Districts wrapping up budgets for May 18 vote
While not all North Fork school districts had finalized their budget proposals by presstime this week, all were heeding a call to keep spending as tight as possible, according to the numbers released during budget hearings over the past several weeks.
Final budget proposals are required to be adopted and made public by Friday, April 23, under state law.
All are hoping to avoid a no vote on May 18 that could result in a state-mandated contingency budget. It would allow no spending increases at all and districts would lose the right to spend on equipment, extracurricular and sports programs.
“It could be quite painful to the district,” Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said.
By shifting money in reserve funds, Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent James McKenna said he was able to lower his district’s spending increase from $661,765, or 1.81 percent, to $541,221, or 1.5 percent, in the $36.54 million budget proposed for the 2010-11 school year.
The district also saved about $200,000 because teachers, at the beginning of their five-year contract last year, agreed to spread a 4.5 percent raise over the first two years of the new contract.
The result is a tax rate increase of 3.43 percent. That would add about $164 to the average property tax bill.
All extracurricular activities will be maintained and the school’s aging fleet of computers will be overhauled under the proposed budget.
Greenport Board of Education members were due to adopt their budget proposal Wednesday night, too late for The Suffolk Times press deadline.
But as of last week, the district was looking at a budget request of $13.8 million, up from the current year’s spending plan by .l1 percent. If that budget were adopted, district taxpayers would see a 4.5 percent increase in the tax levy, which is currently $61.06 per $100 of assessed valuation. For the year just ending, their tax rate was almost 2 percent less than what it had been in the previous year.
On Wednesday night, board members were expected to respond to the pleas of some 75 students who asked the board at its April 14 meeting to retain two teachers, Luke Conti and Todd Gulluscio, who were to be laid off to save $140,579 in salaries and benefits. Board members were clearly torn by the students’ heartfelt appeals; the students even asked that sports be cut back to save the teachers.
“It’s kind of a double hit this year,” Superintendent Michael Comanda said at last week’s hearing. The district not only needs approval of its budget, but must return to taxpayers in November to ask them to approve a bond for work on the building, including new boilers and a new roof. The amount of the bond hasn’t yet been determined.
Southold was slated to solidify its budget request Wednesday night, after presstime, as well. As of two weeks ago, the board was looking at a budget of $25.7 million compared with the present year’s $25.1 million plan. The board was projecting less than a 2 percent tax increase.
Southold voters will also be considering a resolution to create a capital reserve fund to avoid having to borrow for future needs.
The capital reserve could total up to $850,000, funded over a 10-year period, Mr. Gamberg said.
Among the capital projects left on the school’s list are creating space for the orchestra to practice instead of having to use the school stage, expansion of the cafeteria and additional storage space.
“We are thinking strategically,” Mr. Gamberg said. He and board members want to develop spending plans that avoid major changes year to year that cause taxes to spike.
Oysterponds Board of Education members Tuesday night approved a $5.5 million budget request that would require no tax increase. Board members opted to use money in their fund balance to offset a tax hike.
“Like any other school on Long Island, the only way you really make headway” in cutting a budget “is with staff,” Superintendent Stuart Rachlin told board members. But the board members and he agreed that staff cuts wouldn’t work at Oysterponds without compromising programs or individual education plans developed for special education students.
The district will apply $400,000 from its fund balance to keep from raising taxes, leaving a fund balance that represents about 6 percent of its next budget. By state law, district fund balances aren’t supposed to exceed 4 percent of the budget, but board president Walter Strohmeyer said that Oysterponds had a larger fund balance than that in the current year, too, and needed to do it again.
To limit Oysterponds, with its relatively small budget, to 4 percent would leave only $221,874 as a fund balance and that could be eaten up by a couple of students with special needs moving into the district, board members agreed.
The board left in allocations of $5,000 for a summer school program and $4,500 for a student trip to Washington, D.C., but both may not be spent. Board resolutions will be required to spend that money and, in the case of the summer school, more money would have to be raised or volunteers lined up to run the program.
Board members also allocated $12,000 to hire a business office official on a part-time basis, but that proposal, too, will need more board discussion before anyone is hired.
Robert Feger, New Suffolk Elementary School’s superintendent, said on Tuesday that he and the board are “not solid yet” on their 2010-11 budget because it’s uncertain where four new students in the district will go to junior-senior high school next year. This year’s total budget for the tiny elementary school, which almost doubled its enrollment from nine to 19 kids this year, is $771,609.
“Four students have moved into the district,” he said. “If they decide to go to McGann-Mercy [in Riverhead], that means extra transportation costs. If they decide to go to Southold, that’s a bump in tuition costs. So we’re still struggling with the numbers.”
Mr. Feger and the board met Wednesday night after presstime to go through the proposed budget line by line.
“I really don’t know what we’ll come up with,” Mr. Feger said on Tuesday. “It could be less, it could be more than this year. A lot of the costs we incurred this year that will carry over into next have to do with increased enrollment. We’ve had a number of kids coming up through the grades in the last couple of years, and that has hit our budget pretty hard.”
Mr. Feger added that he and Southold Superintendent David Gamberg have “an agreement in principle” about tuition costs for New Suffolk students. In March, Mr. Feger suggested to the board that it negotiate with Mattituck if Southold does not change its out-of-district tuition formula to follow a cheaper state aid formula.
“Southold has agreed,” Mr. Feger said. “Now we’re just working on the language, formalizing things we used to do with a handshake.”
Copies of budgets will be available at each school and the districts will be holding hearings on them in early May to outline their requests for taxpayers, who get the final word on Super Tuesday, May 18.