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School board OKs $142M budget

Spending plan includes $2 million tax-levy increase

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The Long Beach Board of Education voted unanimously on April 11 to adopt a $142 million budget for the 2019-20 school year that is about $2.5 million larger than the current spending plan, and includes a $2 million tax-levy increase.

“It’s very modest,” Chief Operating Officer Michael DeVito said of the increase. “I know $2.5 million seems like a lot of money in absolute terms, but if you take a look at what it is from budget to budget, 1.76 percent is actually a very small increase.”

DeVito also said that the $104 million tax levy is under the state 2 percent tax cap, despite the district’s having the option to raise it a maximum of 4.7 percent because of ongoing and planned capital projects.

“We all want to keep the tax levy as low as possible,” DeVito said. “We’re especially sensitive to this community and some of the burdens that we’ve had post-[Hurricane] Sandy in terms of where families are, and the board, at this point, felt that the community could bear a 1.92 percent increase in the tax levy.”

The spending plan includes staffing changes as well as planned construction projects and changes to the athletic program.

Besides contractual stipend increases for coaches, the increase in athletics can be attributed to the conversion of the winter cheerleading team to a competitive team, the addition of a new coach for a new junior-varsity hockey program and four new assistant coaches for boys’ and girls’ basketball and volleyball. The proposed budget for athletics is about $1.4 million, an increase of about $86,000 over the current year.

DeVito also said the district would pay for all elementary school field trips “for equity purposes.” School officials said that about $18,600 per elementary school — East, West, Lindell and Lido — would be allocated for class trips.

“We didn’t want any family, at any point,” DeVito said, “to feel that they couldn’t afford to go on a school field trip, something that’s part of a class trip, something that’s part of our curriculum, because of the cost, even if it’s $10 or $20.”

“Thank you very much for including field trips as part of the budget,” Teresa McCarthy, co-president of the Central Council PTA, said. “That’s going to greatly affect all of our families in such a positive way, and thank you for having the forethought to do that.”

Additionally, construction projects planned for the district include upgrading the sound systems in the middle and high school auditoriums and the lighting at the high school, replacing the auditorium seats and the carpeting at Lindell Elementary School, and building restrooms on the high school field, using about $143,000 to supplement a grant from the State Assembly, DeVito said.

The district also began rolling out plans to spend about $1.2 million to make the high school and Lido Complex entrances safer. The Lido Complex houses the administration building, Long Beach Middle School and Lido Elementary School on Lido Boulevard. The plans include relocating the entrance of the complex to s stop light on Lido Boulevard, extending the existing pickup areas and creating walkways. School officials also plan to extend the driveway leading into the high school campus to reduce traffic congestion.

“As a family that has been in an accident on Lido Boulevard, thank you so much for including that,” McCarthy said of the plans. “It really is wonderful to know we’ll have a safe way in and out of the Lido Complex.”

School board President Dr. Dennis Ryan said he opposed the idea to bond or budget for air conditioning in the schools after parents complained at previous board meetings about students being hot on warm days. After Moody’s Investors Service recently downgraded the city’s credit rating to two notches above junk bond status, he said, the last thing he would want to do is add a bond “on top of what the city has over-bonded.”

“We tried to be fiscally responsible, particularly this year, because of the difficulties the city has been in,” Ryan said. “The city seems to think they can bond most everything and put those kinds of tax burdens on the community. We try to be careful in terms of being very, very fair to the community and being very fair to our students in terms of recommending things that we need. . . . The city has basically made it very difficult for young people and for seniors in particular to stay here and to buy here.”

“Long Beach residents are too smart to fall for Dr. Ryan’s deflection when discussing his increase in our school taxes,” City Council President Anthony Eramo said in a statement. “My children attend Long Beach public schools, and we love them, but we all know that school taxes make up over 65 percent of our tax bill — almost double the city’s.”