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Hempstead schools’ proposed budget calls for more teachers

Hempstead schools' acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong at the

Hempstead schools' acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong at the school board meeting on Wednesday. Credit: Newsday / Keshia Clukey

The Hempstead Union Free School District wants to increase funding in its 2018-19 budget for more teachers and additional educational services without raising taxes, according to an outline presented to the board Wednesday night.

The proposed budget of more than $212 million — created by district officials with a consultant — would be a 4.73 percent increase over the current year’s approximately $202.7 million budget, acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong said.

The proposal would keep the property tax levy at approximately $75.9 million, through an expected state aid increase, the use of reserve funds, and debt services, she said.

“We were able to capture some of those things that our community and our teachers have been calling for,” Armstrong told the board.

Current services would remain the same, according to the proposal, and additional funds would allow the district to hire more music and reading teachers at district elementary schools, Armstrong said.

The proposal also includes the hiring of a districtwide response intervention coordinator to ensure data are being used correctly to address student needs, she said.

The proposal also includes reserve funding for one-time capital projects for the upcoming school year.

One of the goals was to keep the tax levy low, Armstrong said, because the district plans to ask voters to approve a $46.8 million bond issue to demolish and replace the aged Marguerite G. Rhodes School, eliminating the need for nearly half of all portable classrooms in the district.

The project’s costs would be offset by state aid, leaving a remaining taxpayer-funded balance of $16 million, according to the district’s website. A resident with a tax bill of $5,000 annually would see an increase of about $80.

The budget proposal was created with the help of consultant Ed Cullen, a retired assistant superintendent for business in the Baldwin school district, who was hired to look at the struggling Hempstead district’s finances.

Speaking at the meeting Wednesday night, Cullen told the board he has for the last month been looking at the district’s financial statements from the past five years and plans to make the budget “a lot cleaner, a lot more understandable.”

Financially, all districts are challenging, he said, “but in terms of Hempstead and the people I’ve met, they enjoy what they do.”

A few of the board members expressed concern with growing class sizes, which will be reduced in part when the Rhodes school project is completed in three years, Armstrong said.

“For the upcoming school year we have to explore other options in order to reduce class sizes” and adding more teaching staff will help, she said.

The district plans to host information sessions and have further discussions on the budget before presenting it to the public for a vote on May 15.

“I look forward to helping the students, the staff and Hempstead community as a whole, in terms of presenting a good budget that the community can embrace not only from the educational plans, but from the tax levy plan,” Cullen said. “We always have to keep in mind the educational plan and then balance it with the affordability of the taxpayer. ”

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