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BOE Approves 13-14 Budget

Budget comes in under state cap.

The Syosset Board of Education approved the budget for the 2013-14 school year at Wednesday's meeting.

After factoring in a projected $400,000 increase in net state aid from the previous year, the finalized budget came in at $209,054,963, a 2.8 percent tax levy increase. Syosset's New York State calculated tax cap was 3 percent.

After another look at potential funding, the $400,000 was factored into the final draft. Superintendent Carole Hankin called the amount a "fairly safe" calculation.

The final draft of the budget will require no cutting of staff nor programming, according to the district. The news was applauded by those on and off the Board.

Trustee Chris DiFilippo repeated concerns from the previous meeting, asking for detail on why staff salary amounts averaged over 6 percent increases compared to the contract-stipulated 2.75 percent.

Related: BOE Continues Budget Talks; Staff Raises Questioned

"There have been no renegotiations of contracts," Hankin specified. She added that the number could be skewed by several factors, including teachers who are out on maternity or sick leave, those who retire before the end of the school year, and those receiving STEP increases, where a faculty member can make more money if they earn more degrees.

"Each teacher is getting a raise…but the number of teachers on any given day changes, their [STEP] status changes," said Trustee Laura Schlesinger.

Lana Ajemian Steps Down; Board Decides on Replacement Election

Board President Michael Cohen announced to the audience that Lana Ajemian had stepped down from her position as board trustee.

Ajemian moved out of the district and stepped down around April 15.
Board President Michael Cohen read a letter from Ajemian announcing her resignation:

“...I am sincerely proud of all we have accomplished under the visionary leadership of Dr. Hankin and her cabinet, and the dedicated staff of quality educators, administrators and support personnel. Keeping students first and foremost as the priority of the Syosset board has been a source of achievement and pride for our district and it has been a privilege and honor to have the opportunity to contribute to this for the past nine years…"
“We all wish her the best in what has been a very difficult time,” said Cohen.

As budget and board elections were less than two months away, the board voted to fill Ajemian's seat with the candidate who receives the most votes in May. That candidate will be sworn in on election night and immediately become a trustee. All other winners will begin their terms on the board in July.

Finance Committee on Hiatus

The Board voted to pause the newly-created finance committee, citing concerns with board involvement and policies.

"I think it's well-intentioned and it will serve a wonderful purpose, but rules have to be followed," said Cohen.

According to DiFilippo, a member of the public attended the meeting and, since they were the only person in the audience, was invited to sit at the meeting table to listen.

Cohen called the "quasi-involvement" "unacceptable," in addition to voicing concern over board involvement.

"The current committee has only met once," defended DiFilippo. "There are no decisions made by the committee. It's just a lively and honest conversation. They should be able to build a rapport and work together."

"We just approved a budget and for the next two months, there's not going to be much to hear from the finance committee," said Trustee Alan Resnick.

"What I'm hearing is that we don't want to do away with it, but just take off the rest of the school year, reestablish it, change the bylaws about board involvement and make it purely community members."

DiFilippo opposed the idea, saying if the committee had to disband so soon, people could get "disgruntled" or the current committee could disband completely.

Related: BOE Postpones Energy Project; Finance Committee Approved

The board ultimately voted in favor of suspending the committee, with DiFilippo and Trustee Josh Lafazan voting against it and Board Vice President April Neuendorf abstaining.

Neuendorf explained that she was weighing "if the community would be best served to have a finance committee independent of board member involvement" and allowing "time before revisiting to reflect on whether my presence at the meeting may have censored discussion."

Sympathy for Boston

The board offered both sympathies to the victims and assurances to the community in the wake of the tragic bombing of Boston.

"While New York City is not currently on alert, we certainly are," said Hankin, adding that the day after the bombing, all school principals had been contacted and school trips had been reevaluated.

"We felt strongly that we can't protect the children perfectly, but we can do the best we can," she said of the decision to cancel an upcoming trip to Boston.

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