Eastport South Manor could lose $2M in state aid

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Eastport South Manor could be slammed by a $2 million drop in state aid for the 2009-10 school year, resulting in a projected budget gap of $3.7 million and a possible tax increase of 10 percent unless drastic cuts to the budget are made, according to district officials.

Under Governor David Paterson’s 2009-10 state budget proposal, the governor recommends cutting school aid statewide by $2 billion. That translates to about a $2 million decrease from what Eastport South Manor received in state aid for the current year, Superintendent of Schools Mark Nocero said at a School Board meeting on January 21. The drop would be compounded by annual contractual increases and inflation, which could result in a $3.7 million budget gap for the district next year, the superintendent said.

Mr. Nocero said he will distribute a proposed 2009-10 budget to School Board members later this week. The School Board is expected to discuss the proposed budget at its next meeting on February 4.

The proposed budget anticipates spending of about $78 million, a $1.2 million increase over the current budget of $76.8 million.

The projected $3.7 million budget gap represents 2.5 percent of the district’s budget. If a contingency budget were adopted by the district, that could result in a tax increase of 10 percent for homeowners, Mr. Nocero said.

Governor Paterson “is offering $2 million less than what we received for this school year. That is a significant amount of money,” Mr. Nocero said. “It’s not a good situation at all.”

He said a “wild card” that could save the district from a spike in the tax rate or drastic spending cuts is money from the federal government. President Barack Obama’s $825 billion federal stimulus package is expected to set aside money to assist states in maintaining aid to schools.

The president is expected to sign a version of the package by February 13, releasing the federal money to states for disbursement to municipalities and programs. Mr. Nocero, who said he had no idea how much the federal stimulus package could impact the state’s proposed decrease in school aid for next year, said the federal money would have to be received by the district no later than April 1, when the district moves to finalize its budget.

In October, the School Board voted to set a tax rate increase of just below 5 percent for district residents following the receipt of $650,000 in “bullet aid” from 1st District State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle. Mr. Nocero noted that $325,000 of that money is being used to offset taxes in the district next year, but that it is not nearly enough to soften the expected blow.

Mr. Nocero said the state needs to restore its state aid or the district must make cuts to avoid a spike in taxes. “Either they give you more revenue or you spend less,” he said.

He said the budget is still in its preliminary stages and that the school aid situation could change in the coming months. “It’s such a crazy year because who knows what will happen with the state and federal governments,” Mr. Nocero said.

School Board member Ralph J. Bavaro said he would like to begin thinking about what to cut in the budget, while School Board President Karen Kesnig conceded that the district might not be able to avoid widespread cutbacks.

“None of us can comprehend how we are going to cut $3.7 million, but it may be something that we are going to have to comprehend,” Ms. Kesnig said.

New Field

The School Board also voted last week to authorize the district’s architect to seek approval from the state for the footprint of a $500,000 concession stand for the district’s new athletic complex at the junior-senior high school.

The board also agreed to have a $19,800 image of a shark, the school’s mascot, imprinted in the soon-to-be built all-purpose field. The School Board withheld a decision about whether to print “Sharks” or “ESM” in the field end zones.

While noting that a concession stand would be nice, School Board member Arthur Abbate voted against pursuing the stand, citing its price. “Half a million is a lot of money in this economy,” he said.

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