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Eastport-South Manor schools outline plan to fix district finances

Facing a $3.2 million operating deficit, officials say cuts may be made to staff and spending, and the tax cap could be pierced in 2019.

Patrick Brimstein, superintendent of the Eastport-South Manor Central

Patrick Brimstein, superintendent of the Eastport-South Manor Central school district, presides over a community budget forum Wednesday evening, Feb. 7, 2018. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Officials in the Eastport-South Manor school district, faced with a $3.2 million operating deficit for the next academic year, outlined a plan to fix the district’s finances that could involve staff and spending cuts and piercing the tax cap in 2019.

Last month, the New York State Comptroller’s Office designated the 3,300-student district as having the highest fiscal stress score among schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

District officials presented a three-year plan at a Wednesday night community budget workshop, in an effort to hear residents’ views on potential cuts and explain how the district became entangled in financial disarray.

“We’re on this ship together,” Superintendent Patrick Brimstein, who started with the district in May 2017, said. “There’s no doubt about it — we’re heading into a storm.”

Residents posed questions about the extent of the cuts to Brimstein and Timothy Laube, who has been the district’s assistant superintendent for business since July.

“It’s hurting our community terribly,” Adam Tesoro, 51, who has three children attending district schools, told administrators at the forum. “Who’s accountable?”

The district’s reserves dropped from $20.7 million in the 2010-11 school year to $4.2 million in the 2016-17 school year, leading Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the district’s credit rating from AA+ to AA-, officials said. They did not have details on the number of potential layoffs.

“We’re going to lose people,” Brimstein said.

The district posted a survey to its website asking residents to rank spending categories pertinent to the 2018-19 budget. The 15 categories include athletics, school maintenance, administration, transportation, and security personnel.

Regina Fortuna, 44, a parent of two special needs boys in the district’s autism program, said she worried about a potential impact to her sons’ learning environments. Her children “need life skills” and “need to function in a classroom” to become independent adults, she said.

“I think that they really need to cut the least amount,” she said. The community forum and surveys were a “good step in the right direction,” Fortuna said.

District officials discussed renting vacant classroom space and selling off a building, even installing solar cartops in parking lots that businesses can rent. Next year’s projected $3.2 million deficit is likely to be higher after further review, officials said.

Laube acknowledged that a key component of the plan, piercing the cap in 2019, is not assured. “It’s up to the community at the end of the day,” he said, acknowledging other districts in which voters rejected attempts to pierce the cap.

Last month, the New York State Comptroller’s Office designated the Suffolk county school system as having “moderate” fiscal strain.

The comptroller’s offices calculates a district’s stress score with financial indicators such as on-hand cash, year-end fund balance levels, operating deficit patterns, and short-term borrowing reliance. The worst designation of financial strain is “significant,” followed by “moderate,” then “susceptible to fiscal stress.”

Three other Long Island school districts — North Bellmore, Long Beach and Wyandanch — were designated as “susceptible to fiscal stress.”

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