A Brief Summary
This article is an analysis of the proposed Wantagh School District budget for 2022-2023. It explains the district’s different sources of revenue and changes from last year. It also discusses school staff salaries, which account for 75% of the total budget. Additionally, it analyzes what might be the consequences of rejecting the tax levy this year.
What to Know:
- This year’s vote is on Tue May 17th. Please take the time to vote!
- There are 2 proposals on the ballet
- one to approve this year’s tax levy
- another to approve the use of reserve funds to update the High School Gym.
- Wantagh’s teaching staff receive very reasonable wages when compared to other districts, and when taken in the context of high costs of living in this area.
- Voting down the budget will have consequences for the quality of education and safety at our children’s schools.
- Last year 7th and 8th grade sports were combined into single multi-grade teams to save on costs. If we approve the budget this year, that change will be reversed allowing our middle schoolers more opportunities to participate in sports.
What is proposed on the ballot?
Proposition 1: 2022-2023 School Budget
The total budget requested for this year is $84,981,612. The funding for the district’s budget comes from a few sources. The vast majority of the revenue comes from our community’s taxes, but NY State funding also provides a significant portion – about 23% this year. Another 2% of revenue comes from lesser known sources such as pilot payments, which are amounts paid to the district by local businesses in lieu of taxes. There are also miscellaneous sources such as interest, fees for out of district students, facilities rentals, and other funds such as set aside for debt payments . The total budget increase this year is a 2.69% increase over last year, but interestingly the NY State Tax Cap for Wantagh is 2.12%. The district was able to find an additional 900K from increases in the other sources shown in the graph below.
Proposition 2 – Capital Improvements Project for the Wantagh High School Gym
This proposition is unrelated to the annual tax levy proposal for the school budget. Voting yes to this proposal will allow the school district to withdraw up to $600K from a capital project fund in order to upgrade the Wantagh High School Gymnasium. The improvements will include window replacements, flooring restoration, ceiling removal, interior painting, installation of acoustic panels, HVAC modifications, and lighting. 
Wantagh School district has a reserve fund set aside for infrastructure and security improvements. As a community, we authorized the creation of this 7.5 million dollar fund in 2018. According to NY State Law, the school district needs to ask the community to place money into the fund, and to authorize its withdrawal. 
What is the Tax Cap?
In 2012, NY State enacted a law that limits school tax increases. The tax cap law establishes a limit on the annual growth of property taxes levied by local governments and school districts to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The tax levy cannot exceed the cap unless approved by 60 percent of voters . This is the gist of the law, however there is actually a fairly complex formula that factors in growth in the tax base, non-tax payments from large businesses and property owners, pension contributions and changes in the consumer price index. For Wantagh this year, the calculation comes to 2.12%. Last year, this formula mandated wantagh to reduce its budget by 0.61%. This is why the budget vote last year required a supermajority of the community to approve it, even for a moderate increase of 1.96%.
Are District Salaries Too High?
Staffing and related benefit costs represent approximately 75% of the entire budget , so it’s reasonable for the community to ask questions about the district’s compensation. On top of that, we also read attention grabbing headlines in Newsday about LI School employees being paid tremendous salaries.
In January, Newsday published an article with the following headline “38 LI schoolteachers and other educators made more than $300,000 in 2020-21.” After reading this article and ones like it, we must acknowledge that there are some excessive salaries in our schools. Let’s take a few minutes to unpack the information presented in this article, and add a little context from publicly available data. Of the 38 people on this list, ten of them are from the University systems, such as SUNY and FIT. Many of the remaining people on this list are school superintendents from around Long Island. This list doesn’t include anyone from Wantagh. In our district, there are three employees that make in excess of 200K in the 2020-2021 school year .
Mr. John McNamara ($257,973.55)
Superintendent of Schools
Mr. Anthony J. Cedrone, CPA ($227,082.50)
Assistant Superintendent for Business
Dr. Marc Ferris ($218,752.50)
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction.
The 38 people called out in Newsday’s article make up 0.068% of the fifty-six thousand school district employees on LI. Acknowledging that we have some highly compensated school district employees on LI, let’s look at what a typical staff member makes. According to GovSalaries.com, the median salary in Wantagh is 76K . This is quite a bit different than the salacious headlines would lead you to believe. The median household income in Wantagh is 155K . In other words, the hypothetical income of two typical school employees would not reach the median income of their neighbors.
