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Hempstead school board holds budget hearing for proposed 2019-2020 spending plan

Residents spoke at the budget presentation by the

Residents spoke at the budget presentation by the Hempstead School Board and Superintendent Regina Armstrong at Hempstead High School Tuesday evening. Credit: Todd Maisel

Hempstead voters got a second look Tuesday at the proposed $221.5 million budget for its schools and posed questions about the spending plan ranging from the proposed layoffs to whether the community was properly informed about the meeting.

Acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong said the proposed budget meets the educational needs of the 8,000-student district despite the cuts to teaching and administrative staff during the meeting at Hempstead High School.

“We have protected the integrity of our academic structure for the upcoming school year with the proposed cuts,” Armstrong said.

The budget, said consultant Ed Cullen, represents a 3 percent increase over last year and avoids a hike in the tax levy. But it calls for the elimination of 100 teaching and support staff positions, administrators said Tuesday night.

Some members of the audience of about two dozen people were upset that notices about the meeting were not delivered to homes earlier.

“This should have been out last week,” one resident said.

Another said the budget cuts to teaching staff are not detailed enough to show how many cuts would happen at the elementary, middle and high schools.

Board Vice President Carmen Ayala asked Armstrong whether the district had considered alternatives to cuts in personnel, such as renegotiating contracts and establishing staggered schedules for staffers.

But Armstrong said collective bargaining agreements limit any creative staffing and that contracts with vendors are subject to only so much renegotiating.

The meeting was the second of two where district officials presented the financial plan to the public and board members including President LaMont Johnson, Ayala and trustees David B. Gates, Patricia Spleen and Randy Stith, all of whom were present.

If passed, the $221,507,736 budget will be an increase over the 2018-19 budget of $215,075,440.

Voters will cast ballots for the budget and school board candidates May 21.

Armstrong said the budget includes about $10.3 million in trims, with some $7.3 million of that coming from staff cuts. The remaining reductions include less spending on BOCES-related expenses and attorney fees. Those cuts, she said, are necessary to absorb an increase in payments to charter schools, which have seen a rise in enrollment in recent years.

On Tuesday, she said she didn't want to blame charter schools for the district's budget woes in answering President LaMont Johnson's question about where nearly 1400 students in one charter school would be if not enrolled in charter schools. Indeed, Armstrong said there would be "too many to educate" if those children in charter schools returned to the Hempstead system.

"We're not blaming charters for anything," she said. "Because we already know our schools could not afford to hold all the students that are in the charter schools. What we are saying is that it is becoming more difficult to balance the payments to both charters and public."

The cuts would include 36 teachers, 27 teaching assistants and 28 support staffers, all represented by three unions, and up to nine more employees in administrative positions, according to a draft.

In the weeks before the budget meetings, Armstrong alerted the public of tight times ahead, posting a notice on the district’s website that state aid would be less than hoped for in the 2019-20 school year. Hempstead received a 1.67 percent increase in state aid, officials said.

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