Since September 2021, the Northport-East Northport School District has taken steps to develop a long range financial outlook of the district and provide community perspective on key financial components of the district’s fiscal future. At the November 17 board of education (BOE) meeting, the 19-member Long Range Financial Planning Committee reported its findings.
Members of the committee include district parents, residents, staff and representatives from the BOE. Assistant Superintendent for Business Bob Howard and Superintendent of Schools Robert Banzer also attended committee meetings.
The committee’s goal is to create a financial plan that sustains the district’s “mission, vision and core beliefs, quality facilities and responsive operational services while being fiscally responsible,” according to the presentation.
At the November 17 presentation, Superintendent Banzer explained long range planning as “forward thinking.” Unlike budgeting, which is more immediate and provides a short-term perspective, long range financial planning looks at projections, trends and historical data to help predict future needs so that the district can be prepared, Mr. Banzer explained.
Committee member and district parent Eric Reuter explained that although the financial committee initially planned to meet five times, they ended after 15 meetings, each about two hours long. “We spent a lot of time putting this together and I hope that the community and the board respect and understand all the time that we put in. Hopefully there are good outcomes and feedback here that we can use moving forward,” Reuter said.
Another committee member, Carrie Quinn, said that there were several points of view in the group, which led to healthy dialogue and debate. “It was all in the best interest of the district,” she said. “We are all taxpayers so that was the lens in which we looked at this – how do we continue the good work that the district does but obviously be thoughtful from a fiscal perspective.”
The committee looked at several factors that play a role in the district’s financial planning, including:
District revenue from state aid, fund balance, tax levies and use of reserves
Expenditures such as employee salaries and benefits, contract services, materials and supplies, debt service principal and interest, and interfund transfers
Additional considerations, including the LIPA glidepath, audit reports, enrollment changes, spending per pupil, and excess building value estimates (including Bellerose Avenue Elementary School, Dickinson Avenue Elementary School and the Brosnan building).
The committee took these factors and narrowed them down to three primary challenges:
The impact of the LIPA settlement, with a shift of burden to the taxpayer over seven years and the end of the $2 million settlement payments in 2027-2028.
Significant capital expenditures that will be required to maintain facilities at current levels over the next several years. This includes $91 million in identified projects, such as new roofs and HVACs.
Excess building capacity, including Bellerose and Dickinson elementary schools and the Brosnan building.
The committee then made five recommendations, summarized briefly below:
Review district spending: Committee member Paul Darrigo explained that the district spends more money per pupil than most peer schools of a similar size. Therefore, the committee recommended that the BOE analyze spending per student, in light of the tax burden shift due to the LIPA settlement. Darrigo also shared the committee’s recommendation that the district publish the metrics it uses to measure its performance as a district, such as graduation rates, standardized test scores, college enrollment, etc. “Even though there is time to adjust to the lesser revenue coming into the district… it’s time to begin a review on how we spend money to make sure we are considering all of the folks in our community,” Darrigo said.
Issue bonds and increase capital project appropriations to meet the district’s facilities management needs: The committee recommended that the board begin issuing bonds to address the overdue physical needs of the buildings, aligning issuance timing with upcoming debt service falloff. It was also recommended that the district increase the financial commitment toward capital projects by at least $1 million per year (going from about $3 million per year to $4 million).
Formally engage a real estate firm as soon as possible to analyze revenue or cash-generating options associated with excess building capacity: The committee recommended that the district consider the sale or lease of the Brosnan building, Dickinson Avenue Elementary School and/or Bellerose Avenue Elementary School, and allocate any proceeds to the district’s capital spending budget.
Continue to monitor district space requirements in light of shifting demographics and learning needs: It was recommended that the district consider updating its enrollment projections study.
Update long range plan annually or as conditions change: “Not everything that we project will come to pass,” Mr. Darrigo said, which is why the committee recommends updating the financial plans annually or biannually.
In the closing thoughts, committee member Jeffrey Moses, a Northport Village father of four, said that the district’s finances are sound and that the district has the capacity and resources necessary to meet near and long-term challenges. “We have time,” he said, with 2027-2028 being deemed the inflection point. However, he did emphasize that the district needs “to get the ball rolling.” Moses also noted that this needs to be a dynamic plan that shifts when things change, which is why the district should review it on an annual basis.
The full 31-page long range financial plan can be found here. This plan discusses financial factors, challenges and recommendations in detail.
The long range financial planning committee presentation can be found here.
To watch the November 17 presentation at the Board of Education meeting, which includes discussion of the plan among the board and public questions and comments, click here.
For more information on the committee and its meeting topics, click here.