Greenport School District spending hike trimmed

Struggling to avoid a substantial tax increase, Greenport school board members and administrators have knocked the initial 2011-12 budget spending increase down from 3.4 percent to 1.77 percent.

Some of the savings resulted from Eastern Suffolk BOCES officials accepting a salary freeze, which reduces the district’s BOCES costs. The school also eliminated all field trips next year, unless students or families finance them through fund-raising efforts.
The changes were announced at a March 16 school board meeting by Superintendent Michael Comanda, who said he’s still working to find other possible budget savings before the spending plan goes before voters in the May 17 election.

Mr. Comanda added that he’s looking ahead to 2012-13 with concerns that should the State Legislature impose a 2 percent annual property tax cap, which he believes appears likely, Greenport would have to cut another $356,000 in spending.

Given increases in costs the district can’t control — including unfunded state and federal mandates, contractual obligations, fuel oil and gasoline prices — that would result in “significant cuts to student programs,” Mr. Comanda said. “We’re hoping Sen. LaValle can work some magic,” he added.

Mr. Comanda and board members defended plans to pay about $13,000 in stipends to various teachers and others who provide extracurricular services to students as club advisors and musical accompanists for programs. Those who receive the stipends volunteered their time in the current school year while other club advisers were paid, he said.

“You get a lot of bang for your buck,” Mr. Comanda said, noting that the various programs reach a large number of students.
The extra activities make a big difference in keeping some students in school, board member Heather Wolf said, referring to “scary” teen years when some students would opt to drop out of school.

There are some changes coming in how elementary school students are released from the building each day.
Anyone authorized to pick up a student will soon have to come inside the building and sign that student out, rather than just drive up and pick up the student.

Teacher’s aide Denise Edwards has been lobbying school officials to switch the policy out of concern for young students who run out into the parking lot’s traffic at the end of the school day. She’s also said that students’ safety could be at risk from unauthorized people picking them up.

Ms. Edwards said she observed one parent accidentally drive over her child’s leg in the parking lot and has seen other cases in which accidents were only narrowly averted.

“I’m thinking about your children,” Ms. Edwards said.

Mr. Comanda agreed to implement a policy quickly. But he’s also going to refer the issue to the school’s SAVES committee, which is charged with recommending policies affecting campus safety, for further discussion and consideration of other potential ways to protect students.

Board members approved a resolution extending Mr. Comanda’s contract by two years, until 2016, with an agreement for a salary freeze in those years. Mr. Comanda froze his salary for the current school year but is due for a raise next year and in subsequent years through 2014. He also elicited an agreement from his elementary and junior-senior high school principals to take a salary freeze next year. Mr. Comanda currently earns $175,000 a year.

District Clerk Diana Duell has been promoted to school business administrator, having completed the coursework necessary to qualify her for the designation.

“You do a fantastic job for us,” Mr. Comanda told Ms. Duell. Board members echoed the sentiment.

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