tax levy of $107,258,592. This budget-to-budget difference represents an increase of $2,495,118.

This proposed 2.38% tax levy increase goes up to the tax levy cap, which is the highest percentage by which a district can increase its tax levy from year to year.

Reaching the tax levy cap is unusual, since most districts try to stay below the cap to display to parents and district residents that they are keeping individuals’ taxes in mind.

But board members reiterated that this steep increase is due to the claims against the district, and reminded residents that the Herricks district’s average tax levy increase over the past seven years has been only 1.78%.

Tony Sinanis, the Herricks school district superintendent, stressed that board members try to stretch the budget as far they can.

“Our per pupil expenditure is the lowest in our region in our comparative districts,” said Sinanis. “And our performance speaks volumes in terms of how we maximize every penny of what we have.”

The district’s estimated per pupil spending for 2023-2024 is $31,221 based on the current student enrollment reported by the district.

While not the lowest per pupil spending in North Shore Nassau County, it is certainly on the lower side, especially compared to a district like the North Shore school district, which dished out $47,609 per pupil in 2023-2024.

As of March 8, the Herricks district has 4,315 students enrolled, according to the district clerk. During the 2022-2023 school year, 4,386 students were enrolled in the district. This represents a slight decline.

But board members boasted that Herricks is one of few districts on Long Island receiving an increase in enrollment, which is true in the long term. In a 10-year period from the 2012-2013 school year to the 2022-2023 school year, Herricks saw a 12.8% enrollment increase, according to Newsday.

Meanwhile, 76% of Long Island’s 124 school districts faced a decrease in enrollment during that same 10-year period, according to Newsday.

After general support spending, the next highest increase in costs is transportation, since the district is proposing the purchase of three buses to replace older buses that are no longer passing safety inspections and have not been in use.

Other costs include an increase in instructional costs, mainly because of payroll increases and the proposed addition of another guidance counselor and a special education teacher at the elementary level.

Employee benefits will also be costing the district more because of rising health insurance costs.

The budget will also be going toward new history and science textbooks, technology upgrades, capital expenditures like room renovations and playground upgrades and extended security hours after school.

Sinanis called back to the budget meeting’s surprisingly exciting start on Thursday, when students began the meeting by passing out popcorn to board members and performing a song and dance on stage.

“The collective ‘why’ that ultimately helps us decide what we’re doing is our kids,” said Sinanis.

Board members also notified the public that there are two seats on the Herricks district board of education that are up for election.

Trustee Nancy Feinstein, who has served on the board for 12 years, announced that she is not running for re-election for one of those seats. She said serving as a trustee on the board is a great opportunity for community members.

“There is a lot of work involved and if it is something you’re interested in, I highly recommend that you do it,” said Feinstein. “It has been rewarding for me and for my family.”

Trustee Brian Hassan announced that he is running for a fifth term on the board of education. He mentioned how nice it was to watch the Center Street School students perform at the start of the meeting.

“It’s been a tough couple of days in this district. I’m sure many of you read the paper,” said Hassan. “It was kind of nice to remember what it is all about, serving on the board, and it is about the kids … this is what it’s all about.”

The budget will be adopted by the board April 4. The budget vote and trustee election will be held May 21.

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  1. Rough justice for one of the most profligate and free spending school boards on the Island. And for the insufferable sanctimony of previous Superintendents


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