North Shore proposed budget up 1.9%, board members worry it won't pass

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North Shore proposed budget up 1.9%, board members worry it won't pass
North Shore School district Superintendent Christopher Zublionis. (Courtesy of North Shore Schools)

The first proposed 2024-2025 budget for the North Shore Central School District is $122,648,900.09, which represents a 1.91% increase from last year’s budget of $120,354,393.60.

The first draft of the budget includes a 3.96% increase in the tax levy. This increase is under the district’s tax levy cap, which is set at a maximum possible increase of 5.63%. The proposed tax levy is $92,621,506.53.

“I am concerned about the budget passing. We passed by a very small margin the past two years,” said Trustee Marianne Russo. “I think many people are much more savvy than they used to be in terms of understanding that a 4% increase could mean a 9% or 10% increase in their real estate taxes. Or less. It doesn’t equate.”

This variance in real estate taxes is a common conundrum.

While districts may adhere to a strict tax levy cap of 2%, for example, not every taxpayer would see the same 2% change on their taxes.

There is no uniform relationship between the tax levy and homeowners' tax bills. An individual's property taxes depend on individual factors, like a house's assessed value.

These worries come in a district with one of the highest 2023-2024 budgets among North Shore Nassau County and certainly one of the highest spending per pupil with the district dishing out $47,609 per pupil in 2023-2024.

The proposed 2024-2025 budget would raise spending per pupil to $48,516.

The district is expected to receive $9,242,612 in state aid for the 2024-2025 year, not including universal pre-kindergarten aid.

Superintendent Chris Zublionis and Assistant Superintendent for Business James Pappas acknowledged the large bump in state aid that North Shore has received in recent years. The state aid for 2021-2022 was $5,879,774, while the state aid for 2023-2024 was $8,839,828.

However, both administrators emphasized budgetary challenges and restrictions for the upcoming school year, specifically citing the recent settlement between Nassau County and Long Island Power Authority.

The settlement agreement will lessen the taxes LIPA pays for its Island Park and Glenwood Landing power stations by approximately 46.5% over the next five years.

Since the Glenwood Landing LIPA taxes contributed to the North Shore school taxes, the district is prepared to take a hefty hit in revenue loss.

The district will lose out on a projected $2,388,670 in revenue from LIPA’s taxes in the 2024-2025 budget, according to Zublionis and Pappas.

“We’re starting in the negative and then we have increases in cost like everyone else,” said Zublionis. “So we have a much bigger distance to travel than most districts.”

One of these increased costs is a hike in health insurance, a hindrance multiple Nassau County districts have cited.

Overall, Zublionis stressed that the district’s purse strings are tight and he laid out an attack plan for the 2024-2025 budget, including instructional cuts, refraining from adding any new teaching positions and limiting elective course offerings.

The superintendent said that while the $2.5 million in cuts may lead to slightly larger class sizes, it should not negatively affect student experience as a whole.

Russo thought the district could do better.

“We can be more efficient than this budget is,” said Russo. “I’m sure I may be the minority on that up here [on stage with the board members], but I may not be the minority in the community.”

Russo listed a few suggestions to tighten the budget, like merging Glen Head Elementary School’s four kindergarten classes of 15 students into three classes of 20 students.

At least six teaching positions could be cut at the lower level by merging elementary school classes, according to Russo.

Russo said the cost of merging elementary classes was worth the benefit to the budget, especially if it only meant a larger class size of 23 students.

“It’s not gonna keep your kid out of Harvard,” said Russo. “It’s not some tragedy.”

But other board members strongly disagreed.

Trustee Lisa Colacioppo acknowledged that the district is not in bad standing, praising its highly ranked, award-winning schools. Yet she also referred back to her purpose as a board member.

“[During] my board training, I was told that we are not tasked with maintaining the status quo. We are tasked with improving upon our school, even if our schools are already excellent,” said Colacioppo.

As a result, she argued that small elementary class sizes should be prioritized among board members.

Russo agreed that small class sizes are beneficial, but reiterated that community members are being forced out of the district by high taxes and the budget may need to be lowered.

“I think people still want to support the schools…but you can’t eat the shingles, right?” said Russo.

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