After hinting for weeks that it might do so, it appears Greenport School District will attempt to pierce its tax levy cap a second time.
Superintendent David Gamberg has confirmed that his preliminary budget will include a 6.2 percent tax levy increase as opposed to the .77 percent increase permitted by state regulations.
During Tuesday’s budget workshop, Mr. Gamberg said his tentative spending plan includes a nearly $790,000 tax levy hike, which is the same amount the district projected in a report all New York districts are required to file with the comptroller before March 1. That data shows the total amount raised from taxes would increase by about $13.5 million next year.
If a school district decides to pierce the tax cap, the budget must receive 60 percent voter approval.
In May 2013, Greenport was the first local school district to propose piercing the tax cap, for which it was able to obtain the necessary voter support. No other North Fork district has attempted to pierce the cap since.
With exemptions, Greenport is allowed under the cap to raise the tax levy by about $98,320 — a .77 percent increase over the current school year — an amount Mr. Gamberg has described as “insufficient.”
The superintendent’s proposal could still change before the budget is adopted April 19 if the Board of Education requests any modifications or if the district receives more in state funding than Gov. Andrew Cuomo originally proposed.
A significant portion of the projected increase, Mr. Gamberg said, derives from the restoration of several full-time positions. This includes converting the librarian and psychologist positions from part-time to full-time and adding full-time teachers in reading, special education, secondary English and an English as a Second Language teacher as well as an ESL assistant teacher.
The district also hopes to create a new position: a part-time science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teacher for grades K-8 who would work with the school garden, conduct labs, and more, he said.
Together, these positions add about $508,000 to the budget, including benefits, he added.
Mr. Gamberg said that in the past nine years the number of teachers in the Greenport district has dropped from 63 to 53. Over that same period, state education numbers show that districtwide enrollment has risen slightly, from 637 to 681. The superintendent said that growing gap has made it necessary to reactivate numerous positions.
“If we do not make these restorations, or that slight addition [to the teaching staff], I want to remind everyone in the audience we will still be required to pierce the cap or else we have to find $300,000 worth of cuts,” Mr. Gamberg said. “So this is not what is driving us to pierce the cap.”
Some residents and teachers present at Tuesday night’s meeting said they want to see even more teaching positions added next school year.
“Based on what you put up there, the community would go more for piercing as high as you can this time to restore what our children need instead of saying, ‘This year we’re going to fix a little bit here and then we’ll raise it next year a little bit more to fix a little here,’” Greenport resident Chatty Allen said. “Don’t Band-Aid it — restore it.”
Other audience members agreed that they’d rather see the problem fixed in one year rather than over time. Mr. Gamberg said he believes that it might be “too big of a bite” to take at once.
“I looked at your figures — the reduction of teaching staff and the increase in students, and that nets out to about a 24 percent decrease in your teaching staff,” said Linda Goldsmith, an East Marion resident and Oysterponds Board of Education member. “It concerns me because we send our children here.”
Other notable changes in the proposed budget from the current year include a projected 4.43 percent increase in state aid — the smallest increase in the last five years, according to district business director Diana Duell.
In addition, the spending plan carries a $20,000 increase in the repair reserve fund and a $10,000, or 11.24 percent, hike in health insurance costs.
Ms. Duell added that while the district has also seen numerous reductions — such as costs for BOCES enrollment, textbooks and retirement — it wasn’t enough to make it possible to keep the budget under the tax cap.
The next budget meeting will be held Tuesday, April 5, at 5 p.m. The location is still to be determined.
Photo: Greenport School District superintendent David Gamberg. (Credit: Nicole Smith, file)