North Shore board warns voters of contingent budget pitfalls

North Shore board warns voters of contingent budget pitfalls
Former Trustee Marianne Russo speaks at the board meeting Thursday night. (Courtesy of North Shore School District)

The North Shore board announced the sudden resignation of Trustee Marianne Russo and Superintendent Christopher Zublionis presented the latest 2024-2025 proposed budget Thursday night.

Russo notified the board of her immediate resignation for undisclosed personal reasons just a day prior to the meeting. Board members shared kind words celebrating Russo’s tenure as a trustee. Trustees cited her dedication to the district and how she was always willing to listen to residents with concerns.

She served as a trustee for nearly 11 years and first began volunteering for the district even earlier, when her own daughter entered kindergarten.

Russo said she will leave the district in the same way she found it: facing tough financial obstacles.

“You’ll make the right decisions going forward that will benefit our children and keep their education safe and allow our seniors to stay in this community because they are an integral part of this community,” Russo told the board members. “They are volunteers. They built these schools. They are part of the fabric and we don’t want them leaving. They’re an absolute treasure and we can’t afford to lose them.”

Russo’s resignation was effective immediately, meaning there are now three trustee seats up for election this year. The person with the third highest number of votes will win the seat left vacant by Russo, finish out the rest of her term and can then run for re-election for a full term.

The superintendent and James Pappas, assistant superintendent for business, presented the proposed 2024-2025 budget Thursday night at the last meeting before the budget is adopted by the board April 18.

The proposed budget is $122,648,900.09, which has not changed since the initial budget presentation in February and represents a 1.91% increase from last year’s budget of $120,354,393.60.

The draft budget includes a 3.96% tax levy increase. This increase is within 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.

At the initial budget draft presentation, board members expressed worries about the budget passing.

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

Although many school districts and villages across Nassau County are facing the same spikes in medical and health insurance as North Shore, the North Shore School District is confronting a unique challenge in its loss of LIPA tax dollars.

A recent settlement between Nassau County and Long Island Power Authority 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—a projected loss of $2,388,670 in the 2024-2025 budget.

Zublionis and Pappas conceptualized fears of a failed budget vote by discussing a contingent budget.

A contingent budget is basically a last resort. When a proposed budget vote fails, the board has three options: They can send the same budget to a second vote, draft a new budget for a second vote or go to a contingent budget. But when a second budget vote fails, the district has no choice but to enter a contingent budget.

A contingent budget does not allow for any tax levy increase, meaning that a 2024-2025 contingent budget would have the same exact tax levy as the 2023-2024 accepted budget.

It might sound like a way to keep the budget from skyrocketing, but there’s a catch. Since many school budget costs inflate each year, like medical and health insurance for one, the 2024-2025 school year will naturally be more expensive than the year prior.

“I’d say a good comparison to school budgets going up [is to] look at hospitals. It’s the same trajectory,” Zublionis said. “They have the same number of patients, but their costs are going up because the cost of doing everything is going up and they have no control over that.”

Without the ability to increase the tax levy to cover rising costs, the 2024-2025 contingent budget would actually be smaller than the prior year’s budget due to larger expenses.

“You would have to cut…over $3.5 million more, potentially impacting academic programs, because what a contingent budget says is you can only budget for those things that are necessary to instructional programming,” Pappas said.

In order to cut $3.5 million from the budget on top of the more than $2 million LIPA loss, the district would have to make cuts to academic programs, reduce staffing, eliminate athletic and extracurricular programs, eliminate field trips, refrain from purchasing any new equipment and stop community use of school facilities like the athletic fields, Pappas said.

“We talk so much about what makes us us,” Andrea Macari, president of the Board of Education said.  “And a contingency budget really eliminates all of it.”

Board members pointed out that other Nassau County districts are proposing to pierce the tax cap, which requires 60% of voters’ approval, and these districts are not facing a $2 million loss like the North Shore district.

Trustee Maria Mosca also mentioned that the North Shore district does not have a large mall, utility or shopping center within the district, properties that help contribute to the tax levy in other districts.

Zublionis warned against further cuts to the budget, arguing that the district needs to have potential cuts to fall back on in the future.

“It’s not just what we cut, which is so important to our students, but when we make cuts,” Zublionis said. “Our argument is you need to make [cuts] like a corporation would at a time of economic uncertainty at the point of the biggest drop off. Otherwise, if you cut to the bone, you will have nothing left to cut from when the bottom drops off.”

No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here