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POB BUDGET CRISIS

3/6/00

    It’s that time of year again when school boards are stressed to their limits. School budgets for the coming fiscal year need to be created and finalized, through a process that is often baffling to those who attempt to get a handle on it, including often members of the local board of education. This will certainly be true this budget season in Plainview-Old Bethpage which promises to be both frustrating and memorable owing to what is projected to be one of the largest budget increases in recent history.

    As I write this on the 5th of March, the Plainview-Old Bethpage school budget before our Board of Education projects an increase of approximately $8.5 million dollars, due essentially to two factors - the opening of the Pasadena School in September and a projection that the enrollment of the entire district will increase. These two factors plus the usual increase in the costs of everything from supplies and equipment to salaries for all who work for the district have the school community wondering how the leaders of our district will pare the budget increase down to manageable proportions.

    The last time our district faced a remotely similar budgetary challenge was some years ago when the State of New York, facing its own budget crisis, severely cut state aid to local school districts. Then, one of the areas of the budget that received close scrutiny was that portion devoted to administration. The fiscal crisis of the time demanded that the board of education undertake a rethinking of how the various components of the school system were managed. Their investigation revealed that there were many cuts that could be made to both economize and streamline the administration of our schools. Sadly, they did not go far enough at the time. Even more sadly, in recent years their work has been undone, with the size of the district’s administration having increased very significantly.

    Let me anticipate my critics and say as clearly as I can, I’m not calling for anyone to lose a job. What I am saying is that we are faced with a huge budget increase at a time when we also have some of the highest class sizes in our history. Additionally, these problems arise at a time when the State of New York is demanding that all students be trained at higher academic levels and be able to pass so-called high-stakes tests. How should intelligent people face this crisis?

Beyond doubt most of the administrators in our district have busy workdays. That is not at issue. The question is would their labors be more useful to the children of our community if they were put to work teaching children rather than the objectively less important work they now do? I believe we all know the answer to this question. It's time for the Board of Education to face it squarely.

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