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Voters Decide: A Look at 2024-25 School Budgets on the South Fork

Tue, 05/14/2024 - 16:23
Durell Godfrey

The school budget vote for the 2024-25 academic year in New York State is on Tuesday.

This year, school budgets across the South Fork are hit hard by an economic inflation factor of more than 4 percent, drastic increases to health and retirement benefits for teachers and staff, and the need to serve students still recovering, academically and emotionally, from the Covid-19 pandemic without the benefit of relief money from the state and federal governments.

This has impacted South Fork schools in different ways: While Bridgehampton, Montauk, Sagaponack, Wainscott, and Sag Harbor are proposing tax-cap-compliant budgets, three other districts — East Hampton, Amagansett, and Springs — are floating over-the-cap budget plans. The latter three will need at least 60 percent of voters to say "yes" to their respective school budgets.

Here is a detailed guide to each school budget in the easternmost region of the South Fork.

AMAGANSETT

Proposed budget: $13.44 million
Spending increase: $273,746 (2.08 percent)
Tax-levy increase: 7.77 percent (above tax cap)
Details: Kristen Peterson, the school board president, has described Amagansett's budget proposal as striking a balance between the district's need to educate its students and its need to maintain fiscal responsibility for its taxpayers. Administrators made the tough choice to lay off four teachers, all of whom happen to be special education teachers, to save money in a subject area where they believed they were overstaffed. Otherwise, the budget preserves all programs from prekindergarten through sixth grade plus tuition for students in grades seven and up. If approved, school taxes on a house with a $6,000 assessed value (equating to a market value of roughly $1 million) would rise by about $141 for the year.
Additional proposition: Authorize the district to spend $95,538 from a reserve account on a new bus.
Additional proposition: Authorize the district to spend up to $205,000 from a reserve account on repairs to the cupola.
Additional proposition: Authorize the district to extend bus transportation to students residing within a half-mile of the school, using an existing driver and bus (does not impact school taxes).
Library budget proposition: $1.43 million (does not impact school taxes)
Board candidates (two open seats): Dawn Rana Brophy and Robin Jahoda
Voting hours: 2 to 8 p.m. in the school gym
Related coverage:

BRIDGEHAMPTON

Proposed budget: $22.55 million
Spending increase: $812,563 (3.74 percent)
Tax-levy increase: 3.34 percent (meets tax cap)
Details: Spending on programs, materials, and resources for children and salaries for teachers makes up about 81.6 percent of Bridgehampton's budget. School officials have said this spending plan "will maintain all the quality programs you've come to expect" from the district. At the high school level, the district is adding more Advanced Placement courses and a career-training program in virtual reality and multimedia studies, which will largely rely on existing faculty members to minimize the impact on the budget. For a house with a market value of $1 million, taxes would increase by about $66; for a house with a market value of $5 million, it would be approximately $330 more.
Board candidates (three open seats): Merritt Thomas, Jo Ann Comfort, Nicole DeCastri Zabala, and Angela Chmielewski
Voting hours: 2 to 8 p.m. in the school gym
Related coverage:

EAST HAMPTON

Proposed budget: $82.88 million
Spending increase: $3.8 million (4.81 percent)
Tax-levy increase: 8.71 percent (above tax cap)
Details: Adam Fine, the district superintendent, has said the upcoming school year is a critical time to support the students. "I do not think the timing to blow up the academic program is now, for what our kids have been through the last four years," he said when the budget was adopted in March. The budget preserves all current academic and after-school programs and resources for kids in prekindergarten through 12th grade, while incorporating rising operational costs in many segments of the budget and a dramatic decrease in tuition revenue from fewer students attending East Hampton from surrounding schools. Though the actual tax assessments aren't set in stone until the fall, the school district is estimating that for a house with an assessed value of $6,000 (about $1 million in market value), the tax increase would be around $305 for the year. East Hampton needs a supermajority of 60 percent or more voter approval for the budget to pass.
Board candidates (two open seats): Christina DeSanti and Sarah Minardi
Voting hours: 1 to 8 p.m. in the district office meeting room at 4 Long Lane
Related coverage:

