2014 Trustees Annual Report & 2014-2015 Budget
2014 TRUSTEES ANNUAL REPORT: NEW SUFFOLK COMMON SCHOOL
Dear New Suffolk Resident,
We are completing a year that has seen significant progress at our school. To us progress is all about getting better, being better and doing better. It is a goal for which we continually strive. This year our progress took the form of a new instructional structure that was introduced into the upper (3-6) grades. Instead of the traditional classroom pattern in which one teacher teaches all subjects to those in her class, we now employ a more specialized model in which the teachers, utilizing their individual strengths, specialize in specific subjects and the students move among classrooms for their classes, the system typically found in middle and high schools. Both students and faculty alike are enthusiastic over this new approach, the educational benefits of which are now being realized.
Enclosed with this letter is our detailed budget proposal for next year. You will immediately note some changes in the format of the document from past years. These are the result of the audit conducted last spring by the New York State Comptroller. As you may have read, the auditors had numerous objections to the manner in which we present our budget proposal. Although disagreeing with many of their objections, we have complied in several areas. The revised format now shows the Fund (i.e. our bank) Balance as revenue and. To circumvent legal restrictions, we “loan” ourselves that Fund Balance each year through a “Cash Flow Advance”. This permits us to continue to apply these funds to cover our ongoing operations in the forthcoming fall semester. The auditors were also critical of our practice of comparing our budget proposal on a line by line basis with actual past expenditures for the same items. Although this revised format does include some requested changes in terminology, it retains our practice of comparing budget proposals with actual past expenses. It is our hope that these changes will both satisfy the state while keeping the budget proposal clear and understandable to the public.
From a budgeting perspective, the 2014/15 school year will be very unique. Next year our high school enrollment is projected to drop by four students. A drop of this magnitude is unprecedented in recent years. However, a seven year projection of current enrollments shows next year will represent a long term low point in our secondary enrollment. Beginning in the 2015/16 year, we expect our enrollments to begin rising again as the higher elementary enrollments we have recently experienced begin to graduate into secondary school. We expect these Increases to continue for the remainder of the decade.
As a result, our tuition expenses will experience a brief one-year drop next fall. This gave us the option of either using the tuition savings to fund long delayed improvements to our elementary program or returning the money directly to the taxpayers via a lower tax rate. The obvious choice favored reducing the overall budget, thus yielding a lower tax rate. Upon further study, however, we realized that approach was shortsighted.
It is absolutely clear that the drop in tuition expenses will be limited to next year. The Board’s long term practice has been to utilize one time drops in mandated costs (such as tuition) as an opportunity to fund improvements to the elementary program; improvements that typically must be postponed when higher mandated costs are experienced. Over the past several years, as tuition costs have risen, the list of postponed educational initiatives has grown considerably. If some of these were not implemented next year, it was likely they would be deferred indefinitely.
We also are cognizant of the workings of the state’s Tax Cap Law. Most people are aware the law limits annual budget increases to 2% or less. But that percentage is applied to the previous year’s budget, not any sort of multi-year average. So, if the budget were to drop by more than 2% next year, the permitted increase the following year would not fully restore the previous year’s drop. It’s significant in this regard that the cost of one tuition presently represents 2.5% of our budget. Even an increase of one tuition thus causes us a significant problem with the tax cap.
After discussing these factors, it became the Board’s opinion that the responsible course of action was to use the one time savings next year to fund a series of improvements to our elementary program. The proposed budget does just that, shifting a full 5% of our spending from the secondary to the elementary level. By doing so, the proposed 1.7% budget will enable us to introduce a number of new initiatives.
Foremost among them is our proposal to extend the regular school day hours by forty-five minutes. Classes would end at 3:15 rather than 2:30. The additional class period created would be used for several purposes. First, all students from kindergarten through sixth grade would receive two classes in foreign language each week. Although mandatory, the classes would not involve grading or testing. They are simply meant to enrich each student’s understanding of other societies and cultures and to prepare them for the required study of a foreign language in secondary school.
The remaining three classes a week would be used in two ways. Students requiring remedial help would work with their teachers during this time. The remaining students would attend what we are describing as a series of “Applied Learning” classes that, through a combination of real life applications/problems, game simulations and targeted projects, would demonstrate the many direct applications of classroom learning to “real life situations”.
A second initiative involves implementation of a program to supply each student with an I-pad computer. Many school districts have begun doing this and the software available to support such a system is growing exponentially. We anticipate obtaining the computers via a three year lease from Apple. At the conclusion of the three years, the computers become our property and we are free to sell them and apply any revenue obtained toward a lease renewal that would provide us with new replacement computers. It should be noted that the cost of this increased use of computers in the classroom is partially offset by a reduction in our purchases of conventional textbooks and workbooks.
Over the past two years, our enrollment has swelled at the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten levels such that it now constitutes fully one-third of our total elementary enrollment. The combination of student numbers and the age related special needs of these youngest students, has made it virtually impossible for a single primary grade teacher to instruct adequately her first and second grade students while simultaneously catering to the needs of the youngest. Over the past four months, the addition of a Teaching Assistant has proven to be extremely successful and largely cured the problem. Our budget proposal funds that part-time position for all of next year.
Everyone agrees that our school is unique; it’s very old and it’s very small. Although accurate, those qualities alone don’t count for much unless the school can capitalize on them and thus become very good. The Board’s simple goal is to add “very good” to everyone’s perceptions. We believe the additions to our elementary program funded by this budget proposal would provide necessary progress toward that end; allowing us to get better, be better and do better.
The Board will hold its regular May meeting on Monday, May 12 at 7 pm. A principle portion of the agenda will be to review this budget proposal and answer any questions from the public. The actual budget vote will be held on Tuesday, May 20 from 3 pm. To 9 pm. At the school. We hope as many as possible will attend the meeting and cast their ballot.
The Board of Trustees
Tony Dill, President
Joe Polashock, Vice-President
Brooke Dailey, Member