Southold School District outlines preliminary $31.6M budget for 2021-22

Anticipating a loss of state aid and planning for ongoing pandemic-related costs, officials in the Southold Union Free School District unveiled a proposed $31.6 million budget during a Board of Education meeting Wednesday.

The proposal includes a 1.83% increase to the tax levy — the amount raised through taxes — bringing the total levy to $28.1 million.

According to Charles Scheid, the assistant superintendent for business, the budget maintains current programs and staffing as well as two district security guards while also accounting for a 1.25% increase to health insurance costs and a nearly 3% increase to retirement contribution rates while staying within the tax cap.

“We still have some work to do, but it’s very reasonable,” Mr. Scheid said Wednesday.

The district’s reserve funds, which Mr. Scheid outlined during Wednesday’s presentation, will likely need to be tapped in order to offset costs. The preliminary plan includes using $320,000 from the appropriated fund balance and an additional $388,000 in reserves.

Though initially aid to schools statewide appeared to increase under the governor’s proposed budget, that won’t necessarily translate into more aid for local districts, Superintendent Dr. Anthony Mauro said.

That’s largely because the state aid factored in STAR payments as state aid for the first time and also consolidated several aid categories into a single stream that was reduced by more than $600 million statewide.

In addition, the state is relying on $3.8 billion in federal stimulus funding to supplement aid to local school districts. “[The stimulus] is only given one year, so next year there’s going to be a $400,000 or $500,000 shortfall unless it’s replaced by the state,” Dr. Mauro said, adding that it’s important the board has consistently funded reserves for situations like this. Last year, surplus funds accrued once schools shut down were also allocated into reserves.

Preliminary projections show a $297,867 reduction in state aid, bringing the district’s total to $1.4 million. Southold is also anticipating receiving $470,632 in federal CARES Act funding.

“As we work through the next couple of years, that good planning that [the board] has engaged in over the last decade puts us in a position where we can be successful and maintain the meaningful programs we’ve had here,” Dr. Mauro said. “But we’re keeping a close eye on everything because there’s just too many question marks as we go forward.”

For taxpayers with an average assessed valuation of $7,000, taxes are projected to increase $115 for 2021-2022, officials said.

Federal aid for programs like NJROTC is expected to remain flat at $130,000 and the district is also projecting a slight rise in tuition funds, from students in Greenport and New Suffolk, by $31,000.

According to Mr. Scheid, the district is also keeping a running total of COVID-19 associated costs. Since March 2020, the district has spent $256,000 on supplies, cleaning materials and other equipment and $14,800 in salary costs associated with staff coming in early to perform student temperature checks.

Officials said that the budget is still subject to change and more specific details are expected to be discussed at an upcoming presentation March 10. A budget meeting is scheduled for April 14 with the board poised to adopt a budget April 21, ahead of the budget vote currently slated for May 18.