Voters head to the polls Tuesday to decide 2019-20 school budgets

05/19/2019 6:00 AM |

Several school districts on the North Fork will offer propositions along with their budgets this Tuesday, May 21, when voters head to the polls.

The district that asked voters to pierce the tax cap last year will stay well under the cap this time around — but Greenport will float a $23.8 million bond project at a separate vote in June.

The district is proposing a $19.4 million budget for the upcoming school year, which maintains both programs and staff. The proposed tax levy is $15.3 million, an increase of 2.85% over a year ago. The allowable tax levy increase is also 2.85% — compared to last year’s 2.6%.

In March, Greenport and Southold Superintendent David Gamberg said the main objective in preparing the Greenport budget was to stay under the tax cap. The district aimed to keep increases minimal and preserve student programs. 

The budget is driven by employee salaries, which total $9.1 million, and employee benefits, which total $5.5 million.

The district will see increases in all spending areas: transportation, BOCES costs, debt service, special education and equipment. Other expenses, which total $1.8 million, will increase by 1.58% compared to last year.

Two seats are up for grabs on the school board this year as the terms of members Tina Volinski and Heather Wolf come to a close. Neither will seek re-election. Villagers Sandra Martocchia and Kimberly Moore Swann are running unopposed to fill their seats. 

Following the budget vote and election, on June 26 taxpayers will be asked to approve or reject the bond project, which would renovate and modify the school building. It will be presented to voters as two ballot items. Parts of the building have not been renovated since the 1970s, Mr. Gamberg said. 

If the bond project is approved, district officials said, a home valued at $330,000 would pay an additional $30 per month, or $355 more per year, based on property value. A home valued at $615,000 would pay an additional $55 per month, or $659 more per year.

The Southold Union Free School District has proposed a $30.6 million budget for the next academic year, which will remain within the tax increase cap, at 2.97%. 

The majority of the budget, $15.6 million, will go toward employee salaries. Employee benefits account for another $8.2 million. The additional expenditures are in transportation, BOCES costs, debt service, special education and more.

The Southold budget plan includes the addition of a full-time security guard at the elementary school. At this time, the district has one security guard working in both buildings.

The district also expects to spend $309,482 of the $9.6 million in its capital reserve, which would go toward retirement, workers’ compensation, unemployment and employee benefit accrued liability.

Roughly $1.8 million will come from state aid, with an additional $1.6 million in federal aid and NJROTC programs, tuition, using money from the Capital Reserve, additional funding, and shared personnel services with the Greenport district.

Shared services between Greenport and Southold school districts have saved a total of $1.3 million in cumulative savings thus far, Mr. Gamberg said. 

The only candidate on the ballot for Southold’s school board this year is former vice president and current member Judi Fouchet, who has served since 2004. She will run unopposed.

In the Mattituck-Cutchogue district, taxpayers will vote on a $40.8 million budget.

That amounts to a 0.26% increase over the current $40.7 million budget. The tax levy increase is 1.9%, within the district’s allowable cap of 2.5%.

More than half of the budget will be spent on employee salaries and related taxes, as is the case for most North Fork districts. Health insurance for employees will account for 16% of the budget. Other expenditures include utilities, facilities, instructional resources, pupil personnel, technology and more. 

This year’s ballot will also present two propositions. The first, a roughly $2 million plan, would tackle safety and security upgrades and repair air conditioning in district buildings. 

The other proposition requests $1.6 million to construct a field on the western side of the Mattituck High School property and would include a walkway, fence, bleacher pad and fenced-in dugout near the back of the school. Members of the community have voiced both support for and concerns about the proposed field. 

Both propositions would be funded through the district’s $3.75 million capital reserve fund. 

This year, three candidates will compete to snag two spots on the Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education. Incumbent Sarah Hassildine will run against newcomers George Haase and Jennifer Anderson. 

Taxpayers in the New Suffolk Common School District will vote next week on the budget and one proposition.

New Suffolk is putting forward a $1.01 million budget for the 2019-20 academic year. That’s a decrease of 28% from last year. 

Board president Tony Dill said last year’s revenue and expenses produced “substantial” one-time costs. 

The district tax levy is expected to rise 3.8%; however, it does not exceed the 2% increase cap. Under state law, Mr. Dill said, districts can use last year’s amount under the tax cap and apply it to the upcoming academic year. The district was well under the tax cap last year, with an estimated tax levy increase of 1.6%. 

The ballot proposition in New Suffolk involves the creation of a Debt Service Reserve Fund, which would pay off long-term debts in the future and initially be used for advertising bonds. This year, the district is expected to spend 9.1% of the budget on reserve funds. The district will still have debt service payments in the future, Mr. Dill said. 

The majority of the budget will go toward elementary instruction. Two teachers left the district earlier this year, which reduced teaching expenditures for 2019-20. Just over a quarter of the budget — 25.5% — will go toward secondary education, covering tuition and transportation costs for middle and high school students from the district, who attend Southold schools.

Roughly 12.1% of the budget goes to district administration, which includes administrative functions in the New Suffolk school building, along with BOCES fees, legal and audit fees and more.

Other costs, including building upgrades, personnel benefits, student transportation, special education, special items and student health, account for the balance of the budget.

Incumbent Joseph Polashock, a New Suffolk native who was appointed to the school board in 2009, will run unopposed in this year’s school board election.

Voters in the Oysterponds School District will find three items on the ballot: the budget, the school board candidates and a proposal for bathroom renovations.

The $5.8 million budget for the 2019-20 represents an estimated 0.26% increase compared to last year, according to Superintendent Richard Malone. 

The budget complies with the 2% increase cap, resulting in a 0.98% tax rate increase over last year. The owner of an average home assessed at $6,000 would see a tax increase of $21.90.

The district has finalized a four-year contract with its teachers to predetermine salaries, which represents the bulk of the budget, Mr. Malone said.

Spending on tuition — paid to the Greenport district, where Oysterponds sends its students after grade 6 — will reach $1.4 million next year.

The $200,000 bathroom renovation project would bring the boys’ and girls’ lavatories into compliance with state requirements. The project would be paid for with district funds outside the Capital Reserve and would not involve any taxpayer money. If approved, renovations could begin as early as this fall.

Oysterponds school board incumbents Thomas Stevenson and Dorothy-Dean Thomas, whose terms expire at the end of this academic year, are running unopposed for three-year terms. A replacement has not yet been found for board member Krista de Kerillis, who plans to retire after her term ends June 30. 

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