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Hempstead school board approves proposed 2018-19 budget

Acting Hempstead schools Superintendent Regina Armstrong discusses the

Acting Hempstead schools Superintendent Regina Armstrong discusses the 2018-19 budget at a school board meeting on Monday. Credit: Johnny Milano

The Hempstead school board on Monday night approved the district’s $215 million-plus budget proposal for the 2018-19 academic year — the panel’s first spending plan since the state appointed a special consultant to help turn around the struggling system.

The proposed budget, which will go before voters on May 15, would be an increase of more than 6 percent from the current year’s $202.7 million spending plan.

The local property-tax levy would remain basically flat, at about $75.9 million, through the combination of an increase in state aid and the use of reserve funds and debt services, acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong said of the latest fiscal plan.

The Board of Education Monday approved the approximately $215 million budget in a 4-0 vote. Board President Maribel Toure left the meeting before the vote.

It is slightly larger than the spending plan Armstrong presented to the board last month because the final state budget allocated about $4 million in aid to the district.

Among the additions are more teaching staff, including elementary-level band and orchestra teachers, as well as increases in educational services, such as dual-language programs. Reserve funds would be used for capital projects.

Armstrong said her goal was to keep the tax levy low because the district plans to ask voters to approve a $46.8 million bond issue to replace the long-closed Marguerite G. Rhodes School.

That project — which officials said would eliminate the need for nearly half of all district portable classrooms — would be offset by state aid, leaving a taxpayer-funded balance of $16 million, the district said. A resident with a tax bill of $5,000 annually would see an increase of about $80.

The staff additions, focus on fiscal stability, and plans to address long-standing overcrowding, follow the recommendations of veteran former school superintendent Jack Bierwirth.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia Bierwirth appointed Bierwirth in September to review the district’s operations, finances, curriculum and personnel, and report back to the state.

Bierwirth’s initial assessment came out in January, and he is continuing to oversee the district’s progress in his state-designated capacity of “Distinguished Educator.”

At a board meeting last week, Bierwirth said the budget process has been difficult, with the team having to make adjustments to the district’s 2017-18 budget so it would correspond with the proposed 2018-19 spending plan.

The line-by-line 2018-19 budget is available on the district’s website.

Consultant Ed Cullen, who was assistant superintendent for business in the Baldwin school district before he retired, also helped with the final spending plan.

“We believe this budget is educationally sound and financially sound,” Cullen said. “First and foremost, we have to educate to the best of our ability, the students in the Hempstead district. We also have to balance that with the affordability of the taxpayer.”

The board is expected to meet again at 5 p.m. Tuesday to discuss its budget for services provided through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, also known as BOCES.

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