Harborfields: District’s Budget Could Pierce Property-Tax Cap

By Janee Law

jlaw@longislandergroup.com

The Harborfields school board presented last week tentative plans for the district’s 2016-2017 budget, three of which would pierce an expected .37-percent property-tax cap, and one of which would not pierce the cap.

Harborfields Superintendent Diana Todaro said the district is very much in the budget’s planning phase.

“There are many items in this budget presentation that we have listed, but may not necessarily be in the final point when we actually adopt the budget,” she said. “This whole process is an evolution that begins with this day until we actually adopted the budget.”

The first option presented by Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Human Resources Francesco Ianni calls for a $81.35 million rollover budget and .37-percent tax levy. In order to meet this, Ianni said the district would have to consider options that include reduction of programs, and utilization of district reserves and/or additional state aid.

Option two consists of three scenarios, all of which would pierce the cap, requiring supermajority, or 60 percent, approval from voters.

The first scenario would result in an $81.63 million budget and .84-percent tax levy.

Scenario two would call for an $81.83 million budget and 1.17-percent tax levy. This scenario includes possible mandates, and would allow the district to make some teaching hires.

The final scenario would be the most costly, Ianni said. With an $82.69 million budget and 2.57-percent tax levy, the district expects it would be able to include additions like full-day kindergarten, which is projected to cost $600,000. There would also be room for staff hires and some additional programing, he said.

However, Ianni stressed that “what we have here is not something that is set in stone.”

“So, two months from now, the options and the possibilities that we have over here could change” he added.

The district’s next budget meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. March 5 at Oldfield Middle School.


Full-Day K Advocates Launch New Movement

By Janee Law

jlaw@longislandergroup.com

Jared Dawson and brother Chef Ray Dawson, of Jonny D’s Pizza in Greenlawn, were the first local merchants to join “Project Button,” a movement pushing for full-day kindergarten to be implemented next school year in the Harborfields Central School District. Photos provided by Rachael Risinger

Jared Dawson and brother Chef Ray Dawson, of Jonny D’s Pizza in Greenlawn, were the first local merchants to join “Project Button,” a movement pushing for full-day kindergarten to be implemented next school year in the Harborfields Central School District. Photos provided by Rachael Risinger

Advocates hoping that a full-day kindergarten program will be added to the Harborfields Central School District next year have launched a new movement in hopes of gaining further support for the addition.

Rachael Risinger, parent and member of Facebook group “Fair Start: Harborfields Residents for Full-Day Kindergarten,” said she and other advocates were not satisfied with district’s tentative 2016-2017 budget plans, which were presented last week.

Only one of the four tentative options makes room for a full-day kindergarten program, which officials project would cost $600,000 and would likely force the district to pierce its state-mandated property-tax cap.

“We were a little disappointed that full-day kindergarten was in the third scenario under option two,” Risinger, who has two children in the district, said.

Over the past few months, Harborfields officials have shown support towards implementing a full-day kindergarten program, but have stressed that there are fiscal hurdles that may stand in the way of doing so. Harborfields is currently the only school district on Long Island that does not offer a full-day kindergarten program.

Risinger was “hoping for full-day kindergarten to kind of be more with the ‘must-haves’ for the district,” but she and other advocates feel it isn’t. Instead, she said, “From what we saw [at the meeting], we definitely have a long way to go.”

To help raise awareness, Fair Start, which had 435 members on Facebook as of deadline Wednesday, is incorporating local businesses through a movement dubbed “Project Button.”

“We’re trying to really drum up community support and awareness because a lot of people still don’t know that Harborfields is last with not having full-day kindergarten,” Risinger said.

The movement revolves around a green button, which sports the words “Full Day K.” Risinger said the button is a conversation starter, and that members of Fair Start have visited local businesses with the buttons to ask employees and business owners for their support, which includes wearing the button themselves.

“We’ve had a really good response so far,” Risinger said, noting that Jonny D’s Pizza in Greenlawn was the first to join up earlier this month.

Ten others have since joined, including Urban Coffee and Fanny Cakes, which are also in Greenlawn.

Alice Salzone, owner of Urban Coffee, said she was “surprised” to learn Harborfields is the only district on Long Island without a full-day kindergarten program. She said, “The kids need more of an extensive day than say three hours of kindergarten, and I feel like it would really benefit them.”

Patricia Weiser, a retired educator who works at Fanny Cakes, said, “I definitely believe that it’s warranted particularly in this day and age. Every child should have the same advantage. It’s important for me for all children to have that same experience, and to benefit from it.”

Risinger said Fair Start plans to continue the “Project Button” movement for as long as it can, hoping to gain more support and awareness.

Similarly, she added, the group will send representatives to Albany on Feb. 29 to meet with legislators and rally for full-day kindergarten on the steps of Capitol Hill. Fair Start plans to team up with representatives from upstate North Rockland County and East Ramapo school districts, which also do not offer full-day kindergarten.

“We’re looking forward to Albany,” Risinger said. “I think it should be a really cool experience and hopefully we’ll learn a lot and get some good support.”