While not a foregone conclusion just yet, it is possible that the Springs School District may put an above-the-tax-cap budget on the ballot in May for the first time.
During a budget workshop on Feb. 8, administrators warned school board members and taxpayers that dramatically rising costs have triggered this predicament. A projected budget has not been formally released yet, but if the district were to comply with the state-imposed tax cap, it would need to cut $834,707 from the bottom line.
“Most of the cushion areas we had in the past are no longer there,” said Michael Henery, the school’s business administrator, referring to places where the district looked in past years for reductions. “We are right down to the bone. We’ve got a lot of hard decisions to start looking at making.”
Some of those choices hinge on enrollment, Mr. Henery and Debra Winter, the superintendent, said. The number of Springs students attending East Hampton High School shot up this year, leading to an increase in the tuition that Springs pays to East Hampton for its ninth through 12th graders. The district is paying for the increase through its “unassigned fund balance,” a term that refers to money left over at the end of a school year, sometimes likened to a savings account. However, that leaves less money to put toward next year’s budget.
“We’re now spending almost a half million more in tuition at the high school than we had budgeted,” Mr. Henery said, adding that family residency checks and tuition bill audits for December and January are underway.
Also impacting the budget are class sizes. The Springs School Board could approve larger class sizes for certain grades, which would yield savings through staffing changes. Specifically, Ms. Winter said, the district is examining such changes in the third, fourth, and sixth grades.
Springs is generally taking a “roll-over” approach to its budget, meaning it forwards the current year’s budget over to next year as its starting place, while adjusting where necessary. That led Mr. Henery to project a tax-levy increase of 8.48 percent, whereas the state would permit the district an increase of 5.45 percent. That number is higher than the “2-percent tax cap” that people are accustomed to hearing about, because of factors specific to Springs, such as real estate development within the hamlet.
Springs must make a decision on the tax levy and final budget figure by April 25. The vote is May 17.
Mr. Henery anticipates that the district will pay more toward the teachers’ retirement system, and more for electricity and fuel oil to support the school building, which just underwent an expansion and renovation to the tune of a little over $23 million. The first payment on the bond financing that project will also affect next year’s budget, he said, as will health insurance, which will rise by about 15 percent.
Also on the ballot will be a separate proposition to build a new playground for kindergartners. The cost has not yet been finalized, but Mr. Henery said it would not increase taxes: The money has already been set aside in a reserve for capital projects.