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Spending to Drop Despite In-House Busing

Thu, 04/22/2021 - 07:41
The Montauk School
Christine Sampson

The Montauk School District will present voters with a $20.59 million budget plan for the 2021-22 school year that shows an overall drop in spending and the smallest tax-levy increase in the region. The school board voted unanimously to adopt the proposal on April 13.

Year-over-year spending is expected to decrease by $276,894, or 1.33 percent. If approved, the tax levy will rise by just .59 percent, nearly four full percentage points under what the state would have allowed for Montauk.

Also on the ballot is a separate proposition that will allow Montauk to launch its own in-house transportation program using surplus money from past years. The district expects to spend $265,000 on school buses, purchased from the McCoy Bus Company, which has bused Montauk children for more than 25 years and is closing its school transportation business at the end of this school year. Bringing busing in-house also means the district will for the first time spend money directly on bus driver salaries and benefits, about $570,000, plus $120,000 to rent the local bus depot from McCoy. The district is expecting to spend $1.75 million on transportation next year for a total increase of a little over $114,000, which means the move is almost cost-neutral.

"At this point, it looks like we will save money," Jack Perna, the district superintendent, said this week. "My main concern is having enough drivers for our school and the high school buses."

Nick Finazzo, a school board member who is running unopposed for what will be his first full five-year term, said that "developing an in-house transportation department allows the district to take control of its own busing needs, offer full-time benefited employment to members of the community who seek it, and saves taxpayer money."

According to a line-item budget provided by the district, Montauk expects to spend about $75,000 more on building maintenance. Repairs to the roof will be a separate expenditure of $125,000.

Salaries for general education teachers will fall by about $160,000, down to $4.34 million, and salaries for special education teachers will go down $81,380 to $814,774. Those costs are decreasing because of the retirement of several longtime employees earning top-tier pay, according to Matthew Neuschwender, the district treasurer. The district will spend about $406,400 more on health insurance — an 11.7-percent increase — for a total of $3.87 million.

Mr. Finazzo said the superintendent and treasurer "have done a great job of putting together a fiscally responsible budget that meets the needs of our students. Total expenditures are down while keeping programs intact."

"Generally, we haven't had large fluctuations. Things have been pretty consistent," Mr. Neuschwender said. "We are way under [the tax cap], so we're pretty self-sufficient."

There will be a public budget hearing on Tuesday, May 4, at 6 p.m. The budget vote will be on Tuesday, May 18.


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