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School Budgets Take Shape as Deadline Nears

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 23:36

School budget season is in full swing on the South Fork, where school officials have been busy debating construction projects, textbook purchases, employee raises, and new programs to include — or cuts to make — in next year’s new spending plans.     

School boards have until mid-April to firm up their 2020-21 budget numbers, giving them enough time to publish the required legal notices and hold formal hearings. The annual school bud­Ωget vote and board member election is Tuesday, May 19.

East Hampton     

Adam Fine, the principal of East Hampton High School, has proposed spending $35,000 on Advanced Placement testing so that students who want to access an exam can do so regardless of financial need.     

Because exams run about $100 each, Mr. Fine’s proposal would allow every student to take one exam paid for by the school; families would cover the cost of additional exams, as they do now. The cost would be partially offset by a reduction in individual tutoring expenses for students serving out-of-school suspensions, which Mr. Fine recently said are down dramatically this year. The idea was not met with unanimous praise from the school board, which flagged the A.P. exams as an item for future debate.     

That is just one piece of the high school’s $601,745 elective spending plan for the 2020-21 school year, an increase of about 12 percent over the current year’s budget. Other possibilities in the budget include new furniture for several classrooms — to the tune of 36 tables and 75 chairs — plus new equipment and supplies for the science department. Another option is to buy “sound shells” for the auditorium, which would enhance the performing arts programs.     

“We’ve taken stock of everything, and this is what we need,” Mr. Fine said.     

Elizabeth Reveiz, director of bilingual education, proposed a $46,628 budget for her entire program. It represents an overall decrease of 2 percent over the current year’s budget while still boosting some areas. Ms. Reveiz’s department currently serves 409 children across the district, including 40 new students this year alone.     

A tuition agreement with East Hampton’s sending districts, including Montauk, Amagansett, Wainscott, Springs, and Sagaponack, is expected to be finalized sometime in the next couple of weeks. That will firm up both East Hampton’s revenue lines and the other districts’ tuition costs.

Springs   

The Springs School District on Monday unveiled its first draft, which tops $30 million for the first time — at $30.57 million — with a proposed $877,671 increase in spending. The associated tax levy increase would be 3.98 percent, which is higher than the 2-percent tax cap people are used to hearing about because the district can exclude debt payments and other items from the tax cap calculations.     

Thousands of dollars in cuts to supplies and equipment are proposed to offset cost increases in areas like employee salaries and benefits and tuition to East Hampton High School. Lower expenses for the prekindergarten program are also expected, as the current enrollment of 54 students will likely go down to 36.     

“We are committed to preserving our programs and being fiscally responsible while meeting the needs of our growing community and our diverse community,” said Michael Henery, the school business administrator. “To achieve these goals with our limited revenue sources is always challenging.”     

A big unknown still, for school districts like Springs, Montauk, and Amagansett, is the anticipated tuition increase imposed by the East Hampton School District. An agreement is near, school officials said this week, but Springs faces a double whammy of sorts, as the actual number of students for whom tuition will be paid is rising dramatically.

Montauk     

The Montauk School District has the ability, under state tax cap law, to boost its 2020-21 tax levy by 4.41 percent — but school officials said Tuesday that they won’t need to go that distance. They are planning, at this point, a 2.14-percent increase, though figures are still in flux.     

The district’s current budget draft stands at $21.1 million, up from $19.38 million, with the bulk of the increase, about $415,000, largely due to an increase in tuition for high school students attending East Hampton. There will be 23 Montauk seniors graduating, but 42 freshmen starting at the high school next year.     

Montauk is also planning to tap its capital reserve fund for $1.28 million to support a building project in which it will replace its temporary classrooms, which are at least 30 years old. This expense will not raise taxes, Jack Perna, the superintendent said, because the district already has that money in hand.

Bridgehampton     

Bridgehampton School officials have cut their original budget proposal by about $150,000, from $19.39 million down to $19.24 million. The updated figure, released Feb. 26, still represents a 2.95-percent year-over-year increase, and is still more than $344,000 over what the New York State tax cap allows. Robert Hauser, the superintendent, said he checked the “no” box when reporting an anticipated tax levy figure to the state comptroller’s office.     

“Districts are allowed to change that ‘yes’ or ‘no’ after the March 1 deadline,” he said by phone. “That tax cap doesn’t officially get submitted until July, once all the budgets are approved and districts have a chance to figure out how much they’re going to levy.”     

Several factors are still in flux for Bridgehampton, including a new tuition contract with the Sagaponack School that could bring more students — and more revenue — into the district. That contract will need to be approved by Sagaponack voters. The hiring of three new teachers, for the planned arrival of the Advanced Placement Capstone program at Bridgehampton, and a part-time art teacher is also on the table.     

A community forum on Bridgehampton’s school budget was to have been held yesterday after press time. Sag Harbor     

At its most recent budget workshop on Feb. 27, Sag Harbor School District officials presented a $44.44 million school budget proposal for the 2020-21 school year. The year-over-year spending increase in that plan is $1.56 million, and the associated tax levy increase is 3 percent.     

An increase of $127,000 to support the school lunch program next year is included in the budget, up from $95,000 this year. Laurie Baum, the school business administrator, said a big jump is necessary to cover benefits for school cafeteria workers, healthy foods to serve the children, and recyclable and compostable food containers.     

“A lot of the products we are using are costly,” Ms. Baum said. “The general fund is going to have to pick up the difference of a high-quality meal that the district has decided it wants to provide to the students.”     As a way to control costs, the district is weighing whether an industrial dishwashing machine and reusable, metal cutlery would be smart purchases.     

School bus costs are expected to increase by about 11 percent, up to $1.6 million, and the operations and school maintenance costs will rise by about 9 percent, up to $2.8 million. The latter expense includes the new school building, the Sag Harbor Learning Center, which is supposed to come into full-time use next year. The district has one chunk of capital debt coming off the books, which will save nearly $426,000 and offset many of the proposed increases. Sag Harbor may also hire a new teacher for its English as a new language program.     The district has another budget workshop planned for Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the library at Pierson Middle and High School.

Wainscott     

In Wainscott, where the voters last May approved a cap-busting budget that carried a 18.5-percent tax levy increase, school officials declined to release the preliminary budget proposal to The Star, even though it was publicly presented to the school board on Feb. 26.     

“The budget documents made available to the trustees . . . were too preliminary and incomplete to be considered a draft budget for the trustees to thoroughly review and comment on,” David Eagan, the school board president, said Tuesday. “A more complete draft budget is currently being prepared for our review.”     

Mr. Eagan did confirm the district will again be proposing an over-the-tax-cap budget, though he anticipates it will be lower than last year’s figure. “Both increases are a result of our spending down of our excess reserves as mandated by the state and, to a greater extent, the dramatic increase in our student population in recent years.”

Amagansett, Sagaponack     

Budget discussions are still under way in the Amagansett and Sagaponack school districts, which did not meet this week.

 


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