Surplus Earmarked

After weeks of workshops, the Montauk School Board has come close to approving a final budget of a bit under $18.6 million for the 2015-16 school year. The board learned of a hefty fund balance of $1.2 million that they said Tuesday could be used for a slew of long overdue building improvements.

“It’s a problem, but it’s a good problem. Now we have to decide what to do with it,” Jack Perna, the school superintendent, said of the surplus. If the money were returned to taxpayers and taxes increased in the coming year, the school might have to pierce the state-mandated tax cap the year after, he said. Instead, said Mr. Perna, “We recommend taking part of the fund balance and adding it to the capital fund.”

The school building’s cesspools are acting up; a septic contractor was expected to inspect the system yesterday. A repair or replacement could be a costly project. “This cesspool issue is big in my mind,” said Diane Hausman, the school board president.

The board also discussed the parts of the building that need improvements, including repairing and repainting the stucco on its east and south sides, which was budgeted at $200,000. “But if we’re doing that, then we should also do the north and west sides,” Mr. Perna said. Jason Biondo, a board member and a building contractor, said the stucco repair would cost a lot more than what was budgeted and suggested they raise the amount to $300,000. No decision was made.

The surplus was attributed to several factors, a dearth of new students among them. When the district budgets each year for tuition fees for Montauk students attending other schools, it includes a safety net in case new students move into the district. Those funds were not needed this year. Also, one teacher took early retirement, making her ineligible for lifelong health insurance.

With teachers and parents alike anxiously waiting to hear if their spring vacation plans might need to be changed. the board also discussed making up snow days. Mr. Perna said after the meeting that students would have to attend school on April 3, Good Friday; May 22, and May 26. A fourth snow day will not need to be made up.

The next budget workshop will take place Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the school library.