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MPSD Full-Day Kindergarten: Sound Educational Idea, But Unsustainable Community Reality

Discussion of MPSD Superintendent's proposed 2013-2014 budget.

Everyone knows how important early childhood education is to the later success of our children. We know this anecdotally from watching our own children learn and grow, and we know it scientifically as a result of many long-term studies. Toward that end, the Miller Place School District offers half-day kindergarten — and many within the community have long wished that we could afford a full-day program.

 This year, for the 2013-14 school budget, MPSD Superintendent Marianne Higuera has proposed a $1.1-million expansion of programs that is unprecedented in the district's history. Dr. Higuera's budget includes about $700,000 to expand existing curricular and co-curricular programs, plus about $400,000 to expand MPSD's kindergarten to full day.

 The first two years of the full kindergarten expansion would be paid for by the state aid. The problem is, however, that the MPSD community's ability to afford and, therefore, to sustain full-day kindergarten in the third year and beyond without cutting already existing programs has not been demonstrated.

 Dr. Higuera's budget results in a tax increase that is within the state-mandated "tax cap," which makes sure that school and local government tax levy growth does not exceed 2 percent — with certain exceptions. Within MPSD, 2 percent plus those exceptions equals a proposed increase in school taxes of 4.31 percent — which is higher than last year’s tax increase of 3.63 percent and which must be compared to the national inflation rate of 1.3 percent or New York’s inflation rate of about 2 percent.

 In actuality, if Dr. Higuera's proposed budget is not altered, then we will be facing an increase in school taxes of greater than 4.31 percent — more like 5.3 percent.

 This is because the MPSD Superintendent did not figure into the school budget and tax equation the fact that, again last year as with the year before, many MPSD homeowners successfully grieved their property taxes, thereby lowering the assessed values on their homes. Taking this community-wide lower assessment into account would result in an increase in school taxes of approximately 5.3 percent — about one full percent higher than what we were told.

 Returns from the recent gains in U.S. stock market aside, many within the MPSD community, as in the rest of the country, are still struggling economically due to the Great Recession. Unlike school district employees, many MPSD residents have not had pay raises for few years just so they could keep their jobs. In addition, those of us in the community with federal government or government-contractor jobs are facing furloughs and other negative financial consequences of the federal government's sequestration. So now is not the time for us to face paying 5.3 percent more in school taxes.

 Some defend Dr. Higuera's budget and tax increase in general and full-day kindergarten in specific by saying MPSD's having full-day kindergarten will increase property values by making MPSD homes more attractive to young families looking to buy. This is just wishful thinking.

 Since a mortgage payment includes both the cost of the loan and the payment of property taxes, the higher those taxes — which include school taxes — are, the smaller the house and the loan on that house a family can afford. For many young families, higher school taxes can make enough of a difference to prevent them from buying into MPSD. So, instead of bringing young families into the district, the added tax burden of full-day kindergarten will keep them out.

 And we have only discussed the cost of the first year or two of offering full-day kindergarten in MPSD. The cost will blow up in year three, after state aid for establishing this program goes away — unless existing programs are cut. Given the community's uncomfortable wrestling with last year's budget cuts to programs in order to present an affordable budget to voters, which was passed, we don't want to go through that again.

