Yes, you heard correctly. The budget proposed by Supt. Marianne Higuera has no cuts to staff, no cuts to clubs, no cuts to programs, no cuts to sports, and offers the District the opportunity to bring back full day kindergarten. Even better, there are new initiatives being proposed. So, in a time when many districts are in a fiscal crisis and facing steep cuts in employees and programs, Miller Place is ADDING and is staying within the tax cap.
All of the relevant documents related to this budget can be accessed at the District Website by clicking on budget. (Direct link is http://www.millerplace.k12.ny.us/departments.cfm?subpage=1003294) I urge all readers to view these documents to have an informed opinion as these discussions continue. Keep in mind that this is the proposed budget and NOT the final budget we will be voting on in May. Your educated voice will go a long way in shaping the final budget presented to the community by the Board of Education (BOE). At a minimum I suggest viewing the following:
- Key Budget Facts – a one page summary of the key budget facts
- 2013-14 Superintendent’s Proposed Budget – the presentation delivered at the BOE meeting
- Frequently Asked Questions – updated as new questions are sent to the BOE
- Executive Summary – similar to the budget presentation but providing more details
Note the increased transparency of this BOE and Central Office? During their elections, Brian Neyland and Doug Ports both stated that increased transparency was something they would work on as BOE members and they are delivering as promised.
Here are what I think were the key points from last night’s meeting:
The budget will increase by $2.8 million but $2 million is due to increases in payroll and benefits guaranteed by contracts. Therefore, the “extras” in this budget add $800,000 to the budget that was approved last year so this is the number that is negotiable.
The budget to budget increase is 4.31% which would cost the average homeowner an additional $411.29 annually ($34.27/month or $1.13 /day) (As noted in the point above, most of this is due to the increases in payroll and benefits that are contractually guaranteed.)
So what do we get for this extra $800,000 increase that costs us $1.13 per day?
• Full Day Kindergarten
• Academic Intervention Services - Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School
• Academic Intervention Services - North Country Road Middle School
• Curriculum Writing - transition to NYS K-12 Common Core Learning Standards
• Music Program
• Students with Disabilities Class (8:1:1) - Andrew Muller Primary School
• Students with Disabilities Class (15:1) - Miller Place High School
• North Country Road Middle School - Monitor (part-time)
• Behavior Assistants – 2
• Weekly Clubs at Andrew Muller Primary School (10 Advisors - 10 Weeks - 1 day per week)
• Weekly Clubs at Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School (10 Advisors - 10 Weeks - 1 day per week)
• Mathletes and Drama at North Country Road Middle School
• Mathletes, Mock Trial, School Newspaper, and Varsity Club at Miller Place High School
• Intramurals at North Country Road Middle School
• North Country Road Middle School - 3:15 Late Bus
• Robotics - Annual Entry Fee and related expenses
• Athletic Uniforms
• Athletic Equipment
• Varsity Team Assistant Coaches - for the following:
• Boys' Soccer
• Girls' Soccer
• Field Hockey
• Girls' Lacrosse
The key points I brought home from the presentation last night:
Full day kindergarten will be funded the first two years almost exclusively by the $750,000+ NY State Full Day Conversion Aid package. This means our little ones can learn all day and will now be able to enjoy PE, art, math lab, music, etc. I will be curious to see how test scores change down the road if we approve full day K. I suspect we will see improvement.
AMPS and NCRMS buildings get behavior professionals to help our troubled children. As noted by Supt. Higuera, the District today is different than it was many years ago. There are more negative influences today that are causing some of our children to display poor behavior and they need experts to talk to for guidance. Any help we can provide these children is invaluable not only to that child but to others in the classroom when behavior issues detract from their positive learning experience.
Athletics is receiving increased funding to support uniform and equipment replacement. More importantly, there will now be varsity asst. coaches so that two adults can be with the team at their practices and events. This should increase safety and maturity for team members.
