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Budget talks: BOE focuses on personnel and benefits in third of four detailed budget presentations

Schools March 18, 2022

A small audience attended yesterday's BOE meeting, the third of four detailed budget presentations.

The Northport-East Northport UFSD Board of Education’s third discussion of the 2022-2023 budget, regarding the topics of “Personnel and Benefits,” occurred on Thursday, March 17. The details of this week’s budget draft regarding these specific topics can be found here.

The entire proposed budget has been made available by the district in a 148-page budget development book. It is worthy to note that the budget is a draft until it is finalized and adopted by the board. Projected at a grand total of $178,445,574, the proposed budget represents a budget-to-budget increase of 2.15%. If passed at the tax levy limit of 1.82%, the average taxpayer will see an increase of $141.60.

Irene McLaughlin, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, reported that staffing is measured in what are known as FTEs, or “full-time equivalents;” a full-time faculty member is accounted for in the budget’s data as a numerical 1, while a part-time staffer is allocated as a .5, and so on. The Northport-East Northport school district’s overall staff projections for the 2022-2023 school year will allocate roughly 974 FTEs throughout the district, a decrease of roughly 3 FTEs from this year.

Perhaps the most notable occurrence of this select data comes in the number of FTEs appropriated to specifically “instructional staff” (counselors and classroom teachers). Such staff will experience a decrease of roughly five FTEs, with the number of “support staff” (district nurses, teacher aides, security, and clerical workers) undergoing an increase of two FTEs to make up some of the difference.

A decrease in student enrollment has historically occurred within the district, and this year is no exception. Superintendent of Schools Robert Banzer said that he is again expecting “significant enrollment reductions throughout…which impacts our staffing and programs.” In total, the 2022-2023 school year will experience a projected loss of approximately 187 students, K-12, when compared to last year’s statistics taken in January. The largest decrease in student enrollment will occur in the sample of 5th, 9th, and 11th grades, with a decrease of 56, 43, and 58 students, respectively. Despite this, however, Ms. McLaughlin noted that “class size averages are all below the guidelines.”

To account for both this decrease in instructional staff and student enrollment, the proposed budget includes a number of other staffing initiatives meant to offset any potential burden. One notable initiative spoken about since the beginning of the budget's inception is the addition of an in-district, BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) specialist on special assignment. This in-house addition has been proposed to counterbalance the “reduction in contract services for outside consultants.”

As well, a World Language course is being proposed at each middle school to provide 6th grade students with a 20-week course on a world language of the district’s offering. This proposal is meant to expedite the foreign language education of any student who wishes to learn earlier than what the typical 7th grade language course prescribes.

Trustee Carol Taylor, when reviewing the district’s staff projections, expressed her disapproval at the likely decrease of SEL (social-emotional learning) staff within the 2022-2023 school year. Mr. Banzer answered her concern by replying that SEL staff have decreased only quantitatively. He continued by saying that, over the years, the numbers of SEL educators within the district have, in fact, increased from each year to the last; however, due to a declining student enrollment, the district does not need to maintain the entirety of their acquired SEL employees for the following academic year.

In addition, the implementation of solar panels is now a possibility and is being weighed with serious consideration. To seemingly quell the concerns that Trustee Donna McNaughton and BOE President Larry Licopoli expressed last meeting concerning the undetermined cost-benefit of solar panels, Robert Howard, Assistant Superintendent for Business, presented some newfound information regarding the installation.

To introduce solar panels, Mr. Howard explained, the high school's roofs first have to be replaced, a job set to occur next summer. In between now and then, the district has proposed a "resolution to authorize an exploration of a solar panel project." This resolution would include counseling and engaging with an expert on the "building/cost-benefit analysis" of the technology, complete with an environmental evaluation at the request of Trustee David Badanes as well.

As Mr. Howard detailed, there are innumerable benefits to such an installation. For one, solar panels, if a quality model is installed properly, may save the district large amounts of money in the future for what they would usually expend on utilities; "this may, in turn, have a revenue-positive impact," Mr. Howard noted. In addition, as per New York State, public schools can apply for state-aid if they install solar panels on their roofs. Architecturally, solar panels can help sustain the longevity of roofs as well.

The next Board of Education meeting takes place on Thursday, March 24, when the proposed budget will be discussed with reference to “Revenue, Fund Balance, and Reserves.” This meeting will also serve as a preliminary public hearing on the 2022-2023 proposed budget.