Facts Regarding Our Finances and Funding
Dear North Shore Parents, Faculty, and Community Members,
I wanted to take this opportunity to address with you directly facts concerning statements that are being shared within the community surrounding the District’s general and financial condition, funding sources used to reopen our K-12 schools, and the June 2020 Annual Budget Vote and Trustee Election.
1. It is true that the District experienced savings as a result of the Spring 2020 school closures and utilized $2.9M of this to reopen our schools and facilitate the full return of all students in K-8 amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It is not true that this unprecedented use has been deemed to be illegal or an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds. This included $2.7M in funding for one-time expenses in vital PPE, security, staffing, ventilation and filtration improvements, instructional materials, and outdoor learning canopies, for our students and staff. This funding allocation was publicly discussed in great detail with the Board of Education at a special meeting on August 24, 2020 with our school and district leadership. It also included a $200K allocation to fund intensive and ongoing professional development for our faculty in remote learning through Columbia University. The funding was made in full and complete consultation with our attorneys and auditors and did not change the voter-approved tax levy.
2. While we generally do not comment on pending litigation, it is important to assert, unequivocally, that the June 2020 Annual Budget Vote and Trustee Election was conducted in full compliance with the law. Our District Clerk’s actions were above reproach, and the District will continue to defend our position with regard to the pending Appeal to the Commissioner of Education.
3. The North Shore of Long Island is renowned for having some of the finest schools in the nation. North Shore is among them and we are proud of our unique programming, small class size, and ability to meet a wide array of student needs in all academic areas, special education, world languages, athletics, fine and performing arts and beyond. Each district has specific needs which we all meet through our respective budgeting processes. While the specific numbers being shared in non-district communications are unverified and often inflated, it is true that North Shore does have a higher cost per student than some (but not all) neighboring districts. In March of 2018, the Board of Education requested an analysis of our program and budget as a comparison to the Manhasset Schools. We learned that both districts offer a robust program with outstanding outcomes for all students. The difference in cost per student was largely driven by fewer physical buildings in Manhasset, variations in class size, several key programmatic differences in special areas and modern language instruction, and disparate percentages of faculty at the top ends of each respective salary schedule. A comprehensive analysis of spending can be found on our website. http://www.northshoreschools.org/boe/NorthShoreManhassetExpenseComparison3-2-2018.pdf
4. Districts in New York State are able to keep an unrestricted reserve of 4% of the subsequent year’s operating budget. It is essentially our savings account and our approach is to use it only in the most dire of circumstances. In 2020-2021, it represents $4,247,484.01. As most residents know, North Shore is facing a unique and long-standing challenge: the decommissioning of the Glenwood Landing Power Plant.
Between the years of 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, the District received special grants of $5.4M from New York State resulting from the strong advocacy by Senator Carl Marcellino and Assemblyman Charles Lavine. This assisted the District in funding gaps related to the decommissioning of the Glenwood Landing Power Plant as well as the conversion of about $7M in LIPA properties that were removed from the tax rolls and converted to PILOTS (Payments in Lieu of Taxes). In 2015, despite the District’s intensive efforts and testimony before the NYS legislature, a special reserve was not approved by New York State to hold these funds, and our auditors advised us to place these special grant monies in the unrestricted reserve. To be clear, these funds were not raised in taxes, and since the 2014-2015 budget, we have utilized $4,243,035 to reduce the tax levy. We have an established plan to use the remaining $1,156,965 and will continue doing so to reduce future levies until they are exhausted in the 2027-2028 fiscal year. Our auditors have consistently highlighted this in our annual reports to ensure that we have a plan for their eventual usage. This information was included in my Preliminary Budget Presentation on February 4, 2021 and can be found on our website.
5. In 2014, Nassau County lost a Tax Certiorari case on appeal. The District has been steadily liquidating reserves (set aside if Nassau had won) to reduce property taxes. Since the 2018-2019 fiscal year, $1,350,000 has been used to reduce property taxes. Moving forward, the remaining $1,154,398 will be allocated to further reduce taxes and preserve the District’s long-term financial interests.
In both of these cases, the District has worked with our auditors and attorneys to assign fund balance to reduce property taxes each year, to avoid unnecessary tax levy spikes or cuts to program. We discuss this in a transparent manner with our auditors and have a documented plan to use these funds so that our unrestricted reserve can be reduced gradually. It is located on our website with my Preliminary Budget presentations each year.
If all of the funds from the former Tax Certiorari Reserve and LIPA grants were returned at once through the 2021-2022 budget to our taxpayers, $2,311,363 would be returned to our residents proportionately across all of the assessed real estate within the District. For our residential taxpayers, this would result in a modest one-time tax levy reduction. However, in order to maintain a comparable program in the 2022-2023 academic year, those taxes would need to be levied once again. These numbers may vary based on the actual assessed value of your home.
Our District is at a critical crossroad with regard to a potential settlement between Nassau County and LIPA. Although we are not a party to that resolution, we have been working hard with our legislators and counsel to advocate for the North Shore community. It will require careful fiscal planning and the strategic use of our existing reserves to lessen the year-to-year tax impact on our residents while maintaining the excellence of our schools. To this point, it is important to be clear that The Board of Education and I remain sensitive to the fiscal pressures faced by our residents and are committed to providing our students with the continued resources to support their wellness within a comprehensive school program where ALL students have opportunities to excel academically and physically.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly if you have any questions. I look forward to engaging with you. As we close for the February break, I wish our students, faculty, and community a very restful week. We have an exciting spring ahead of us and I hope everyone gets a chance to rest, rejuvenate, and recharge!
Be safe, stay well, and notice the good.
All the best,
Dr. Peter Giarrizzo
Superintendent of Schools