Battling with the creation of a 2012-2013 budget in the face of a state-mandated property tax cap, the Bridgehampton School Board and administration held a second community meeting this week. The goal? To brainstorm ideas on how to cut costs next year while maintaining a quality education in Bridgehampton.
On Monday night, the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC), once an organization whose membership questioned the direction of the Bridgehampton School, held its monthly meeting in the school’s
auditorium. It was clear that the once strained relationship between the school district and the CAC has relaxed, as CAC members listened sympathetically to the financial reality the school is currently facing.
This is the first year New York school districts and municipalities will have to contend with the two-percent tax cap when crafting their budgets. For Bridgehampton School, the cap translates to a 2012-2013 budget that cannot exceed 4.12 percent in spending increases. The school is allowed to exclude certain things, like the bond principal
it needs to pay for its window project, explained Dr. Favre, which is why the increase is not flat at two-percent.
At the same time districts are required to rein in spending, said Dr. Favre, they are also being asked to increase teacher training and staff development, all of which costs the district money.
For Bridgehampton, after rolling over the $10.6 million 2011-2012 school budget and adding in contractual and mandated increases –including higher health care costs — the school would need to raise an
additional $664,000 for 2012-2013. However, the tax cap will only allow the district to raise an additional $379,000. That means the school needs to cut $285,000 from the budget, or 60 percent of the voters who turn out to vote must support it by piercing the cap.
However, said Dr. Favre on Monday night, this is a worst-case scenario.
Contract negotiations with the teachers’ union are ongoing and fruitful, said Dr. Favre, and have the potential to save the district $100,000. Looking at a new plan for transportation is also in the works, she said, and companies as well as school districts have submitted requests for proposals to provide Bridgehampton’s transportation next year, potentially saving as much as $50,000 for the district.
However, with the cap in effect for four years and districts estimated to have to cut as much as 12 percent of their budgets while also contending with skyrocketing healthcare and pension costs, Dr. Favre said ultimately the cap was unsustainable for school districts.
“What can people do,” asked Fred Cammann, chair of the Bridgehampton CAC.
Dr. Favre wondered what the community of Bridgehampton was really willing to invest in the school. With having to cut between $200,000 and $300,000, noted Dr. Favre, the school will most likely be looking at a loss of programming or educators unless the supermajority of 60 percent of voters are willing to pierce the cap and support a budget increase beyond what the state allows. With the exception of two years, in the last several decades the district has passed its budget consistently, often by a percentage close to or over 60 percent.
However, not being able to alter the budget after it is originally presented, the risk of having the budget fail twice, noted Dr. Favre, comes with the district having to adopt a zero-percent increase in the property tax levy. This would mean cutting $600,000, a devastating amount that would cut programming and jobs at the school.
CAC member Jeff Mansfield said mounting an education campaign around the budget was critical. He also suggested the district try to abide by the tax cap for the first year simply because of the rhetoric that has surrounded the cap and residents’ expectations that everyone should stick to the mandate.
According to business administrator Bob Hauser, if the district pierced the cap and provided funding based on rolling over last year’s budget it would be asking voters for about an 8-percent increase. For a home that is valued at $2.1 million – the average in the district - that would mean an increase from $3,000 in school taxes to 3,300. It
would cost a little over $100 more than if the district adhered to the tax cap.
Dr. Favre said the administration has spoken about making the school a center for the whole Bridgehampton community, with sports facilities, stage space, and possibly programming from BOCES that could offer
students across the South Fork training in engineering, sciences and technology not offered in local schools.
“If the community were willing to make Bridgehampton the centerpiece of the community in terms of adding a new gym and art rooms I think through Eastern Suffolk BOCES we could get programming in our outer buildings to support that financially,” said Dr. Favre. “But we would need community support to ensure that it wasn’t voted down.”
Cammann said he believed that money would be better raised through a private organization, like the Bridgehampton Foundation, but that the community at large was an untapped financial resource for the school.
“You have to be able to say, if you are going to be out here and have your big farms and your horse farms, you have to understand that we need to educate the children here,” said Cammann.