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Kings Park school district may cut staff, programs to close budget gap

Kings Park schools Superintendent Susan Agruso shares possible

Kings Park schools Superintendent Susan Agruso shares possible arts, music and athletic program cuts to help fill the district's $2.1 million budget gap to an audience of more than 200 people at a budget workshop held March 12, 2014 in the auditorium at Kings Park High School. Credit: Newsday / Lauren R. Harrison

The Kings Park Board of Education is considering potential cuts to student clubs, athletics, performing groups and teachers next school year as the district tries to close an anticipated $2.1 million budget gap.

"There are no good options here," board president Marie Goldstein told a crowd of more than 200 during a budget workshop this week that lasted more than 31/2 hours.

The first draft budget for 2014-15 is $85.38 million, an increase of about 3 percent over this year's $82.87 million budget.

The proposed budget carries a 1.715 percent tax levy increase -- just below the state-mandated tax cap. That represents a $135.43 increase for the average home with an assessed valuation of $6,000, whose owner typically pays about $7,900 a year in school taxes, said Kings Park Superintendent Susan Agruso.

Major impacts on the budget include a $627,735 increase in contributions to the teacher retirement system and a $1.27 million increase in mostly contractual raises for teachers, staff and administrators.

The district anticipates receiving $100,000 to $200,000 less in state aid for the 2014-15 year compared with this year's aid, Agruso said.

Under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed budget, Kings Park is among more than 100 Long Island school districts that would get less state aid in the coming year than they received in 2008-09. Cuomo's aides have said that school enrollments generally have declined since 2008-09 and that it is not practical to provide more funding for districts with fewer students.

Kings Park is also among 52 districts across the state identified as being "susceptible to financial stress" per state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli's monitoring system.

"One of the reasons we are susceptible to fiscal stress is because we are applying reserves and fund balance to the budget," Agruso said. "We're running out of reserves. At our current rate of use, we have about three years left."

Cost-savings options for next school year include cutting or consolidating school clubs, eliminating middle school sports and reducing the number of music performing groups, which would collectively lower the gap to $1.7 million.

To save about $2.2 million, the board could consider raising class sizes, eliminating a middle school enrichment program and reducing kindergarten to half a day -- the latter described by Agruso as the worst suggestion.

Kings Park High School senior Alyssa Lardi, 17, who is active in Symphonic Winds, the nationally recognized Kaleidoscope literary and arts magazine, and drama club, said she was concerned about the proposed cuts.

"All of these clubs give us learning opportunities, give us possible careers, she said. "They encourage teamwork, responsibility, discipline. Losing these opportunities would mean losing so much of what makes Kings Park so great."

Stephanie Turner, a parent of two who is the director of arts education at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Brookville, provided data on how the arts advance student achievement.

"There are over 90 students engaged in the fifth-grade musical. These students are asked to sit at their desks and participate in work sheet after work sheet, test after test," she said. "The musical provides them with joy and it provides them with an educational experience. This is not a frill. . . . This is a necessity."

Many residents discussed piercing the tax cap to save programs."Nobody wants to cut clubs. But . . . we have to come up with $2 million from somewhere," said board member Charles Leo, adding he did not believe the district would get a 60 percent supermajority vote to authorize a 5 percent tax levy to cover the budget gap.

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