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04/13/18 5:59am

The Oysterponds School District is proposing a 1.584 percent increase in its 2018-19 budget for a total of $5.8 million.

The new budget, which complies with the 2 percent tax increase cap, includes an addition to the music department and the introduction of foreign language. The administration is looking to hire a part-time teacher in each discipline, Superintendent Richard Malone said. READ

05/15/17 6:00am
05/15/2017 6:00 AM

On Tuesday, the annual school budget season will come to an end with voting on spending plans for the 2017-18 school year.

Once again, there’s not a single contested race in any North Fork school district. All you’ll ultimately be voting on is the budgets, except in Greenport, where a repair reserve proposition is also on the ballot. READ

05/20/14 9:00am
05/20/2014 9:00 AM
Residents will head to the polls Tuesday to vote on their local school budgets. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

Residents will head to the polls Tuesday to vote on their local school budgets. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

Taxpayers in the five Southold Town school districts will vote on the 2014-15 spending plan for their schools Tuesday. There are no contested school board races.

Polls open at 3 p.m. and close at 9 p.m. Tuesday, except for Greenport where polls are open from 2-8 p.m.

For complete guides of each North Fork school district, click through the following links: 

05/21/13 8:50pm
05/21/2013 8:50 PM

All five school districts on the North Fork saw their proposed budgets pass by Tuesday night by wide margins.

In the school board race for three open seats at Oysterponds, two candidates — Dorothy-Dean Thomas and Betsy Dzenkowski — tied for third place with 157 votes each. The district is expected to hold a run-off election within 45 days, Superintendent Richard Malone said.

Oysterponds challengers Tom Stevenson received 193 votes and Alison Lyne received 160 votes. Both were elected to the school board Tuesday night.

Charles Squire, who withdrew from tonight’s election because state law requires candidates to live within a district for at least a year, received 61 votes as he still appeared on the ballot.

Over in Mattituck, incumbent William Gatz won tonight’s election. He ran unopposed. Former school board member Jeff Smith won the second seat left vacant by Janique Nine with 79 write-in votes. The district did not announce other write-in results.

The Southold Free Library spending plan was also approved.

Here’s a summary of tonight’s results:


While most polls closed at 9 p.m., the Greenport School District ended early at 8 p.m.

Greenport’s proposed budget was passed in a landslide, with 262 people voting yes and 58 voting against the 2013-14 spending plan.

Current Greenport school board president Heather Wolf and board member Tina Volinski ran unopposed. Ms. Volinksi was the top vote-getter with 278 to Ms. Wolf’s 256.


Mattituck-Cutchogue’s $38.85 million budget passed in a 600 to 362 vote. Incumbent William Gatz, who ran unopposed, won tonight’s election with 639 votes. Former school board member Jeff Smith won the second open seat with 79 votes. The district did not announce other write-in results.

New Suffolk

New Suffolk’s $965,324 budget passed with a 57 to 4 vote. Incumbent Joe Polashock ran unopposed and was elected to another term with 58 votes and 3 absentee votes.


Oysterponds $5.35 million budget passed with a 160 to 116 vote. The referendum to establish a reserve fund to pay for capital improvements failed by a 129 to 136 vote. Absentee ballots were factored into those totals, 17 yes and 6 no for both the budget and capital reverse referendum.

School board candidates Dorothy-Dean Thomas and Betsy Dzenkowski tied at 157 votes. A run-off election is to be scheduled within 45 days, the superintendent said.

Candidates Tom Stevenson and Alison Lyne won seats on the school board. Mr. Stevenson received 193 votes and Ms. Lyne received 160.

Charles Squire, who withdrew from tonight’s election because state law requires candidates to live within a district for at least a year, received 61 votes as he still appeared on the ballot.

Current school board member Thomas Gray, who decided not to run for re-election this year, received seven write-in votes.

As for absentee ballots for school board candidates, Ms. Thomas received 17 votes; Mr. Stevenson received 21 votes; Mr. Squire received 17 votes; Ms. Lyne received 6 votes; and Ms. Dzenkowski received 7 votes.


Southold’s $28 million budget passed with a 718 to 315 vote. School board vice president Judi Fouchet was re-elected with 753 votes. She ran unopposed.

Southold Free Library

Southold Free Library’s six-month $406,000 budget passed with a 743 to 285 vote.

05/20/13 5:29pm
05/20/2013 5:29 PM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Students attend Greenport School on the first day last September. Budgets in all local school districts will be voted on Tuesday.

