At the March 15 Westbury Board of Education meeting, school administrators presented contingency plans to the public in an attempt to address overcrowding, which is currently affecting both the safety and quality of education of the student body.
One of the main points of conversation was the Nassau Community College Annex, the current site of the ninth grade academy. A renewal of the NCC Annex lease for next year is currently up in the air. Last year, the district procured it in August and local parents, along with New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, are growing frustrated with a district that has only recently started to present options to combat overcrowding when plans were originally promised to the public months ago.
On Monday, March 5, district officials held a special public meeting to approve a May 31 date for a bond vote in an attempt to show Elia that the ball is now rolling; however, the multitude of community members in attendance at the meeting were not shy in expressing their anger and disappointment in administrators.
During the March 15 board of education meeting, district officials—led by Superintendent of Schools Eudes Budhai—presented a new slate of plans and ideas to potentially address the overcrowding issue.
“At our last meeting, we were asked to come up with options to address our overcrowding problem, and tonight we have several options that we have come up with to share with you,” Budhai said. “We have a crisis at all of our schools, and in order to expand our schools, the state requires us to do a study to determine how much we need to expand to make sure this is not just to address a one-year issue…they want to make sure the need exists for a number of years. We are overcapacity now, and we will be overcapacity 10 years from now.”
The study noted that the 2017-18 high school enrollment was at 1,608 students; by 2026-27, that number will swell to 1,708. Those students, as well as approximately 175 staff members, would be sandwiched into a building with a current maximum capacity of only 1,150.
If the lease for the NCC Annex cannot be renewed for next year, the options presented at the BOE meeting to address the overcrowding included having ninth graders return to the high school and follow the class schedule from the 2016-17 school year, regardless of the increase in enrollment; a split/staggered schedule that would see different students attending classes at different times of an extended school day, with the first session starting at 7 a.m., and the second at 9:56 a.m., which would require an increase in staff; or a flex schedule, which would add a zero and tenth period to the present nine-period school day.
“We are going to discuss our problems and our concerns for our students with the Education Commissioner, so that she knows our story and can help us get the resources we need,” Budhai said. “We are responsible for providing you with the best education that we can…we are doing everything possible to speak to the Commissioner so she can help us, and we need the help of parents and the community as well…we need you to write the Commissioner and help us plead our case.”
Budhai also briefly spoke on potential expansions for the middle and high school, which would involve additional classrooms and cafeteria space.
Board Talks Bond
In addition, the board also went over the proposed 2018-19 school budget, which will be voted on by the community May 15. The budget, now in its second draft, currently comes in at $154,734,692; this represents a 6.5 percent budget-to-budget increase over the previous year’s spending plan of $145,295,800. Also, it was noted by the board that New York State’s school aid for Westbury has been increased over last year by the amount of $1,971,904, making for a total package of $69,641,261. The remainder of the budget would be funded by local property taxes and other forms of revenue.
However, regardless of the increase in state aid, the district is currently reporting a tax levy of $78,821,723—an amount that is expected to go down as additional budgeting is done—in addition to a budget gap of $6,271,708. Administrators noted they are currently working on addressing the gap with possible cuts and/or the acquisition of additional revenue, including advocating to the state for additional aid.
“We have sent letters to all of our senators, and we’re working with other school districts, so they can all help to speak on our behalf,” Budhai said. “We’re letting them all know about the greater participation in our English as a second language programs and our increased graduation rates—we’re currently at 87 percent —and we want them to know that we’re not like other school districts and we would put the additional funding to good use.”