By Kristy O’Connell
Port Washington school board members on Tuesday questioned the district’s ability to afford an increase in staff for the 2017-2018 school year after Superintendent Kathleen Mooney proposed hiring about 20 more people.
The proposed increase follows the continuous growth in enrollment year after year, particularly at the kindergarten level, Mooney said.
The new hires would include administrative, instructional and non-instructional roles at a cost of about $1.85 million, she said.
School board Trustee Larry Greenstein, an accountant, said he was concerned about the district’s ability to afford the extra staff, saying the district’s revenue sources are questionable.
Since Gov. Andrew Cuomo can cut state funding for schools at any point during the year, relying on income from the state negatively affects the budget, Greenstein said.
“That concerns me especially because the president has basically threatened any blue state with loss of funds,” he said. “So I think relying on that number [state aid] is risky.”
Trustee Alan Baer also questioned the staff proposal, asking whether adding staff at the lower grade levels would be offset by reducing staff in the higher grades.
Though the district has some safety nets in place, he said, it “cannot function on a tax-capped budget in the long-term” and must realize the need to generate revenue consistently against its expenditures.
Baer was referring to the state’s cap on property tax increases.
The district is not looking carefully enough at the next several years of potential staffing increases as the larger cohorts move up through the grades, Baer said.
Mooney said she truly believes the district needs the staffing, even though the tax increase cap requires the district to dig deeper into its reserves.
The cap is set at 1.26 percent for school districts this year, though other factors can increase or decrease the amount districts are allowed to hike property taxes.
“Internally, we are very cognizant of where we may be going, especially in terms of enrollment,” Mooney said.
The district’s Budget Committee will hold a meeting on Feb. 28 to further discuss the 2017-2018 budget.
Greenstein also said Tuesday that a mistake made by Nassau County led the district to be $300,000 short of its planned budget, contending the district was basically defrauded.
But Mary Callahan, the assistant superintendent for business, said a $300,000 payment in lieu of taxes was mistakenly included in an email from county officials in a list of future payments.
Halfway through the year, the district was informed that the amount of $300,000 should not have been included and will not be paid, Callahan said.
The issue will be investigated further, particularly with regard to whether or not legal action can be taken, Callahan said.