The second of a series of Board of Education budget discussions took place this week, focused on anticipated administrative and capital costs for the 2023/24 school year.
As a refresher, the proposed budget for the 2023/24 school year totals $130,282,491. That’s a budget-to-budget increase of 4.58%, or $5,703,042, which falls within the allowable tax cap levy of 2.32%. In May, this budget along with the election of a new Garden City Board of Education trustee will be on the ballot for voters.
A bulk of that budget, about 75% or $97,962,256, is related to program or instructional expenses, which the next two board meetings will cover. The rest is made up of capital (~13% or $17,497,537) and administrative costs (~11% or $14,822,698).
Different codes come into play with this portion of the budget. These relate to the District’s various departments, including its BOE (workshops, election expenses, etc.), central administration (salaries, supplies, travel, etc.), business admin (salary, benefits, workshops, etc.), and much more. Most costs are fixed, and the biggest drivers of increases include inflation and salaries.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kusum Sinha got a bit more into detail on active capital projects, like the high school’s courtyard and outdoor learning space. Although projects like this have been approved, they take time to complete. The district starts with community authorization, then the architectural design process begins, which from there gets submitted to the state for approval. Then the project begins, which can take a few years to complete depending on various external factors.
The following projects are in the design finalization process with the state education department, with hopes to break ground beginning this summer: at the high school, cafeteria window replacements, outdoor space upgrades, stone and masonry repairs; at the middle school, masonry and pointing; at Stewart, roof replacement, library renovations and mechanical ventilations; at Stratford, an outdoor learning courtyard and library renovations; at Hemlock, Homestead and Locust, outdoor learning courtyards.
“In our district,” she began, “we do a wonderful job of saving between our transfer to capital and capital reserves to complete big projects like this or roof replacement, which can cost over a million dollars.”
“We also connect with local leaders, like Senator Thomas, to secure grants, like the one we put towards new high school library furniture,” Sinha added.
Proposed projects for the upcoming budget total $2,599,000. These were developed in consultation with principal, facilities, architects: at the high school, gym bleacher replacements, baseball field upgrades, athletic storage container replacements, kitchen ceiling and light replacements; at the middle school, classroom renumbering and front display cabinet replacement; at Stratford paint, repainting the shed roof; at the primary schools, air condition multi-purpose rooms, storage shed installations and bus garage cement repairs. Looking at the bigger picture, district-wide costs would be associated with upgrades to the phone system, technology infrastructure improvements, furniture updates and security projects.
Though program related, President Joseph Sileo shared an update on the District’s Universal Pre Kindergarten (UPK) program plans. “Unless something comes back from the RFPs that changes the cost to the District, it would be difficult to continue to allocate money to UPK at this time. It would cost upwards of 16,000 if we were to do it, and require us to cut something else while this budget is fairly heavy in fixed costs. I think we’re leaning toward deferring UPK until we have proper funding in place for that.”
The Board’s Response
“When looking at the capital vs program budget, can these be dispersed more evenly?” asked Board President Joseph Sileo. Short answer? No. Dana DiCapua, assistant superintendent for business and finance, explained how these are not interchangeable, having much to do with tax levy. Changing one, changes both.
Vice President Tom Pinou voiced, “In my years on the Board, the program always looks similar to this, about 75%. Are most comparable districts in that same ratio?” The administration is checking for comparable districts, but said Garden City has particularly low administrative costs comparably.
Pinou followed up with, “Most of our cost increases are fixed and influenced by inflation like insurance, correct?” The central administration agreed.
The President asked, “We’re being pushed by the state to start thinking about acquiring electric buses. It’s problematic; the tech is not yet sufficient to run over the course of the school day, there are charging issues and a litany of others. I understand we will not be able to purchase diesel by 2027 and are required to have a fully electric fleet by 2035. How much will it cost to replace the fleet?” It’s over $400,000 for one electric bus, and our fleet is made up of over 60 non-electric models, in addition to changing infrastructure and grid support updates. As we operate today, Garden City typically upkeeps an 11 year bus replacement cycle and replaces buses each year.
The Superintendent had additional updates. A survey will be sent to the community seeking input on school improvements. It will also be given to students and staff in the coming months and takes about seven minutes to complete.
Sinha also addressed the recent middle school evacuation, which was caused by a threat. “Everyone did a wonderful job and all went according to our plans. But we still debriefed and found some learnings. More frequent communication to the community and staff via text, phone and email resonates.”
Dr. Edward M. Cannone, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, then responded to questions from parents in prior meetings relating to the district’s processes for dyslexia screen and intervention across tiers. The district will be making a document with this information made public on its website sometime this week.
The next work session will take place on Tuesday, March 14th 2023 at GCHS beginning at 7:00 PM.
It sounds like our Trustees are studying the Districts budget in depth and had good relevant questions. What concerned me most was the Bus question. The STATE Dept of Ed, State Go t mandating that the bus fleet MUST be replaced. At who’s coat? Theirs or ours. If it is ours then who are they to demand it. If they want to demand it then let them pay for it. Will our trustees and District head send a mail to protest this demand by the state?