Education

Greenport school budget may pierce tax cap

To close a projected $500,000 shortfall, the Greenport Board of Education may look to pierce the tax cap as budget planning gets underway for 2021-22.

The proposed $20.5 million spending plan represents a 2.47% increase over last year’s $20.1 million plan. The district’s tax levy cap is currently set at 1.56%, though officials have presented a 4.85% tax levy increase in order to balance the budget.

In an interview Monday, assistant superintendent for business Charles Scheid said he presented the option of piercing the cap as one option for the Board of Education to consider as he continues working with administrators to remain within the cap.

Anticipated drops in next year’s revenue can be partly attributed to waning enrollment in Oysterponds, Mr. Scheid said, noting that approximately 50 students from that school district are currently enrolled at Greenport, compared to 60 last year. Current projections included in a presentation made during a Board of Education work session last Tuesday show an estimated 20% decrease in revenues collected from out-of-district tuition.

The district is also expecting a 16% increase in fees it pays neighboring school districts for programs not currently offered in Greenport — something officials are reviewing. “We’re keeping an eye on it to see if there are other options to keep them in house,” Mr. Scheid said. 

Other budget drivers include salary and benefit costs, which are set contractually, as well as a nearly 40% hike in BOCES costs and ongoing costs associated with COVID-19, including remote learning programs, internet hot spots, online subscriptions and personal protective equipment.

In addition, Mr. Scheid noted that several ENL teachers are currently grant-funded, which could present additional budgeting challenges if the grant isn’t renewed. Retaining those teachers and keeping that program intact without the grant funding could mean an even greater tax increase of 7.13%, according to the presentation.

School districts all over the state are also apprehensive about federal stimulus money that’s being used to offset cuts to state education funding, and are worried that it could impact the budget in future years.

In addition to seeking alternatives that would return out-of-district students to Greenport, a second option in last week’s presentation included considering a retirement incentive offer that could translate into savings.

Mr. Scheid emphasized Monday that piercing the tax cap is still only a possibility and noted that after a week of meeting with department heads and sifting through each line item, he’s managed to narrow the gap to less than $300,000.

“We’re trying hard not to [pierce the cap],” he said. “We’re working each day to chip away at the budget.”

An updated presentation on revenues and expenses is expected at a meeting March 16, with the Board of Education on track to adopt a final budget April 20. 

The school budget vote is set for May 18.Two seats on the Board of Education are open this year as the terms of board president Daniel Creedon and member Babette Cornine will expire at the end of June.