North Fork residents will go to the polls Tuesday to vote on their local school budget proposals, none of which attempts to pierce the state-mandated tax levy cap for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Oysterponds is the only local district to propose a reduction in spending for next school year.

Three North Fork Districts — Greenport, New Suffolk and Southold — have proposed tax levy increases greater than the Suffolk County average of 3.5 percent.


The Greenport School District is proposing a $15.5 million budget, which carries an estimated 3.99 percent tax levy increase.

Greenport is allowed to raise the tax levy by as much as 4.9 percent without needing to obtain 60 percent voter approval. However, Superintendent Michael Comanda has said his administration and the school board’s goal was to present residents with a budget below that amount, since the district had succeeded in gaining a supermajority approval from the public to pierce the cap last year.

A large portion of the district’s expenditure increases over the past two years have been allocated to debt service from two bonds voters approved in 2010. One was for $7.48 million to pay for facility repairs; the other was for a $1.27 million green energy initiative.

Two wind turbines are slated to be erected later this year between the school’s ball fields along Moore’s Lane. The monopole towers rise to about 98 feet and will be enclosed by a fence. An underground trench will be created to transport the electricity the turbines generate.

In addition, the gym’s roof will be covered with slightly tilted 84-kilowatt solar panels and a 10-kilowatt solar tracking system will be installed on the ground near the tennis court. Mr. Comanda described the tracking system as an “outside classroom” where students will learn about alternative energy technologies. The district is expected to break ground on the alternative energy projects in August.

The 2013-14 proposed budget represents a spending increase of roughly 3.93 percent over this year’s spending plan. It doesn’t include layoffs and preserves classroom and extracurricular programs.


The Mattituck-Cutchogue School District is proposing a $38.85 million budget carrying an estimated 3.28 percent tax levy increase.

The tentative spending plan for 2013-14 represents an $850,000 increase over this year’s figure and calls for consolidating a few teaching positions, laying off others and not replacing some retiring teachers. Superintendent James McKenna has said the staff reduction for the 2013-14 school year will be the equivalent of 6.5 full-time employees.

Some staff reductions slated for the school year ahead are the result of dwindling enrollment, which has dropped from 1,500 in 2010 to 1,350 this year. The superintendent projects another 150 students will be lost in 2016.

The addition of unexpected state aid that was recently secured, coupled with various district spending reductions, allowed several positions that were on the chopping block to be restored, Mr. McKenna said.

Another cost-saving move will be the elimination of one bus run.

As for next year’s tax hike, Mr. McKenna said the estimated 3.28 percent increase is below the state-mandated tax levy cap.

He said Mattituck is allowed to raise the tax levy to 3.65 percent without obtaining the 60 percent voter approval required to pierce the cap. However, he and the school board agreed to present residents with a budget under that amount.


The New Suffolk elementary school district is proposing a budget of $965,324, which carries an estimated 3.9 percent increase in next year’s tax levy. The budget includes tuition reserves of $19,150 to accommodate any students who may enter the district mid-year.

School board president Tony Dill, who prepares the annual spending plan for the kindergarten through sixth-grade district, has projected an expenditure increase of $51,000 compared to the current school year’s budget.

In addition to the school’s septic system collapsing this year, the district’s 18-year-old bus died. The school board has agreed to pay for the septic work through the current budget and lease a bus for the remainder of the school year. Next year, however, the district plans to enter into a third-party agreement with a bus company to provide transportation instead of replacing the defunct vehicle.

Other expenditures slated for the 2013-14 school year include security upgrades.

While there are cameras outside the tiny district’s one building on Fourth Street, another camera will be added outside the main entrance, which currently has a peephole in the door.

The most significant change proposed for next year is a classroom restructuring, which Mr. Dill has described as having a budget-neutral effect. Two New Suffolk teachers have proposed a split curriculum for next year, in which students will spend time with each teacher, who will focus on a certain subject during the school day.

As a cost-saving move, the district will offer remedial programs only during the summer to students living in the district full-time. The summer program had previously been open to school-age children in second-homeowner families.

As for next year’s tax hike, Mr. Dill said the estimated 3.9 percent increase is $10 below the state-mandated tax levy cap.


The Oysterponds elementary school district’s proposed $5.35 million budget maintains programs while decreasing spending and reducing taxes. If approved by voters Tuesday, the budget for the 2013-14 school year will be about $3,600 lower than the current year and the estimated tax levy will decrease by 2.27 percent from the current $4.98 million tax levy.

