HALF HOLLOW HILLS, New York, Mar. 26
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
Half Hollow Hills School District officials have proposed a $239 million budget for the 2015-2016 academic year – a 2.1 percent, or $4.8 million, increase from the 2014-2015 budget.
A proposed tax levy cap of 2.42 percent – which will not pierce the New York tax cap – has been set by the district’s officials, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Facilities Anne Marie Marrone Caliendo said during Monday’s budget presentation at the Fran Greenspan Administration Center, generating a tax levy of $195,520,268. According to published reports, this leaves Half Hollow Hills with the highest tax levy of all school districts in Suffolk County.
Marrone Caliendo, however, responded to this statistic on Monday with several reasons as to why the district’s tax levy appears to be so large. Looking at percentages, she compared Half Hollow Hills to Merrick, a district with a tax levy cap projected at 2.4 percent.
“[Half Hollow Hills is] exponentially larger than Merrick, but I can tell you, based on what the state believes, that we are of generally equal wealth,” she said. “Our levy, what we raise in taxes, is the same portion of our budget.”
About 80 percent of the Half Hollow Hills School District’s 2015-2016 budget will be funded by taxes and 20 percent is funded by other sources, such as state aid. Other districts, such as William Floyd – which is proposing a tax levy cap of 2.95 percent – have about 40 percent of their budgets fulfilled by property taxes, and then 60 percent by state aid.
“It’s that piece which is very important to look at when you try and compare districts,” Marrone Caliendo said. “Our budget is, by design, bigger because we educate exponentially more children [in the district].”
When making comparisons to other districts, she said, it’s important to take into consideration the total size of a proposed budget, the number of children that district educates and what percentage of the budget is funded by the tax levy.
“It helps to make these comparisons a bit more understandable,” she said. “You can have similar percentages, but how you are going to be able to raise enough money to fund your budget will be very different in a lower-wealth district versus a higher-wealth district, and that’s one of the challenges of the [tax levy] formula that we’ve been trying to help the governor and the state understand.”
Other concerns of district officials directed towards Governor Andrew Cuomo come with the 2015-2016 state aid numbers, the school board’s president, Eric Geringswald, said.
As of press time Tuesday, Cuomo had still yet to release state budget runs meaning district officials across Long Island must formulate budgets without know exactly how much money they’ll receive. Most have started forming budgets under Cuomo’s promised 1.7-percent increase, or $377 million, to state aid. But not even that number is guaranteed, as the increase could potentially decrease according to factors such as enrollment, wealth and expenditures.
Hills’ proposed 2015-2016 budget has promised to restore reductions made in prior-year budgets – such as elementary clubs – and district-wide enhancements, such as updates to fine arts courses. Three capital projects have also been budgeted for: renovations to the High School West tennis courts, the replacement of High School West’s auditorium partition doors and the replacement and repair of the High School East air conditioning units and cooling tower.
Monday night’s budget session was the second of two workshops – the first commencing on March 9. Next, on April 20, the board is set to meet at Signal Hill Elementary at 8 p.m. where it is expected to adopt the proposed 2015-2016 budget.
Originally published: Long Islander News: Half Hollow Hills
(Thursday, Mar. 26, 2015; Front page)