Commack Education In Danger

All parents of children in the Commack School District -- and especially the parents of young children -- have something that should make them very afraid.  For many, maybe even all of us, we moved to Commack for one primary reason:  the schools.  Specifically, we moved here for a school district that is consistently one of the best of Long Island.  Yet, despite the fact that our tax levy increases have been historically low and that the School District continues to add programming, restore cuts and continues to perform at a high level, there is a near and present threat to the quality of our children’s education.  And unfortunately, that danger is someone that currently sits on the Commack Board of Education.

I attended the first Budget Workshop at the High School Thursday night and was pleased to learn of the continued excellence of our students, the enhancements to their educational and extracurricular programs that were included in next year’s proposed budget and the fact that the current proposed tax levy increase was 1.96%, under the tax cap, and which could possibly be lower depending on whether the expected level of state aid increases.  This is after the tax levy increase last year was 1.585% (which was lower than the increase approved by the voters), and 2.6% the year before.  These are historically low increases.  

Board of Education Trustee James Tampellini, however, was not impressed.  He continues to criticize the District for the level of unplanned contingency funds that are built into each year’s budget.  Despite the fact that this practice has been in place for years -- each year openly disclosed in the District’s audit report -- he continues to make the baseless claim that the practice is somehow “illegal.” He continues to ignore the fact that the District’s level of emergency funds has allowed it keep the proposed tax levy increases consistent and low, as opposed to requiring sporadic spiked increases.  He also ignores that it has allowed the District to improve its bond rating and save on interest costs; money that directly led to a decrease in the proposed tax levy last year.  Even worse, Mr. Tampellini refuses to learn from the past.  

One needs to look no further than our neighbor to the north, Kings Park, to see the direct negative effect that reducing the District’s reserves and contingency funds can have on a School District.  Friday’s Newsday reported that Kings Park, one of 52 districts in New York State that was labeled as “susceptible to financial stress” has an over $2 million shortfall in its budget that will likely have to be bridged by program cuts (the article is available here: http://www.newsday.com/long-island/education/kings-park-school-district-may-cut-staff-programs-to-close-budget-gap-1.7386178).  That article directly noted:  "One of the reasons we are susceptible to fiscal stress is because we are applying reserves and fund balance to the budget," [Kings Park Superintendent Susan] Agruso said. "We're running out of reserves. At our current rate of use, we have about three years left."  As a result, Kings Park is considering “cutting or consolidating school clubs, eliminating middle school sports and reducing the number of music performing groups… [and] raising class sizes, eliminating a middle school enrichment program and reducing kindergarten to half a day….”

Sachem is a district where ideas such as Tampellini’s took root.  Sachem elected a Board that ran on the same fiscal principles of reducing reserves to save short term tax funds.  After parents got fed up with increased class sizes and program cuts, they voted out that Board, and the new members were tasked with refunding those reserves.  Had they obtained the required 60% vote last year, Sachem would have pierced the tax cap two years in a row.  

When pressed on the issue at the Budget Workshop, specifically on what to do if the District reduced its contingency in a one-time give back and then ran into unanticipated expenses, Mr. Tampellini flippantly suggested that the District would either have to raise taxes or make programming cuts.  Only it’s not that easy to simply “raise taxes” in the tax cap era.  Moreover, one can only guess which of these two options a Board Trustee that ran for the first time after his kids were out of the District would make.  His position seems to be all about reducing taxes for those families that have taken what they need out of our schools and no longer need them.  Forget about paying it forward, they want to pay as little as possible now.  

Now Mr. Tampellini will try to sell his bills of goods by claiming that the School District secretly pads its budget to “hide” its unplanned contingency funds (despite the fact that the yearly audit report is posted to the School District’s website).  He’ll try to tell you that it’s an illegal end run around a law that limits the District’s reserve fund balance (something that the District’s actual auditor, someone whose job it is to make sure that the District is in financial compliance, clearly does not agree with).  And he’ll tell you, as he did at the Budget Workshop, that he’s been in contact with the State Comptroller’s office.  Yet somehow this “scandal” hasn't been on the front page of Newsday with pictures of State auditors descending on the District.  Perhaps it’s just a sound fiscal policy that has led to consistency in the District’s low tax levy increases, financial savings in the form of reduced interest, and increases in programming and activities for our already high-performing District.  Perhaps the Boogeyman is the not around the corner, but is the very person that is warning us about the Boogeyman.

Every time I attend a meeting, I am amazed at what the students in our District are accomplishing.  They are taking subjects and competing in academic competitions in areas that I never heard of when I went to college, let alone high school.  As a parent of a 1st grader and another child that will be in kindergarten in two years, I want those opportunities to exist for them.  

For my own personal reasons, I am not running for School Board again this year, so this article is not a campaign post.  It is my sincere attempt to raise awareness among the parents in our District to this threat to our children’s education.  I know the three or four people (or all one person for all I know) that usually post here will continue to post their insulting and attacking comments, and I am not going to dignify those with any type of response.  To everyone else, I implore you to attend the Board meetings and Budget Workshops.  Let the Board know -- the entire Board -- that you do not agree with sacrificing the financial well being of our District for a one-time tax credit to benefit those people that have already taken what they need from our schools  Press the candidates for this year’s Trustee election for their position on this all-important issue.  Get informed, stay informed and make yourself heard.  That is the only way to defeat the Boogeyman and protect our children’s education.  


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Pete April 04, 2014 at 09:27 AM
Here's a perfect example of the lies Tampellini tells...@mom23 if u attended the meetings instead of simply believing the Tampellini lies you would know that Steve has absolutely nothing to do with the lies spewed by Jim OR the 'overtaking' of the board to breakdown programs. He absolutely made that clear last night when he spoke up in favor of the Board policy re budgeting and the retention of Teachers and Programs. This is not the 1st time he's done this. But Tampellini continues to create this illusion that it's him and Steve against the board And along with his MANY other lies--this is one too. Tampellini is lying to you.... I know you don't want to believe THAT...but THAT is the truth!
Retired April 04, 2014 at 11:53 AM
Where has Jim ever said anything about Steve being on his side? Point to one statement Pete... you are the liar Pete not Jim..
Lisa Levine April 04, 2014 at 12:01 PM
Pete..you are delusional..and the only person spewing false information here.. How exactly did Jim get his headed handed to him..? All the district people and other board members did was disagree with Jim's view and feebly try to explain why... his fellow trustees are obviously not happy with him.. but who cares..no one expected they would like what Jim said... they can try to dice and slice it anyway they want but the truth is the truth..
Arthur Reilly Jr May 21, 2014 at 08:32 PM
This guy is another articulate-pigeon doing Mary Jo's and God knows who else's bidding. Interesting that this is a blog and he states "he will not respond". Not to much to challenge there. Also note that the usage of an allied School district emblem (The Cougar Print) is almost misleading. This is a subtle smear campaign against Jim at best, and character assassination at worse. Arthur Reilly Jr.
Commackouter May 21, 2014 at 08:49 PM
A little late to the party sour grapes there Artie?


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »