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Port Washington Budget Talk Heats Up at Meeting

Karen Sloan, the school board president, and Geoffrey Gordon, the superintendent of schools, look on during public comment at Tuesday's board of education meeting.

It’s budget season in Port Washington, and the age-old debate between taxes and school cuts reared its head at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

As the district continues to work on its $128 million budget — a 2.92 percent increase over last year’s budget — a handful of residents spoke out against any increase in the current economic climate.

Frank Russo, a Port Washington taxpayer, urged the board and the district’s superintendent, Geoffrey Gordon, to keep the budget where it is with a zero percent increase.

“It would be a major, major boost for morale across Long Island,” Russo said.

Russo recommended the board not pay teachers a “cost of living” raise, but maintain the step raises that are built into the current teacher contract.

Roughly five people agreed-by-applause, while the teacher-dominated crowd sat quietly with disapproving looks.

Gordon took a moment between public comments to address Russo’s statement, shutting down any notion that his administration would lay teachers off to help cut costs. “Our commitment is not to lose jobs for our staff,” he said.

Christine Vasilev, a teacher at Manorhaven Elementary School, and the president of the Port Washington Teacher’s Association, said the district didn’t “just become a district of excellence” and that it took investing lots of money to do so.

“We all benefit from an excellent education,” Vasilev said. “I ask the members of the board of education not to think in the shortsighted, limited way.”

Other residents, advocating a zero percent tax increase, made it a point several times to stress the importance of quality teachers, and that the district should look at increasing class sizes to reduce budgetary costs.

Residents will have the opportunity to contribute more to the school budget process on March 9 at Schreiber High School during the second budget work session. The third and final budget work session will then take place on March 23 at the high school which will include input from the Board of Education and community as well. The vote on the budget will be held on May 18.

As the meeting wrapped up with final public comments, everyone seemed in agreement on one issue.

“Quality of teachers is very important and that is the one thing I would love to see and put more money into,” Russo said.

Frank Russo tells board members that he wants to see a zero percent increase in the school budget this year.