In addition to the budget, Orient and East Marion residents living within the pre-K through sixth-grade district will also vote on a capital reserve referendum. Superintendent Richard Malone has said several facility improvements are needed, including replacing existing windows with hurricane-proof models, replacing the nearly defunct boiler system and upgrading the telephone system. He’s suggesting the district establish a reserve fund for capital improvements so that funding for such projects won’t have to come from a bond or the school’s operating budget.

The proposed spending plan involves combining grades and laying off the equivalent of four full-time teachers, Mr. Malone said. It maintains current programs and the district is exploring the idea of adding a foreign language program, he said.

Due to the district’s dwindling enrollment, Mr. Malone said he’s recommending that the district combine pre-K and kindergarten for a total of 11 students; first and second grades, for a class of 20 students; third and fourth grades, for a class of 17 students; and fifth and sixth grades, with a total of 19 students. The kindergarten class would continue to start its day in the morning but would be joined by the preschoolers in the afternoon.

The student-to-teacher ratio will increase to 7-to-1 next school year, up from 5-to-1 this year, Mr. Malone said.


The Southold School District is proposing a $28 million budget for 2013-14 that carries a 3.82 percent spending increase over this year’s plan. The district’s estimated tax levy increase is 4.01 percent, the maximum allowable under the law.

Superintendent David Gamberg has said his administration and the school board have been mindful of balancing a budget that taxpayers can afford while preserving student programs.

The proposed 2013-14 budget represents a spending increase of roughly 3.82 percent over this year’s plan, caused mostly by rising pension and health care costs, Mr. Gamberg said. It doesn’t include layoffs and preserves classroom and extracurricular programs, he said, with one exception: the amount of time kindergarteners and first-graders spend each week on art will be reduced.

Other cost-saving measures the district is looking into are sharing a technology specialist with Greenport schools and reducing spending for supplies.

Mr. Gamberg has said the district was able to avoid layoffs and present a budget without piercing the allowable tax levy cap because it received additional state aid and because five employees accepted a retirement incentive, saving the district more than $400,000.

The result of the incentive, he said, reduces the amount the district has to pay into the teacher retirement contributions account. The agreement is a combination of allowing employees to recapture sick days accrued but not used and a $25,000 cash payout, Mr. Gamberg said.

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04/12/13 3:00pm
04/12/2013 3:00 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | The Greenport Board of Education adopted next year's spending plan Wednesday night.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | The Greenport Board of Education adopted next year’s spending plan Wednesday night.

The Greenport Board of Education adopted Superintendent Michael Comanda’s $15.5 million budget proposal Wednesday night, which carries an estimated 3.93 percent increase to next year’s tax levy.

The proposed budget represents a roughly 3.75 percent spending increase from this year’s plan. It doesn’t include layoffs and preserves classroom and extracurricular programs.

While a state law passed in 2011 caps year-to-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount the district collects from taxpayers — at 2 percent, the district is allowed to exceed the mandate because some expenses, such as pensions and capital costs, are exempt.

By calculating in those exemptions, Mr. Comanda said Greenport is allowed to raise the tax levy by as much as 4.9 percent without needing to obtain 60 percent voter approval. However, he said his administration and the school board’s goal was to present a budget to residents below that amount.

“It is under the allowable cap, which we had committed to the community last year when we exceeded the cap,” Mr. Comanda said during the meeting. “We said ‘support us on that and we’ll work hard to get you a budget under the cap.’ We feel very good about this year’s expenditures.”

The district was successful in gaining a supermajority approval from the public at last year’s school budget vote to pierce the cap above the 5.04 percent allowable rate. That $14.9 million spending plan carried a 6.86 percent hike to the tax levy.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Comanda described how the 2013-14 budget process unfolded. He said that he had initially allocated a chunk of the district’s reserves to offset the tax levy but was able to apply about $170,000 of newly restored state aid to it instead. The move will help to replenish the district’s underfunded reserves account, he said, and some of the state aid will also go toward paying additional special education costs slated for the 2013-14 school year.

The extra state aid wasn’t anticipated when Governor Andrew Cuomo released his tentative state budget in January in Albany.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposed spending plan had earmarked $1.12 million in state aid for the Greenport district for the 2013-14 school year, which would have been a 0.87 percent decrease over the current school year. Two months later, the state Legislature secured a 15.06 percent boost, totaling $1.3 million.

Now that the Greenport school board has unanimously approved next year’s spending plan, a May 14 public hearing has been set. The proposed budget will go before voters May 21.

