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East Hampton Plans to Stay Under Tax Cap

Thu, 02/17/2022 - 11:16

East Hampton School District officials on Tuesday announced a commitment to remaining at or under New York State’s cap on tax-levy increases to finance their 2022-23 budget plan.

“It’s much tighter than prior years,” Adam Fine, the superintendent, said during the district’s first budget workshop of the year. “At this point, we are continuing to maintain what we have and not cutting our programs or our staff.”

A tentative, overall budget figure has not yet been released, but Isabel Madison, a retired administrator who is once again serving as East Hampton’s interim assistant superintendent for business, said the district needs to make about only $100,000 in budget cuts to achieve its goal of staying under the tax cap.

But East Hampton likely has options. Mr. Fine and Ms. Madison anticipate some savings if longtime, tenured teachers and employees decide to retire. At that point, the administrators said, positions will be re-evaluated to make sure they still fit the district’s needs, and they are usually filled by newer teachers at lower salaries.

“We could get another two retirements. We don’t know,” Mr. Fine said, adding that that “could conceivably happen up until we generate a final budget, thus taking care of what we need.”

East Hampton could save by skipping its usual “transfer to capital,” Ms. Madison said, referring to money usually set aside for upgrades and renovations to school buildings and other facilities. Administrators and board members agreed to push pause on it for a year while existing capital projects, such as the bus depot and tennis court repairs, are wrapped up.

“When you increase a $2.1 million transfer to capital and keep under the 2 percent [tax cap], you have to take money away from a lot of places,” Ms. Madison said.

Tim Fromm, the assistant superintendent, said the district will need to spend between $250,000 and $275,000 on a new contract with the publisher of its elementary school reading curriculum. “This is a big-ticket item, but it’s a one-time thing” that will not have to be replicated for five more years, he said, noting that “the majority is physical materials that have to be shipped.”

Mr. Fromm said the district’s contract with the publisher of its elementary math program is also expiring, but that the renewal would cost roughly $60,000, again a one-time expenditure.

As for other potential spending cuts, Mr. Fine said that the money allocated for the South Fork Behavioral Health Initiative, usually between $5,000 and $10,000, could be trimmed because private donors have stepped up with contributions.

Mr. Fromm said there may be flexibility in the $10,000 budget line for summer school, based on students’ pandemic-related needs and whether the New York State Education Department cancels Regents exams again. An announcement on the exams is not expected until April.

Administrators also reviewed spending plans for the special education and English as a new language programs, both of which are set to rise because students’ needs are changing.

Cindy Allentuck, who oversees special education, is projecting sending two more students to specialized BOCES programs, which are costly but necessary. “Students regressed because the significantly handicapped population did not do well with remote instruction” during the pandemic, she said.

Tiffany Patterson, the E.N.L. director, requested that her budget from two years ago be fully restored. During the 2020-21 school year, it had been reduced by 16 percent, or about $7,000, in an overall budget of $46,628. East Hampton has its highest-ever enrollment of English language learners, with 435 students. The dual-language program at the John M. Marshall Elementary School, in which half of the school day is taught in Spanish, is being extended up to the third grade for the first time.

“This makes sense because of the circumstances,” said Christina DeSanti, the school board’s vice president.

Mr. Fine announced that voters will see a separate proposition on the May 17 budget ballot to set up a reserve account for emergency repairs.

He also said he is “not in the position of panicking” over the budget in general. “I don’t see it as not doable. I think we’ll get there.”

 


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