 So, although full-day kindergarten is a sound educational idea, the reality is that, at this time, it is unsustainable for MPSD.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Captain Howard Hawrey March 04, 2013 at 07:41 PM
Thanks for a well written blog. I enjoyed your insight!
Ernestine Franco March 04, 2013 at 08:23 PM
Thanks, Wlodek, for your clear explanation of the situation in Miller Place. Although I am not in the district, all residents and voters have to understand that a budget has to be sustainable. If we lived in a perfect world, everyone could have everything he or she wants. But this is not a pefect world, and budgets should reflect what people can actually afford. We all want a good educational system, but it has to be one that can be sustained not only for this year or next year, but well into the future. Many districts have gotten themselves in financial messes precisely because nobody worried about the future.
MP Majority March 05, 2013 at 08:53 AM
To even be considering full-day K during these rough economic times, is pure lunacy. The total disconnect between today's stock market and the economy, has once again created this false euphoria, and the spending hats are back on. The entire process of school budgeting is flawed....."ask for the max (or beyond) or fear losing it" is just the wrong approach in today's economy. Run schools like a business, and we'll get better results all-around. Trim the fat, get rid of the 25% incompetence, and provide incentives to the best administrators and teachers. That's how you come in under budget and strengthen the school system for the benefit of the kids. Same old, same old, gets you nowhere fast, at the expense of the taxpayers.
Sound Pointer March 05, 2013 at 12:28 PM
Thank you Mr. Wlodek for giving us the financial facts in contrast to MPSD's fiction regarding the affordability of full day kindergarten. Believe me, parents of young children don't want to be sold something such as full day kindergarten only to have it become a political football during school budget season as it is in the Rocky Point School District. Districts that threaten to take away kindergarten are just trying to scare parents into voting for a budget that is bloated with other things like the pay raises and health insurance premiums for district employees, which are benefits that the rest of us don't have. Their scare tactics work because they are threatening the ability of at least one parent to go to work or threatening a family's finances by having us to scramble to come up with the money to pay for day care. "Free" kindergarten is a wonderful thing for young children and their parents, but I say free in quotes because I know everyone in the district has to pay for it. If the district can't afford it, fine. Just don't add it now only to threaten to take it or other programs away later.
Justin Time March 05, 2013 at 01:57 PM
Wonderful..now write one with all the ways we can cut property taxes.
Janet March 06, 2013 at 12:21 AM
Wlodek, Very well written and so true but unfortunately I agree with Ted Ratter and Sound Pointer, it will fall on deaf ears. I have been living in this district for 37 years and for 37 years the MPSD budget passes, no matter how bizare it is. For some reason people think if they don't pay more their children will not receive as good of an education. Well, when I moved into this district MPHS was # 69 on the national list. Now I understand it is above 700, so exactly what am I paying all that money for. It seems to me the only people who vote on the budget are the ones who receive the services proposed or the school personel. Unless everyone who agrees that it is time to stop this madness and goes out and votes no these horribly unfair budgets will continue to pass.
Captain Howard Hawrey March 06, 2013 at 03:12 AM
You all are my ROR (Residents of Reality) friends. My schedule rarely allows it to happen but I will be at the meeting tomorrow night. Please introduce your self. I'm the tall bald guy with a salt and pepper mustache. Looking forward to meeting you all.
Captain Howard Hawrey March 06, 2013 at 07:57 PM
Tonight's BOE meeting canceled due to weather. Darn! I was looking forward to meeting you all!
MP Majority March 07, 2013 at 01:39 PM
I think a very prudent approach to all this would be to impose a Tax Cap on the maximum percentage that Salaries+Benefits could be relative to the entire budget. If we look at the % of this cost on entire budgets over the years, it is truly a dizzying revelation how the upward slope of this graph looks. Public education has unfortunately turned into a form of public welfare, with Union and Administration pay and benefits taking precedence over and holding hostage on our precious children.
Wlodek March 08, 2013 at 02:50 PM
In case you did not see it in the Beacon this week, here is how Dr. Higuera proposes to "finance" the full day K, The Village Beacon Record, March 7, 2013: " “The district budget would need to absorb the increased costs in years three and four by reducing other expenses, such as expiring debt service,” Higuera stated in an email."
Janet March 10, 2013 at 10:28 PM
Very interesting statement by Dr. Higuera. Wouldn't it be nice if the "expiring debt service" would be put back into the budget to give the taxpayers some relief in years three and four. And yes MP Majority you would think that since it seems to always be "for the children" the MP personel could pay more towards their benefits like private industary people do. One could only hope!

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