Parents, employees push against Manhasset School District staff cuts

Parents, employees push against Manhasset School District staff cuts
The Manhasset Union Free School District is planning for staffing cuts amid rising costs putting financial pressures on the district's budget next year. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Manhasset School District is proposing staff reductions to balance its budget amid financial stressors, but many employees and parents are speaking out against the action due to potential impacts on students and staff.

“Teachers cannot give their best if they are not supported,” parent Darlene DePietro said. “Our children cannot be their best if they are also not supported.”

Multiple people spoke in opposition to the staff cuts at the Manhasset Board of Education meeting Thursday night, including DePietro, who is a mother to kids with special needs. She held back tears as she advocated for the teacher assistants to remain due to the help they provide to students like her own children.

Rob Mashburn, a secondary school computer teacher and staff developer, has been an employee of the district for 17 years, starting his career as a teacher’s assistant. He will end his position as a staff developer at the end of the school year.

“The plan to completely remove any staff development from our school is a mistake,” Mashburn said, stressing the importance of the role to keep staff up to date with changing technologies and programs.

The district is proposing staff reductions that add up to the removal of 14.45 full-time equivalent positions.

“And as you know, any reduction in staff is difficult as these reductions reflect real people,” Superintendent Gaurav Passi said.

The district proposed that 4.1 teachers be removed, with decisions based on student enrollment in certain subject areas.

Proposed efficiencies in staffing include 3.5 teachers on special assignments returning to classrooms.

While staffing reductions will take place, the district is proposing the addition of three elementary teachers and 2.5 secondary teachers to lower class sizes. The return of the teachers on special assignments would aid in the addition of classroom teachers, Passi said.

Teacher assistants will also be reduced based on the proposal.

Elementary co-teaching assistants will be reduced to 14 full-time employees, with the current budget allowing for 24.

Elementary computer lab and library teaching assistants will be removed entirely, with two full-time positions currently existing for both. The one full-time position for the secondary library teaching assistant will also be removed.

Secondary school departmental teaching assistants will be reduced from five full-time employees to four.

“It is critically important to acknowledge the valuable contributions of our teaching assistants, and I would be remiss if I didn’t once again publicly acknowledge these contributions and also acknowledge the stress of these reductions on those impacted,” Passi said.

While the district is proposing these staff reductions, Board of Education President Steven Panzik said they will continue to look at alternatives to prevent such cuts as requested by parents and employees.

“We’re going to do our best with the kids in mind and with the Manhasset family in mind,” Panzik said.

The district proposed a $111,286,207 budget, which is an increase of $3,553,203, or 3.3%, from the current budget.

In comparison to other Long Island school districts with comparable student enrollment, Passi reported that Manhasset falls below the average total budget.

Among a collection of 15 school districts, with seven districts with greater enrollment and seven with lower enrollment, Manhasset’s total budget falls below the average budget of the group at $118,308,302.

The district’s enrollment for 2023-2024 at 3,038 students is close to the group enrollment average of 3,055.

Manhasset continues to fall below the average of this collection of school districts for spending per pupil, with the average set at $38,762 per pupil and Manhasset spending about $35,462. This is about 10% lower than the average of these 15 districts.

Despite a smaller average budget and spending per pupil, Passi said the Manhasset School District has still achieved noteworthy programming for its students.

The district’s tax cap is set at a 2.68% increase.

Passi said the district had to reduce expenses by more than $1 million to prevent exceeding the tax cap.

The staff reductions are in response to financial stressors on the school district. Passi said this isn’t a unique experience for Manhasset, with “universal stressors” hanging over school districts’ finances throughout the island.

“While the preliminary budget accomplishes our primary goals, the reality of our fiscal climate requires us to make some difficult decisions to reduce expenses by over $1 million to achieve a balanced budget within the property tax cap,” Passi said.

The main financial stressors on the district, Passi said, are compensation and benefits – an expense that makes up 75% of the district’s budget.

Broken down, compensation constitutes 50% of the budget while benefits are the other 25%.

Benefits in total are increasing by 36% from the prior year, amounting to 1.18% of the district’s budget increase. Compensation in total is increasing by 20%, or 0.66% of the budget increase.

In tandem with compensation and benefits, special education constitutes about 5% of the budget. The final 20% is for all the other expenses for the district.

Special education expenses are projected to increase by 11% in next year’s budget, adding up to a 33% increase over two years from the 2022-2023 budget.

Property taxes are proposed to fund 90% of the next budget. The remainder of the budget will be funded 5% by state aid, 1% by the assigned fund balance and 4% by other revenues.

The district is budgeting for an expected drop in state aid, including a $629,000, or 20.7%, drop in its foundation aid from last year, Passi said.

However, the district’s budget is based on its foundation aid being reinstated as they advocate for their funds to be replenished. In the event it does not happen, the lapse in funds would be supplemented by its fund balance.

Currently, the budget proposes the use of $840,266 from the fund balance. But if foundation aid is not restored, then an additional $629,105 will be taken from the fund balance, amounting to $1,469,371.

Passi said this is creating a “fiscal cliff” for the district, meaning the same amount of funds in its fund balance may not be available the following year.

Despite the district’s financial stress, it is still proposing expansion in its offerings for students. This includes course expansions for AP microeconomics, virtual enterprise, business law and Mandarin.

The district will move to adopt its budget on April 16 before it faces a vote on May 21. Polling will be held from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. at the Manhasset High School gymnasium.

The Manhasset Board of Education will continue discussions on the budget at its next meeting on April 4.

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