With state aid for schools increasingly wearing away and the recently passed property tax cap likely to cast a dark shadow on building budgets for next school year, Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen suggested to the school board Wednesday that they begin examining next year’s spending plan this November.
Shoreham-Wading River, and many other districts across Long Island, typically begin building budgets in March, two months before a final number must be put to vote. Dr. Cohen said tripling the amount of time will help the district identify and maintain the most important aspects of school spending as defined by residents.
The meeting was a continuation of Tuesday night’s discussion when Dr. Cohen put forth goals and recommendations for upcoming school years.
“We definitely have to start the process early,” director of finance and operations Glen Arcuri said of the budget.
He said the district is already looking at a $2 million gap with contractually mandated increases and a property tax cap in place alone — nevermind the costs of maintaining current programs for students and adding others.
Dr. Cohen suggested sending a survey out to district residents to gauge which programs are of the utmost importance.
He and board members brainstormed a bit over cost-saving and revenue-enhancing measures. Vice president Mike Fucito suggested “creative bus transportation” solutions, noting that some buses in the district aren’t filled.
Board members also grappled with how to deal with some giant facility costs. Mr. Arcuri said $33 million in repairs are needed throughout the district, namely on the high school roof, sidewalks, curbs and paving, and at the high school’s track and tennis courts.
Board members decided the space and facilities committee should convene to come up with priorities for spending on facilities, focusing first on those that pose health and safety risks. Dr. Cohen asked to have a facilities spending plan produced by December.
He also suggested the formation of a Superintendent’s Open Forum Series, which would function as a community conversation for residents and the superintendent to bring up issues of concern. Dr. Cohen said topics could include the current state of public education, curriculum and instruction, competitive sports and bullying.
Board president Bill McGrath added a breakdown of the budget to the list.
“I don’t think everyone grasps that,” he said.
Dr. Cohen agreed, noting that school budgets confuse some people as it varies greatly from private sector budgets, which most are familiar with.
“I think it’s important for us to make an effort to explain the difference between how a public school works and why it’s not a business,” he said.