BY MICHAEL RICONDA
GARNERVILLE – The expected cost to expand from half-day to full-day kindergarten in the North Rockland Central School District would be between $6 and $13 million over four years, district administrators told the public on August 19.
In spite of significant support among both educators and parents, prospects appear grim that the expansion will take place. The fiscal analysis, presented by Superintendent Ileana Eckert, revealed the cost of the program would be about $6 million over the course of four years if modular classrooms are added to current school buildings and around $13 million if the school decided to separate the kindergarten program into its own dedicated school. The increased price tag is owed to extra administrative and maintenance costs, Eckert said.
Though these figures only amount to a small portion of the district’s budget, Eckert said the district would still be in the hole and cuts would be required to balance school budgets in the long-term if the project were taken on. According to Eckert, much of the problem lies with revenues. “We’re collecting less money from the community still than we have in 2011,”she said. “It has nothing to do with district spending. It has to do with where the money is coming from.”
Among the troubles impacting the school’s revenue stream are a $4.6 million refund owed to NRG Energy as part of a settlement over municipal taxes on its two Haverstraw power plants. Though NRG is also expected to pay $1.653 million per year as part of the deal, the departure of Mirant also means tax burdens have shifted to residents rather than commercial entities and a vital revenue stream has been lost.
A 30-year bond to pay down the 2007 tax certiorari refund from the Mirant settlement also has limited the school’s flexibility for several years, forcing it to pay $11 million to $15 million per year, Eckert noted, singing the same tune she does at most budget meetings during her tenure.
With expenses taken into account, the school district’s fund balance remains dangerously low and is projected to dip to $5 million in the 2015-2016 school year, she said.
The state tax cap further limits the amount of revenue the school district can raise, allowing only a quarter of a percent tax raise from last year. Eckert explained that, on top of it all, the state itself has shorted the district tens of millions [the exact number is disputed] via the “Gap Elimination Adjustment” since 2010.
“It has been felt by every district in Rockland County and every district in the state of New York,” Eckert said.
Consequently, budget cuts are projected to spike in the coming years, with $4,100,740 in cuts expected in 2015-2016, $3,024,567 the next year and $11,655,298 the year after. Eckert explained the figures were not fated to materialize, but were the best current picture of the school district’s future.
“These are fluid numbers,” Eckert said. “They could get worse, they could get better.” With such cuts in store for the district, Eckert said she cannot justify extending kindergarten at this time.
The study was an analysis rather than a final determination, so the option of full-day kindergarten is not off the table. Both the board and parents seemed eager to continue sifting through the budget to eke out a place for the popular full-day program.
North Rockland resident Evie Davis, the sole commenter during the public participation, lauded the school board’s efforts and encouraged them to continue, but reminded them that as long as full-day kindergarten was not on the budget, critical science, math and social studies programs would not be accessible to those students.
“Our children in half day programs are not getting those things,” Davis said.
Though full-day kindergarten is an uncertain prospect, some good news did come North Rockland’s way on the subject of state funding this week. On Monday, it was announced that, the Haverstraw-Stony Point Central School District will receive $150,000 to expand pre-K programs.
The money is part of a $1.75 million package of grants included in this year’s state budget and dedicated for use in each of Rockland’s school districts.