East Hampton School Board members agreed this week that a number of badly needed renovations should be included in the 2020-21 school budget, which the board officially began discussing on Tuesday night.
Projects initially placed on the district’s “wish list,” as school officials had previously called it, can be accomplished without exceeding the state-mandated cap on tax levy increases, they said.
The renovations include new lockers for the East Hampton Middle School for $136,000, new auditorium seats at the middle school for $131,725, a renovated junior varsity softball field for $139,085, and upgrades to the library at the John M. Marshall Elementary School for just under $60,000.
“I think you have the opportunity to do this now,” said Isabel Madison, the assistant superintendent for business.
Richard Burns, the district superintendent, said if there is money available at the end of the budget process, then a new turf field at East Hampton High School, at an estimated cost of $588,137, will also be included.
In its proposed budget, East Hampton is expecting to achieve some savings in key areas — most notably $100,000 less in expenses related to the now-settled Sandpebble lawsuit of 14 years ago — that will offset part of those capital costs. Because solar panels are being installed, the district also expects to see a decline in its electricity bill, which would normally cost more than $600,000 a year. East Hampton is anticipating receiving about $244,000 more in state funding. Ms. Madison said the district can raise its tax levy by about $1.4 million under the tax cap law.
The overall 2020-21 budget figure is at present around $72 million, though that can change before the board must make a final decision in April. The current year’s spending plan is just under $71 million. Voters will ultimately have the final say on May 19, the day of the school budget vote and school board election.
A new commercial kitchen at East Hampton High School, at a cost of $2.2 million, is also slated for the next school year, though the money for that would come from a capital reserve fund. Tapping that money will not increase taxes, according to J.P. Foster, the school board president. He said it means, however, that there will be a separate ballot proposition asking voters for permission to use the money. The district will use it to establish a career education program in culinary arts and hospitality.
“It’s responsible budgeting. . . . It’s all set up so the taxpayers have a say,” Mr. Foster said.
Administrative costs are expected to remain largely flat, though in the superintendent’s budget the district is including about $44,000 for a new car. It would replace one purchased in 2007 that has more than 200,000 miles on it now.
Jackie Lowey, a board member, said it’s still early in the process but “we feel we are confident we will be able to fund key programs in the district and not pierce the tax cap. Because of a lot of tough decisions we’ve made, we are in a better position now.”
Also Tuesday, Adam Fine, the high school’s principal, said the district’s search for his successor is in full swing. The deadline for candidates to apply was Friday, and out of a large number of résumés, he said, 15 were from highly qualified candidates.
“Nine made the next cut,” said Mr. Fine, who is being promoted to assistant superintendent next year. “We’ll be screening seven of them,” including two internal applicants. “There are viable candidates in there. They appear to be extraordinary. We’re very excited.”