By Marissa Maier
The Sag Harbor School Board released a preliminary tally for the overall budget in 2010-2011. The figure for the next school year is $32,249,974, up by around $2.6 million from the current academic year. School business manager Janet Verneuille broke down the five big ticket items making up the bulk of the expenditure for next year. Salaries, said Verneuille, account for a little over $17 million, translating to an increase of around $856,000. After under-budgeting in 2008-2009 for the number of district students sent to the Child Development Center of the Hamptons (CDCH), the school plans to spend $900,000 for CDCH services, up by $685,000 from last year. In this area, Verneuille said the school is budgeting conservatively.
The New York State Teachers Retirement system payments increased from 6.19 to 8.72 percent, and this increase accounts for $1,246,000 of next year’s spending plan.
“The teacher’s retirement rate comes down from Albany. It is a function of the performance of the pension systems in light of the market,” explained Verneuille. Health and dental insurance payments were double hit this year. This account line was under budgeted for this school year and the insurance rates are increasing by eight percent. The total insurance payments for 2010-2011 will be around $2.9 million. The final expensive item is social security, which will make up about $1.3 million of the overall budget.
“Education is a pretty labor intensive business,” remarked superintendent Dr. John Gratto. He added that the board will review the entire budget, including revenues and fund balance projections, at the next board of education meeting on Monday, March 8.
In the spirit of saving money next year, Dr. Gratto introduced five cost cutting ideas to the public on Monday evening. With his first idea, Dr. Gratto pointed out the district has to hire four additional buses to pick up elementary school students at the end of the day because the Pierson buses are still in the midst of their afternoon run when the elementary school is dismissed. He suggested pushing back the start and closing times for Pierson from 7:36 a.m. and 2:36 p.m. to 7:25 a.m. and 2:25 p.m. The beginning time for the elementary school would remain the same but the lower school would let out at 3:15 p.m. instead of 3:05 p.m. This would give the Pierson buses an extra 50 minutes to pick up the elementary school students. The school would no longer need the four buses, which would save $15,725 a month or close to $150,000 a year.
The second option calls for purchasing two 66 passenger buses for sports outings and field trips, which could result in a projected annual savings of $80,000. Each bus costs $95,000 but the school would pay back this initial purchase over a five-year period with a yearly payment of around $45,000.
The third idea entails buying one 14 passenger bus for trips with only a few students like the school’s bus route for CDCH pupils. This option is expected to save around $20,000. This smaller bus costs around $30,000 and with a payback period of five years the school would pay around $8,000 per year in debt service.
Dr. Gratto also suggested a proposition be put on the ballot in the spring allowing voters to approve the creation of a capital reserve fund to purchase a bus fleet. The money for this reserve would be derived through the savings incurred if the public agrees to idea two and three. The public, however, could also wait to establish this fund in 2015-2016 when the debt on the buses purchased last year are fully paid off.
Dr. Gratto’s final idea wouldn’t save money this year, but could potentially save the district dollars in the future. He explained in 1976, the district voters decided to authorize transporting students to non-public schools within a 30-mile radius of the Pierson campus, although the school is only mandated to send students within a 15-mile range. This year the school isn’t busing anyone between 15 and 30 miles, but by reverting back to the 15 mile limit the school could potentially save around $25,000 in the future. Dr. Gratto pointed out in 2008-2009, one student was sent to Mercy High School in Riverhead, costing the district $2,500 a month.