After a handful of tumultuous budget seasons that included teacher and staff layoffs and cuts to curriculum, sports and activies, Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Higuera's proposed 2013-'14 budget includes no cuts.
The budget, which Higuera presented to the Board of Education and those in attendance at Miller Place High School Wednesday night, would not exceed the expected tax levy cap of 4.31 percent. The proposed budget of $67,757,777 not only had zero cuts, but also included multiple instructional program and co-curricular initiatives along with another major proposal of full-day kindergarten.
If the full-day kindergarten proposal is adopted in the budget by the board, the projected expenditure increase would be 4.31 percent. If it is not, the projected increase would drop to 3.64 percent. This proposal was one of the hot topics of debate at the meeting.
"We have been looking at full-day kindergarten as an administrative staff here year, after year, after year and I feel that this is the time to do it," Higuera said. "There is aid that's been on the books 20 or 30 years that helps school districts convert from a half-day to a full-day program. Miller Place has never taken advantage of that opportunity, and I don't believe that opportunity is going to be there much longer."
With the New York State Conversion Aid, the total cost of the full-day program to the district would be just $105,370 -- possibly less -- over the next two years. The question many had was about the sustainability of this program after the two years, and some were concerned this would put the district in a position to once again have to cut programs a few years down the road.
"I'm nervous about the kindergarten [proposal]," said Marc Bloom, Vice President of the Miller Place Athletics Booster. "We've worked hard to try to keep what we've had. I think we've got a good thing going and I think we need to stay on that good thing."
Along with questions about the kindergarten program, there were also concerns about the tax levy increase, which is still up over four percent.
"I believe this is putting us in a dangerous spot and I dont see from the numbers that this is a sustainable program," Sound Beach resident Wlodek Guryn said of the kindergarten proposal. "I also do not believe this budget is taking into account economic realities in the community."
While there were plenty of questions, many also took to the mic to thank the board and administration, including Miller Place Teachers Association President Nancy Sanders. Last year, the district and the MPTA agreed to a four-year contract extension which helped preserve programs and jobs for the current school year.
"I would just like to say thank you," Sanders said. "My staff is very thankful that we've heard for the first time 'no cuts'. I hope it stays that way because it's been a rough few years."
The Board of Education will now look over the budget and there will be at least one, possibly two more hearings before the board adopts a budget on March 20.
"I think it's a breath of fresh air," said board member Brian Neyland. "At this point we know we have a budget alot closer to something the community can accept and something the board knows is really sutainable in the future...that's the most important thing."