Manhasset Board of Education votes to remove 14 teaching assistant positions

Manhasset Board of Education votes to remove 14 teaching assistant positions
The Manhasset Board of Education voted to remove 14 teaching assistant positions from the district as part of its staff cuts under the 20214-2025 budget. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Manhasset Board of Education voted Tuesday night to eliminate 14 teaching assistant positions as part of its adopted 2024-2025 budget.

The district adopted a $111,286,207 budget on April 16, encompassing a 3.3% budget-to-budget increase and a 2.68% tax increase. It is set to face a community vote on May 21.

“The budget has been very challenging to formulate,” Passi said. “And the reason that it was challenging to formulate is because we had immense pressure created by increased costs in employee healthcare with back-to-back enormous increases in health insurance premiums, pension costs and a significant increase in the cost of out-of-district special ed placements.”

Passi said cost increases of this nature would typically be mitigated by staff retirements, which the district did not see at the rate needed to avoid the cuts.

More than $1 million needed to be cut from the budget to comply with the tax cap. This was achieved through staff reductions, he said.

The district opted to remove 13.45 full-time equivalent positions.

The staffing cuts are split between support staff and faculty, with 12.85 full-time equivalent support staff being removed.

Teaching assistant positions across the district are being eliminated, including 10 fewer full-time equivalent elementary special education teaching assistants.

One administrator was added to the district’s staff for the secondary school to help with the school administration’s workload and assist the assistant principal.

Passi said while staff cuts are being made, staffing efficiencies are also being made to achieve smaller class sizes. This includes bringing teachers who have been on special assignments back to the schools.

The district proposed guidelines for elementary school classroom sizes, which were reviewed by a board of education subcommittee.

The guidelines range from class sizes of 21 students for kindergarten up to 26 students in grades five through six.

Passi said the subcommittee found the class-size guidelines reasonable but that class sizes should remain below when possible.

He said that all elementary classrooms will follow those guidelines next school year, within the budget’s abilities.

One of the district’s main financial stressors was employee compensation and benefits increases.

Compensation and benefits comprise 75% of the district’s budget expenses. In other words, compensation constitutes 50% of the budget, while benefits are the other 25%.

Benefits are increasing by 36% from the prior year, amounting to 1.18% of the district’s budget increase. Compensation is increasing by 20%, or 0.66% of the budget increase.

The district’s cost for special education students placed out of the district has increased as well. This includes an 11.38% increase in the cost of contract therapy.

About 90% of the district’s budget is funded by property taxes, with state aid contributing 5% of the district’s revenues and the fund balance 1%. The remaining 4% of revenues are categorized as “other.”

Despite initial proposals that decreased the district’s foundation aid, it was ultimately restored within the final state budget.

Passi said that while this is true, they did not receive the previously guaranteed minimum 3% increase in state aid, which will be made up for by additional use of the district’s fund balance in the budget.

In other news, the district welcomed Rebecca Chowske, an incoming assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and personnel who will begin at the start of the school year.

The board of education approved the hiring of Chowske at its meeting Tuesday night.

Chowske joined the district in 2017 as the director of English, reading and libraries. Passi said her work so far has been in developing the district’s broadcast journalism program and leading initiatives to remodel the elementary reading and writing curriculum.

Donald Gately, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and personnel, will leave the district at the end of the school year.

“Dr. Gately is a visible presence in each of our schools and at countless school events, and we are grateful to have had his educational leadership and expertise over the last two years,” Passi said. “And we appreciate greatly the work he has done on behalf of the district and we wish Dr. Gately continued success in all of his future endeavors.”

Multiple projects are also underway in the district, with the board approving multiple bids for them.

This includes a $1,431,356 bid for phase three of the Munsey Park Elementary School capital project for site reconstruction and a $4,070,000 bid for electrical reconstruction and fire alarm reconstruction

Passi said the site reconstruction bid was $400,000 under budget, but the fire alarms and electrical reconstruction were $500,000 over budget.

He said the $100,000 will be “neutralized” by the contingency budget for greater expenses due to supply change, creating no impact on the budget.

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