When we started the budget development process for 2013-14 a few months ago, we were faced with some familiar challenges. A diminishing share of state aid for Long Island school districts; no significant relief from costly state mandates, and even some new ones to burden local taxpayers; ever-rising costs for health insurance and retirement. All of these difficulties must now be considered in the context of a tax levy limit, which makes it much more difficult for local districts even to ask local taxpayers if they would be willing to pay higher taxes to preserve educational programs.
In the face of these budget pressures, many if not most districts in our region have for several years in a row been forced to cut programs and lay off teachers and other staff.
The children in Roslyn have been more fortunate. While other schools are in a prolonged period of retrenchment, Roslyn continues to institute new programs and expand existing ones. The taxpayers in Roslyn have also been more fortunate. While other districts are depleting their reserve funds just to keep the tax levy from going off the charts, Roslyn’s school board has very carefully mapped out a plan to use our reserves to balance the tax levy, fund capital projects and prepare for other contingencies.
The result will be a tax levy increase in 2013-14 of little more than 2 percent, among the lowest in the area. In fact, over five years, the average increase in the tax levy in Roslyn has been about 1.4 percent. This is less than the rate of inflation, and less even than the “tax cap” allows the district to spend.
Our educational programs continue to grow. By next year, the iPad initiative will encompass the entire high school student body. Our literacy program has expanded from the elementary grades into the secondary level. We have introduced a new elementary math curriculum. We have worked strenuously to implement both the national “common core standards” as well as a new state-mandated evaluation system for teachers and administrators. We have conducted very extensive professional development to support these efforts and ensure that they are successful. And this summer, a group of high school students will visit China as part of our new foreign exchange program.
We have been able to not only maintain but to advance our programs by very cautious budget management. Every year, we take a hard look at the budget to focus on what we really need to keep our schools moving forward. We pursue efficiencies in every aspect of the budget. And we seek partners to help us fund educational innovation wherever possible.
As we move forward educationally, we have been very careful not to repeat the mistakes of the past by neglecting our facilities. We have accomplished a great deal in the last eight years, but, just like your home, the district’s physical plant is constantly in need of attention to keep it in optimal condition. The district convened a new facilities committee this year in order to review the current state of the district’s buildings and grounds and to make recommendations for the years ahead.
I am impressed with the level of expertise and dedication that these community members have brought to the table, and grateful to the committee members for their generous commitment of time and attention to a very important task. Proposition 3, which will be on the ballot on May 21, is a direct result of their efforts, as we aim to spend down the remaining funds in our capital reserves (with no additional tax impact) while continuing to prepare further proposals for long-term needs around the district.
I would like to remind all district residents that the budget vote and board election will take place on Tuesday, May 21 at Roslyn High School. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Please remember to vote.