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Every Little Bit Helps: State Money Restored to School Budgets

Thu, 04/18/2024 - 11:05

Springs, East Hampton use state aid to lower tax levies

For the Springs and East Hampton School Districts, the good word came from Albany on Tuesday morning, just in time. The State Legislature is poised to adopt a new budget that preserves school funding to at least as much as what districts received this year.

In January, Gov. Kathy Hochul had proposed cutting aid to public schools statewide by many millions, which would have meant about $500,000 less for East Hampton and $247,000 less for Springs. Both districts have now made 11th-hour adjustments to their proposed budgets, and taxpayers can expect smaller tax-levy increases for the 2024-25 fiscal school years.

However, both districts’ budgets are still over the state cap on tax increases, so they will still need at least 60 percent of voter approval — a so-called supermajority — for their budgets to pass.

The East Hampton School Board unanimously adopted an $82.88 million budget on Tuesday. Adam Fine, the district superintendent, noted that the associated tax-levy increase went from 9.7 percent to 8.7 percent with the return of the state money.

“Unfortunately, the state doesn’t work at our speed,” Mr. Fine said before the board vote, referring to the lateness of the state budget, which was supposed to have been finished by April 1. “It is an updated number as of this morning. . . .  It is lower because of that state aid money.”

Even though the state budget has not yet been formally adopted, the late-breaking school funding news led J.P. Foster, president of the East Hampton School Board, to feel confident enough to adopt the proposed budget. He said he hopes taxpayers will understand that the district remains mindful of their interests.

“I think the biggest thing we can say,” Mr. Foster said, “is to make sure people vote. Just turn out to vote. Vote however you want, but vote.”

The situation was similar in Springs on Tuesday, when the school board voted to adopt a $37.8 million budget for the next school year. The associated tax increase dropped from 11.7 percent to 10.8 percent.

“Our budget retains all programs and activities for students and professional development for our teachers,” Debra Winter, the Springs superintendent, said by email yesterday, after the district was assured that the state money would be restored.

This year’s budget cycle represents the second time each district is proposing an over-the-tax-cap budget. East Hampton did it in 2014, and Springs did it in 2023.

Both Springs and East Hampton will hold a public hearing on their budgets on May 7. East Hampton’s will be at 6:30 p.m., and Springs at 7. Statewide, voters will weigh in on their school budgets on May 21.



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