By Amanda Wyatt
As Bridgehampton School plans its budget for next year, the subject of piercing New York State’s two percent tax levy cap remains a topic of debate.
At last Wednesday’s board of education meeting, the district presented its preliminary or “wish list” budget for the 2013-2014 school year, which amounts to $11,557,569. This would be an increase of $861,205 or eight-percent over the 2012-2013 adopted budget.
“Right now, if we wanted to remain within the [New York State-mandated two percent tax levy], we’d need to cut an estimated $722,520 from our ‘wish list’ budget, and that’s basically what this is,” said Dr. Lois Favre, superintendent of the district.
While the board of education plans to trim the preliminary budget, some members said they still wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of piercing the two-percent cap in order to fund what they consider crucial items in their budget.
“If it comes down to having to raise the cap to make mandatory repairs on our building, yeah, I want to go out and ask the taxpayers,” said Nicki Hemby, school board president.
However, she added, “I want to whittle it down. I don’t want to waste taxpayers’ money.”
“I agree,” said board member Lillian Tyree-Johnson. “It’s not easy…We have to make some tough choices.”
At the same time, some board members expressed a desire to stay within the cap, rather than ask for additional tax monies.
“I think there’s always things you can find [to cut from the budget] and I think we should try to find them,” said Doug DeGroot. “…I want non-inflated prices on things. I want everything to be efficient.”
DeGroot criticized some of the costs associated with Eastern Suffolk BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services), such as a $95,000 administrative fee, and questioned whether the district should remain a member.
“Not every school district joins the cooperative of BOCES,” DeGroot pointed out, suggesting that the school should talk to other small districts on Long Island who choose not to join the cooperative.
However, some of the increases in this year’s budget are related to the cost of complying with new state mandates, said Dr. Favre. For example, the school needs additional funds for staff development related to the Common Core standards, a state mandate that took effect this year.
Dr. Favre pointed out the district also needs to budget for a main office and an additional clerk. This year, the principal’s secretary has been handling main office and guidance office duties, so the additional of another clerk for the guidance office would help reduce the “overwhelming” amount of work she has. The guidance budget—which includes the salary for the new clerk—is proposed at a total of $127,553.
The district is also holding a special vote on March 20 for the creation for the school’s five-year, capital reserve fund of approximately $1.3 million. The monies, which have already been collected, would be used to fund repairs on school buildings over the next five years.
However, if the public votes down this proposition, Dr. Favre pointed out, the district would have to add $200,000 to the budget for repairs during the 2013-2014 school year.
“We can try to be creative and think outside the box,” noted Hemby. “…But I can’t see us staying at the two-percent if we have to add the $200,000.”
Dr. Favre added that most years, the proposed budget is always higher than the actual budget. For instance, while the district proposed a budget of $11,412,246 last year, the actual budget was only $10,696,364.
“Each year for the past four years we’ve been cutting things that we believed we needed. Naturally, we survived without them,” she added.
At the same time, the district—like many others on the East End—must grapple with a reduction in aid from New York State. According to Business Administrator Robert Hauser, the state is proposing to cut Bridgehampton’s aid by about nine percent, or roughly $50,000.
While state aid only accounts for about five percent of the district’s budget, he said, “certainly any reduction hurts.”
Dr. Favre also noted during the budget presentation that enrollment for next year was projected at 153, compared to 155 in 2012-2013 and 160 in 2011-2012.
“We do go up and down. We’re at a little bit of a low,” she said.