New Suffolk taxpayers take hit

New Suffolk taxpayers will be digging deeper into their wallets this year to pay for unanticipated expenses, most related to the entrance this summer of a high-needs special education student into the school district.

The Board of Education Tuesday night unanimously agreed to increase spending for the 2010-11 school year by $159,000, about 20 percent more than the expenditures listed in the $788,704 budget voters approved in May.

While district officials haven’t yet extrapolated what the spending increase will do to their $26.54 tax per $100 of assessed property valuation, Superintendent Robert Feger estimated that it could go up to $32 per $100. That’s still well below what neighboring districts are paying, he said. Southold taxpayers are assessed at $73.45 per $100 of assessed valuation. In Mattituck-Cutchogue, it’s $78.73 and in Greenport, $62.28.

While at least two-thirds of the spending hike is for educating the high-needs student, some of it will cover transportation, textbooks and certain health costs for parochial school students whose family just moved to the district this summer.

Also, New Suffolk owes $10,000 more than anticipated for special education costs incurred in the 2009-10 school year.

The last unanticipated cost is a potential $50,000 payment to the Mid East Suffolk Teachers Resource and Computer Training Center (MESTRACT), which provides support services and best practices instruction to teachers and teacher aides. The payment became necessary to keep MESTRACT afloat when the state stopped funding the program.

Former New Suffolk principal Martha Kennelly has been on special assignment to direct the center, with the state formerly supporting most of the costs of her salary and benefits. If the district didn’t step in with financial support, the state’s withdrawal would have closed the program and brought Ms. Kennelly back to New Suffolk, which would have cost the district $57,000 more in salary for her. The district’s agreement with MESTRACT is that it will provide funding for at least the first half of the program this year. If additional funding from other sources can be found, it would offset New Suffolk’s $50,000 burden.

As for the district’s special ed costs, it is mandated by state and federal laws to provide a free and appropriate education for all district students. For that reason, the board couldn’t submit a proposition to voters asking them to decide whether or not to spend the additional money.

Board members announced the spending hike in August but put off passing the formal resolution approving it until this week to give residents a chance to ask questions. Only a few residents showed up at Tuesday night’s meeting and none posed questions about the added spending.

Amid the tough spending news, there were two rays of sunshine, Mr. Feger said. It’s possible that up to $50,000 of the added money might not have to be spent, he said, and the hike in spending will be for only one year. After that, the special education student will be too old for the program.

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