Classroom Teacher Salaries
You may have heard it suggested that teacher’s unions are very powerful organizations that can manipulate districts into unreasonable salaries. A teacher’s salary is defined in the district contract, which is negotiated between the union and administration. An average classroom teacher in Wantagh makes about 96K/yr .
Let’s take a look at the current Wantagh contract, which governs salaries from 2018 through 2023 . The table below is the pay schedule for Wantagh teachers this year. A teacher can find their salary with their level of education (across the top) and years in service (year row is one year).
While feeling frustrated about high taxes, a reasonable person could ask, “Why can’t our teachers take a pay cut!” Let’s look at how Wantagh teacher pay has changed in real terms, when you factor in inflation.
It is a standard practice for school district contracts to specify a salary increase percentage for each year that the contract is in effect. Wantagh teachers received the following increases.
|2018 – 2019||0.25%|
|2019 – 2020||0.75%|
|2020 – 2021||1.25%|
|2021 – 2022||1.30%|
|2022 – 2023||1.45%|
Now let’s take a look at inflation, or the decreasing value of a dollar. The following graph shows the rate of inflation for all the last 5 years. Notice that inflation from 2018 – 2020 hovered around 2%. Our teachers’ increase for the same time period never reached 1%. And when you consider the skyrocketing inflation today, it becomes increasingly obvious that they have taken a pay cut!
Critics could also argue that teacher salaries are 61% higher than the national average, according to GovSalaries.com . When you consider how much more expensive it is to live in Wantagh, that disparity makes a lot of sense. Consider the following graph from DataUSA.io that shows the distribution of home prices in Wantagh compared to the national average (2019).  Notice that the orange bars representing Wantagh show housing costs are double the national average.
What are the consequences of voting down the budget?
Since the tax levy proposed is under the tax cap this year, we only need a simple majority of voters to approve it. However, if the community votes down the budget there will likely be several consequences. We can look at last year to get an idea of what might be in store.
What can we learn from last year’s budget?
Last year the NY state tax cap was severely limiting, and the district tried to override the cap by asking our community to provide supermajority approval. Even in the original proposal, which the voters turned down, there were 19 full-time positions cut from the payroll. These staff cuts included 
- Administrative restructuring to reduce two full-time administrative positions
- Reduction of two secondary instructional staff members in grades 7-12
- Reducing 10 non-mandated classroom aides and health office aides
- Reductions in the technology department in some BOCES support services and
As a result of our failure to approve the first budget, additional reductions were needed in security staff. When this is combined with recent discussion of limiting mental health resources, there is reason for serious concern – especially given how frequently we hear news about violence in public places and schools in the United States.
Additionally, parents of middle school athletes will already be aware that separate sports teams for 7th and 8th grades were combined. This has drastically reduced each student’s ability to participate in sporting events. If this year’s budget passes, the 7th and 8th grades will have separate teams again, allowing our middle schoolers more opportunities to participate. 
What might happen this year?
If we reject the tax levy and fall back on a contingency budget, the district needs to find $1.3 million dollars to cut. Programs that are not mandated by the state, would likely be the first to be removed. Below are a few examples :
- “STEAM” programs that blend science, technology, engineering, art, and math
- Elementary School Music
- Guidance Counselor positions
- High School Electives
- High School Junior Varsity Athletics
- Middle School Athletics
- Extracurricular clubs and activities
- Social worker positions
- Increased Class sizes
- Replacement of aging and non-functioning technology equipment
- Wantagh Schools Published Revenue Details for 2022-2023
- 2022-2023 Wantagh Budget Information Page
- NYS Education Law, section 3651
- NY State Property Tax Cap Guide
- 2022-2023 Comprehensive Budget Report
- Newsday: Wantagh School District https://projects.newsday.com/schools/district/wantagh
- 38 LI schoolteachers and other educators made more than $300,000 in 2020-21.
- Newsday Teacher Salary Payroll 2020-2021
- Govsalaries.com – Wantagh Union Free Schools
- Wantagh Demographics Data
- Teaching in Wantagh School District
- Wantagh United Teachers Contract 2018-2023
- DataUSA.io – Wantagh Economic Data
- 2021-2022 Contingency Budget Slide Deck
- Long Island Herald – Wantagh to revote on school budget
- Wantagh Budget – Athletic Details