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03/15/2013 6:00 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education president Gerard Diffley, left, and Superintendent James McKenna at Thursday night’s budget workshop.

Mattituck-Cutchogue School District Superintendent James McKenna projected Thursday night nearly 12 positions would need to be eliminated in the 2013-14 spending plan, including about seven layoffs, in order to plug an $800,000 gap.

More than 40 parents, teachers and students attended the school board’s second budget workshop and listened as Mr. McKenna and school board president Gerard Diffley explained how rising benefit costs, contractual increases and a decline in revenue have attributed to the district’s “unprecedented budget deficit.”

“I’ve been on the board for almost 15 years and this is probably the most devastating budget I’ve seen in my tenure as far as the deficit goes,” Mr. Diffley said.

While a state law passed in 2010 caps year-to-year increases in the tax levy — the total amount the district collects from taxpayers — at 2 percent, the district is allowed to exceed the state’s mandate because some expenses such as pensions and capital costs are exempt.

Mr. McKenna said Mattituck is allowed to raise the tax levy to 3.65 percent without obtaining 60 percent voter approval. The superintendent said his $38.6 million proposed budget carries a 1.68 percent spending increase over the current budget and calls for not replacing some retired teacher jobs, consolidating a few positions and laying off others. Another cost-saving measure is to reduce busing by one run, resulting in a $59,000 savings. Class sizes at the Cutchogue-East Elementary School are also expected to increase next year, he said.

Mr. McKenna said the majority of programs — such as AP courses, BOCES and NJROTC — are included in the proposed spending plan.

Although his preliminary budget doesn’t slash student programs, he said it does “shrink” some opportunities. For example, library, technology, speech, business, art and music offerings would be reduced.

Some of the reductions are due to dwindling enrollment, he said. The district’s enrollment has decreased from 1,500 in 2010 to 1,350 this year. The superintendent is also projecting another 150 student enrollment drop for 2016.

“This is not the budget the district wants, but this is the budget the district can afford with a tax levy cap,” Mr. McKenna said.

Several parents and students pleaded with the school board to maintain the district’s music program because they believe it plays a major role in development and promotes creativity.

Greg Messinger, a tenth-grade student and musician, said he doesn’t believe a downsized version of the music program is acceptable.

“Lessons are a way to expand upon what you learn in band that you don’t have time to do that 40 minutes of class,” he said. “It’s one of the only things I’m willing to miss lunch for.”

Mr. McKenna stressed the proposed cuts aren’t official and said local state elected officials believe some of the district’s state aid will be restored. The state Legislature is expected to approve its budget by April 1.

Since the 2008-09 school year, he said Mattituck’s state aid has reduced by 22.1 percent. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Mattituck would receive about $2.2 million, down nearly 12 percent compared to the current year.

Mr. McKenna said he doesn’t believe hoping for restored state aid, using additional fund balance and some reserves and eliminating programs is enough to close the $800,000 shortfall.

He said the most feasible solution is to make the “hard decisions” of cutting staff and reducing programs because he doesn’t believe the community will support a budget that pierces the cap since the district’s budget has “historically” failed to gain a supermajority approval.  Last year’s $38 million budget carrying a 2.19 percent tax levy rate passed by a 571 to 395 vote. That budget appropriate $1.14 million from its fund balance to keep the tax increase under the cap, and Mr. McKenna had halved his salary increases in a newly negotiated contract.

In order to off set next year’s tax levy rate, Mr. McKenna is proposing the district pull $450,000 from its reserves.

Community members asked the school board if negotiating salary increases is an option to save money next year.

Mr. Diffley said about a couple of years ago the teacher’s union gave back half of their increases for two years, which he said the district was “very grateful for.” The teacher’s current contract is set to expire in a year, he added.

Mr. Diffley said the school board has recently approached the teacher’s union and asked them to open negotiations.

“We continue to talk to the union’s executive committee and we remain hopeful that they will go to their constitutions and ask for the negotiations to take place,” he said.

While those discussions continue, Mr. McKenna said he believes his proposed budget is the best the district can do with the current financial estimates available.

“This is a crisis year,” he said. “After this, I think it’s going to get a little better if we really watch our pennies.”

Although the school board has its regular meeting scheduled for next Thursday, the third budget workshop will be held on April 11.

Scroll down to read Mr. McKenna’s budget presentation.

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James McKenna’s 2013-14 proposed budget presentation, March 14, 2013.

03/03/13 8:00am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | The Oysterponds School on Route 25 in Orient.

