Two weeks ago, members of the Bridgehampton School community gathered in the famed Beehive and put their heads together to try and chart a course for Bridgehampton’s next school year budget which, for the first time, is facing a stringent spending restrictions imposed by the New York State.
Walking around the room, as each group sat at tables and debated what the school’s priorities should be and what can be cut, one thing was clear — there were no easy answers. Sacrifices will have to be made at Bridgehampton School even if the district presents a budget for 2012-2013 that pierces the state mandated two-percent property tax cap instituted just last year.
“This is a conversation about where to go,” said Bridgehampton School Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre at the start of the February 8 forum.
Dr. Favre said that while the district is at the beginning of its budget process and no decisions have been made, the administration has put together budget scenarios so the community can understand what it’s facing.
For Bridgehampton School, a two percent property tax levy cap translates to a 2012-2013 budget that cannot exceed 4.12 percent in spending increases. Dr. Favre stressed that 4.12 percent is the district adhering to the two-percent cap and the administration will have to educate the public on that fact before the budget vote in May.
Rolling over the $10.6 million 2011-2012 school budget, taking in all contractual and mandated increases, including rising health care costs, Dr. Favre said the school would need to raise an additional $664,000 for the 2012-2013 budget. However, the tax levy cap will only allow an additional $379,000. That means the school needs to cut $285,000 if it is to avoid asking 60 percent of the voters who turn out to vote for the budget to support piercing the cap.
If the budget is voted down it can be presented again — without changes — but if it fails to pass a second time, the district would have to adopt a zero-percent increase in the property tax levy. This means about $700,000 would have to be cut from its budget.
As the five tables of residents, parents, school board members, staff and faculty sat down and began to brainstorm about what was educationally important, a variety of responses were revealed.
Academics, special education, pre-kindergarten, technology, tutoring, mentoring, teaching job skills, internships and ensuring students are college ready appeared to be priorities across the board. Looking into an independent transportation system and food service program was a priority at one of the tables, while another felt having a café, vibrant sports and intramural programming and drivers education was an important part of life at Bridgehampton School. Teaching core standards, SAT Prep and offering “good, organic food” were other ideas explored at the roundtables.
Dr. Favre and Business Administrator Robert Hauser gave each group a table of potential cost savings that could be found, although they represented cuts like losing a teacher in pre-kindergarten, as well as in the elementary school and middle school. Cutting other things such as sports, driver’s education, summer school, transportation options, conferences for staff development and the school’s cafeteria project were also offered as options, however undesirable.
In terms of what could be cut, each table came back with different ideas, although many were united in the desire to cut back on programs like drivers education and scale back transportation to ask students coming to Bridgehampton within a mile of the school not receive bus service.
Otherwise, suggestions were made to cut 10-to-15-percent across the board, scale back on plans to improve the cafeteria, cut funding for administration and the board of education, cut the pre-kindergarten program for three-year-olds, scale back on summer school programming and extra-curricular activities for students, and monies spent on text books and library supplies.
A parent also suggested approaching the teacher’s union and asking them to freeze a three-percent step increase for 2012-2013 to prevent the district from having to lose programming.
No group was truly united in its choices, everyone offering different ideas and perspectives of what is important at a school. The room was also divided on whether or not it should ask the community to allow the school to pierce the two-percent property tax levy cap. Most agreed if they do pierce the cap it should be as minimal as possible and the school will have to educate voters about why it is so critical this year.
“While we would have liked more community input, I believe the forum went a long way in terms of permitting the staff and community members the opportunity to discuss important issues from their perspective,” said Dr. Favre about the meeting. “The board had an opportunity to hear from the stakeholders directly, and the participants were provided with the opportunity to see the difficult decisions that the board must make in light of the new limitations on the tax levy.”
The school will also host the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) next Monday at 7 p.m.
“I believe that the Bridgehampton CAC is a community minded organization and key to their support of our school budget is understanding what is at stake for our students, and our community at large,” said Dr. Favre on Wednesday. “Last year, the CAC supported our budget and I believe that is because we took the time to speak to them and to make sure they understood that we were being transparent in our budget process and looking for community input.”
The Bridgehampton School Board will also discuss the budget at its next meeting, Wednesday, February 29 at 7 p.m. Dr. Favre said the board will discuss piercing the cap, and building repairs that the board may choose to fund through a separate proposition on the ballot, including the cafeteria project.
“Plans to renovate the cafeteria, to provided more seating, allow us to clear the stage for drama, freeing up classroom space in the music room, and to provide a much needed meeting/multipurpose room might have to be put on hold if we do not present it as a separate proposition,” said Dr. Favre.