MONTAUK

Proposed budget: $24.21 million
Spending increase: $1.48 million (3 percent)
Tax-levy decrease: 5.93 percent (below tax cap)
Details: You read that right -- the Montauk School District's proposed tax levy is set to drop by 5.93 percent due to an unusual circumstance: The district accidentally overcollected taxes last year to the tune of $1.76 million, so a tax credit, plus interest, will be applied to homeowners' school tax bills next year. Overall spending would still rise by 3 percent, accounting for inflation in areas like health insurance and utilities. The superintendent, Joshua Odom, has also said there are significant academic needs remaining as "a byproduct of the Covid years." In this year's budget newsletter, Mr. Odom states: "One of our largest objectives in the development of this year's budget was to maintain all programs previously offered to Montauk students. We have been intentional in how we staff, fund, and implement these programs to provide the most impactful experience possible."
Board candidates (one open seat): Sarah Greenberg Roberts
Voting hours: 2 to 8 p.m. in the school gym
Related coverage:

SAG HARBOR

Proposed budget: $50.23 million
Spending increase: $2.16 million (4.5 percent)
Tax-levy increase: 2.9 percent (below tax cap)
Details: Sag Harbor's proposed tax-levy increase is nearly a full percentage point below the maximum it could have pursued under New York State's tax cap regulations, sending the signal to taxpayers that the district is keeping them in mind as it provides for the children's education. School officials have said the budget plan maintains current programs, services, clubs, and sports for students while adding professional development for teachers and boosting campus safety and cybersecurity. Sag Harbor is projecting a 15-percent increase in spending on textbooks, an 8.4-percent increase in BOCES expenses, and a 10.2-percent increase in employee benefits. For a house with a market value of $1 million, taxes would rise next year by approximately $93, depending on the final assessed values and factors specific to East Hampton and Southampton town residents (the Sag Harbor School District straddles both towns).
Additional proposition: Authorize spending $508,252 from the transportation reserve fund on four new school buses.
Additional proposition: Authorize spending $2.4 million from the facilities capital reserve fund for heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning upgrades across all campuses.
Board candidates (two open seats): Jordana Sobey and Ryan Winter
Voting hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the school gym
Related coverage:

SAGAPONACK

Proposed budget: $2.04 million
Spending increase: Approximately $149,000 (7.8 percent)
Tax-levy increase: 2.6 percent (meets tax cap)
Details: Sagaponack's proposed budget continues the in-house prekindergarten program that it began last year, saving the school money on outside tuition to other programs. The budget also continues field trips and shared transportation services with the Sag Harbor School District, while providing modest pay increases for employees. Cost savings have been realized in the areas of textbooks, computer equipment, and classroom materials. The district needs just a simple majority of voter approval for the budget to pass.
Board candidates (one seat): Brian Villante
Voting hours: 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the schoolhouse
Related coverage:

SPRINGS

Proposed budget: $37.8 million
Spending increase: $2.41 million
Tax-levy increase: 10.8 percent (exceeds tax cap)
Details: Debra Winter, the district superintendent, has said she knows this is "a big, big ask" of the taxpayers, but that the proposed budget is "solely to maintain" all current programs and services without adding anything new. The lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic also mean extra support for kids in reading, math, and mental health needs. Increases in high school tuition, facilities maintenance and utilities, campus security and cybersecurity, and employee benefits are all outpacing what New York State would have allowed within the tax cap limitations. The district is also implementing shared services with other schools -- for instance, East Hampton's business administrator at present is overseeing the Springs business office, and East Hampton maintains Springs's bus fleet -- to save money and ensure it is being spent as efficiently as possible. According to the district, for a house with a market value of $1 million, taxes would rise by $637 for the year. Springs needs a supermajority of at least 60 percent voter approval for the budget to pass.
Board candidates (one open seat): Barbara Dayton, Dermot Quinn
Voting hours: 1 to 9 p.m. in the school library
Related coverage:

WAINSCOTT

Proposed budget: $4.87 million
Spending increase: $27,490 (0.57 percent)
Tax-levy increase: 2.58 percent
Details: Coming off an austerity year based on the failure of the budget in May and June 2023, the Wainscott School District is proposing a budget it says complies with New York State limits on tax-levy increases, so it only needs a simple majority of voter approval to pass. The budget proposal restores salaries for art, music, and technology lessons; restores money for field trips, and establishes an in-house prekindergarten class using existing teaching staff to save money on outside prekindergarten tuition. For the second year in a row, Wainscott's third graders will spend fourth grade at the schoolhouse rather than moving on to fourth grade in surrounding districts, which enabled school officials to create a budget that sticks to the state's tax cap rules.
Board candidates (one open seat): Kelly Anderson
Voting hours: 2 to 8 p.m. in the new schoolhouse

 


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