Clubs are being strongly supported as noted in the bulleted items above.
There was some concern about the sustainability of full day K after the first two years. We do not wish to be in a position of possibly cutting full day K down the road. Supt. Higuera and the BOE are looking at the long-term sustainability and believe it can be done. I suspect that there will be expenses we have today that we will not have down the road such as bond payments and perhaps a less costly benefit package. Bottom line: it makes sense to get two free years of full day K with a good chance to keep it going indefinitely down the road.
Other financial benefits of full day K include the cost savings for working parents who now pay for day care. One resident came to the microphone and said that full day K will save her $700 per month next year. I am sure there are many other parents with little ones who will also save thousands. I also suggested that having full day K will make Miller Place a more attractive district for future homebuyers. That equates to increased home values. Imagine the young parents looking to buy in Miller Place or Mt. Sinai. Once they find out that they will save thousands on day care and have a more flexible daytime schedule, it becomes a no-brainer.
The BOE is also currently negotiating with District employees to offer a health plan that is cheaper but still offers the services that most need. As of now employees have a “Cadillac Plan” meaning that many individuals are paying top dollar for a plan that has services they will likely never use. I foresee large savings if this happens.
I do have some real concerns about this proposed budget. There are labor contracts that are either expired (MPTA Chapter of Registered Nurses) or due to expire this summer (Miller Place Secretarial and Clerical Unit, Miller Place Operations’ Unit, and Miller Place Administrators’ Association). I asked Supt. Higuera what the value of those current contracts are including benefits and she said about $5 million as a ballpark figure. The good news is that none of these units faces and layoffs. The bad news is this budget does not allow for increases in any of these contracts. Assuming that these hard-working professionals ask for an increase in salary, that money would have to come from this budget as a cut to some of our gains, or from reserve funds that were already tapped this time around to help lower the tax burden.
This budget also assumes that assessed property values will not continue to decline which is something we homeowners wish to hear but is probably not true. Both Supt. Higuera and the BOE are well aware of this and will be considering the budget implications of a further 1% decrease in assessed values.
The 4.3% is a fairly large hike and larger than any increase since 2007-2008 (see Pg. 13 of Executive Summary) I hope the BOE can find some savings to get this rate down although I still think we get a lot of bang for that buck.
During the first Public Be Heard session prior to the budget presentation I was particularly impressed with two groups: those that want middle school cheerleading brought back and those that want a certified librarian in our elementary schools.
As of now, cheer is considered a club but if one views the definition of sport, clearly cheer is a sport. These young women work hard physically and mentally and are the face of Miller Place Sports. High school cheer will become more competitive (last place last year?) if these girls begin as a group in the middle school. Cheer instills a sense of family and teamwork just as other sports do. Given the pressures that teenage girls face today, and the number of young women who dream about being a cheerleader, why not support this program and provide these girls a home outside their own where they can follow their dreams? The BOE said they would consider the request and the ladies who work with these girls think that $5000 is the number needed to bring the sport back.
Children today have tremendous access to information. I speak from experience when I say that they also have an appalling lack of skill when it comes to finding and using credible information. Given that technology is now infused into the learning process more than ever before, research skills need to be instilled at the earliest opportunity. Teachers also benefit when librarians show them how to access the latest information using the most state-of-the-art tools. The librarians at my college have been a godsend to both me and my students over the years. I think this BOE needs to take a very close look to see if our students and teachers are being adequately trained given the lack of a certified librarian in the buildings.
Thank you to all community members who made sacrifices to reign in this budget last year in order to position us for this year and the future. A special thank you to MPTA President Nancy Sanders and your membership for negotiating a deal that provided us fiscal security for the next four years. This budget would have looked much different and much less favorable without your support.
The next budget workshop is Wednesday March 6 at 7:30 in MPHS. Budget Workshop #2 - Instructional: General Education Courses, Special Education, Information Technology