New Suffolk student enrollment boom translates into a 15 percent tax levy increase

Seven students moved into the tiny New Suffolk School District after the 2011-12 school budget was adopted and, as a result, the school has depleted its reserves entirely and is running a deficit of $35,000 this year, school board president Tony Dill said this week.

The district has proposed a 15 percent tax levy increase for next year in order to return about $100,000 to its reserve account. The $769,237 budget will need to be approved by 60 percent of the voters next month because it pierces the state 2 percent property tax cap.

The new tax rate was not available at press time.

“We’re paying ourselves back for what we spent this year,” Mr. Dill said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “It’s really going up because we had to use all our reserves this year … We have not really had an increase of this magnitude in the past 10 years.”

Over the last decade, New Suffolk School has routinely seen about two new students enter the district after the budget is prepared each year. But this is the second year in a row with an enrollment spike after the budget was finalized, said Mr. Dill.

Last year four additional students enrolled, including a special education student with expensive needs. Mr. Dill said he’s been told the enrollment uptick is due to more people renting year-round houses.

If the school did not return any money to its reserve fund, the budget would increase by only 1.5 percent over last year, the board president added. But the school could be in a precarious position if the trend in increased enrollment continues. The three-room schoolhouse could accommodate about 36 students — double the current enrollment — but “we’d have to teach differently, more like a normal school,” Mr. Gill said.

But each additional high school student would cost $18,000 per year to send to Southold High School, an expense set by contract.

New Suffolk teachers have agreed to forgo $2,500 in curriculum development funding to help cut costs, said Mr. Gill. The school has also cut funds for a one-day-a-week foreign language instructor, some after-school programs, field trips and a third Smartboard.

“The foreign language teacher is a sacrifice, but the Smartboard is not,” said head teacher Holly Plymale. She added that the district purchased two new Smartboards this year, which are working fine. Next year’s budget also includes money to replace aging computers, she said, which will help keep technology current.

Some at the meeting, including school board member Brigitte Gibbons, a retired German teacher, were doubtful that kids could learn a foreign language in one day per week.

“Truthfully, no. I think it should be three days, otherwise it’s a play day and they don’t remember anything,” Ms. Gibbons said.

Ms. Plymale said the district had planned to begin the instruction one day per week and perhaps expand on it in future years.

Some parents in the audience questioned why the school contracts with Southold for high school services when New Suffolk kids live closer to Mattituck-Cutchogue schools.

Mr. Dill said the contract with Southold has always been best for New Suffolk taxpayers, who historically pay the lowest taxes on the North Fork. The $18,000 paid to Southold for each student is all-inclusive, he said, while Mattituck-Cutchogue would add extra fees for services on a case-by-case basis.

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