Oysterponds School Superintendent Richard Malone presented his “worst case scenario” budget for the 2013-14 school year Tuesday night, which involves combining grades and teacher layoffs.

During the school board’s budget workshop at the Orient school, Mr. Malone said he was asked by the board to prepare a “zero-based budget” to show how much it would cost to operate with bare minimum mandates. That process involves presenting a spending plan that includes only state-mandated programs.

Although preschool and kindergarten aren’t mandated, Mr. Malone said he included them because he believes the early childhood education programs are critical.

His $4.9 million draft budget reflects a nearly 10 percent reduction from the current $5.6 million spending plan, Mr. Malone said. Over the next few weeks, the board will hold additional budget workshops and seek input from the community as to which programs should be restored to the 2013-14 spending plan.

Due to the district’s dwindling enrollment, Mr. Malone said he’s recommending combining first and second grades, for a class of 18 to 20 students; third and fourth grades, yielding for a class of 17 students; and fifth and sixth grades, with a total of 19 students.

In December, Mr. Malone projected student enrollment will fall nearly 20 percent over the next five years. He estimated a drop in enrollment of 29 students between the 2013-14 and 2017-18 school years, from 162 students to 133, including those who have gone on to secondary school in Greenport.

Under Mr. Malone’s spending outline, the three combined classes would each have one full-time teacher and would share a reading specialist, math teacher and science teacher. He also included a teacher assistant, aide and special education instructors. That would result in the loss of the equivalent of four teachers, the superintendent said after the meeting.

He’s also recommending restructuring the pre-k and kindergarten programs. The class of five kindergartners would continue to start their day in the morning, but would be joined by the class of five preschoolers who arrive at the school in the afternoon. Staffing would involve a full-time kindergarten teacher and a teacher assistant for the combined preschool/kindergarten class, he said.

Although Mr. Malone said his overall model will provide enough support to give each student a “personal learning plan,” some parents criticized the proposal, fearing students would slip through the cracks in a larger class or fail to thrive in a combined grade setting.

Mr. Malone defended his recommendation and said the district’s size and resources provide an ideal environment for individualized teaching.

“We’ve got to think out of the box that because you’re a second-grader you only do second-grade work,” he said. “There are second-graders who can do fourth- and fifth-grade work. There are second-graders who might still have to do some review of first-grade work … We can no longer provide them with just the second-grade program. We’ve got to individualize it.”

The superintendent stressed that the combined grade model would be driven by enrollment and would vary from year to year.

School board president Dorothy-Dean Thomas said she plans to hold a meeting with the parents of children currently enrolled in the district’s combined first- and second-grade classroom to gain feedback about their experience.

In addition to discussing combining grades, Mr. Malone also gave a presentation about the school’s finances. Over half the district’s current $5.3 spending plan is allocated to benefits and teacher and staff salaries, he said, adding about 34 percent pays for secondary school tuition at Greenport. The remaining 15 percent supports the district’s pre-K through sixth-grade program, transportation, building maintenance, equipment and supplies.

Mr. Malone said his goal is to reduce salary and secondary tuition expenses to increase the funds available to develop future elementary programs, such as foreign language.

Oysterponds has been in negotiations with its teachers union to replace the contract that expired June 30, 2011. Since the district and the union have reached an impasse, the matter is being mediated through the state’s Public Employment Relations Board.

The district has also been ironing out a five-year tuition deal with Greenport. Earlier this month, Ms. Thomas said that even though the districts are close to finalizing an agreement, tuition will follow the Seneca Falls rate and, most likely, will do the same for the 2013-14 term. The Seneca Falls rate is a state formula that establishes the highest tuition rate a district can charge nonresident students. Last school year, Oysterponds paid about $14,000 per student and nearly $64,000 per special education student.

On Tuesday, Ms. Thomas and Mr. Malone said they are challenging how some components of the Seneca Falls rate are calculated because they believe the district is being overcharged.

In addition to reducing expenses, Mr. Malone said he has plans to increase revenue, such as soliciting the enrollment of out-of-district students who need of additional support and creating a shared service professional development program with neighboring districts.

Mr. Malone said other savings could be realized if Oysterponds either contracted out or shared with another districts certain personnel, such as an art teacher or speech therapist. He said contracted services will reduce costs because the district doesn’t have to pay benefits for those positions.

Hard copies of Mr. Malone’s presentation, stamped “draft,” are available at the school.

The next budget workshop on Tuesday, March 5, at 7 p.m. will include a presentation about the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics program, known as STEM.

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