Manhasset School District faces budgetary challenges amid drop in foundation aid

Manhasset School District faces budgetary challenges amid drop in foundation aid
The Manhasset School District is facing budgetary challenges amid a drop in foundation aid, needing to fill a budget gap of more than $1.5 million. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Manhasset School District, facing budgetary challenges amid declining state aid and rising costs, is looking to fill a budgetary gap of more than $1.5 million before proposing its budget next month, according to Superintendent Gaurav Pass

Passi said at the board of education meeting Thursday night that there are “several elements” creating “significant pressure” for the school district in its upcoming budget.

These elements include a 28% increase in retiree health insurance rates for Medicare family coverage, with more retirees utilizing the district’s health insurance than current employees.

Pension costs for employees will also increase to 14.66% and teacher retirement pensions will increase by 5%, Passi said.

“Therefore for us, the increase is significant,” Passi said.

The district’s revenues are predominantly provided through taxes and state aid, Passi said, and the current proposal for state aid was called “harmful” by the superintendent.

With a proposal to remove the state’s save harmless initiative, which ensures school districts maintain their current state aid amount or get an increase year to year, Passi said Manhasset is proposed to receive a decrease of $629,000 in its foundation aid.

The net losses for the district in total state aid, Passi said, amounts to $511,000 – a 9.8% decrease.

“A half a million reduction in state aid, coupled with significant increases in pension costs and retiree health care costs and very few retirements, compound an already very challenging environment,” Passi said.

But with a budget gap of $1.5 million, even if the district received the same foundation aid as last year it would still leave another million for them to come up with.

“Then what we could do is start to look at various ways of tightening our belt and bringing in a budget that remains under the tax cap,” Passi said.

Passi said with these significant pressures, it will be challenging for school programs to not be impacted negatively in the upcoming budget.

The superintendent asked the community to write letters to the offices of the governor, state Sen. Jack Martins and state Assemblywoman Gina Sillitti.

The school district drafted its own letter to the public officials about their concerns, advocating against the proposed decrease in state aid as it is “too much to bear.”

While the district’s budget is also funded by taxes, the school’s tax increase is capped by the state.

Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Sam Gergis said the tax levy limit is how much the district can raise taxes from year to year, which is calculated through an 8-step formula.

While the state comptroller has set the tax cap at a 2% increase, that is one aspect of the formula that contributes to the calculation.

The district proposed a preliminary tax cap calculated at a 2.68% increase.

In 2023-2024, the maximum taxes the district could levy was set at $97,143,276. The 2024-2025 maximum taxes proposed to be levied is $99,749,164, an increase of $2,605,888.

With those budget challenges in mind, the board was presented with a program and budget overview for student services, which focused on counseling and guidance, special education and health.

Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Allison Rushforth said the budgetary costs for student health services is proposed to decrease by $3,722 in 2024-2025, falling from $357,372 in the current year to $353,650 in the next. This amounts to a 1.04% decrease.

Budgetary cuts for health services will be within the program’s services to other districts and its supplies, while miscellaneous contracts, BOCES services NPS and BOCES services will be increasing in expenses.

As for school counseling, the program’s budget is proposed to increase by $40,759, amounting to $234,690 in 2024-2025. This is a 21% increase.

Budget increases for school counseling services include its BOCES occupational education tuition, BOCES high school services, association memberships and miscellaneous contracts. Budget costs for meetings, events and instructional supplies are proposed to decrease.

The district’s budget for special education non-discretionary costs is projected to increase in 2024-2025 across the board.

For elementary and secondary schools, this will be an increase of $887,898, or 21.2%. The district-wide budget for special education services would increase by $29,098, or 15%. Non-public special education services would increase by $54,071, or 14.08%.

The overall budgeted special education costs proposed for next year amount to $15,179,695, a 0.89% increase.

The district is anticipating an increase in enrollment of students with disabilities, with 482 students projected to be in the district next school year. Currently, 464 students with disabilities are enrolled.

For students with disabilities, Berkowski said the district’s program focuses on creating strong connections, strengthening academic and extracurricular experiences and enhancing their professional development.

Budget impacts for student services in the current school year that the district is anticipating to continue next year include prolonging the time period for students with disabilities to stay in the district – which they called an unfunded mandate – and new entrants with individualized education programs.

These budget impacts will lead to increased tuition and contract therapy costs.

The Manhasset Board of Education will convene again on Feb. 15 where they are scheduled to discuss the athletics budget, data and professional development overview and fund balance.

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