By Claire Walla
On Monday, March 28 the Sag Harbor School Board adopted a $33.2 million budget, a 5.48 percent spending increase over this year’s $31.5 million operating budget. All board members present voted in favor of the budget, with the exception of Ed Drohan, who was not present at the meeting.
Given these numbers, the projected tax rate increase is 5.85 percent for residents on the East Hampton side of the village, and 6.07 percent for those in Southampton. In other words, for a home in Southampton valued at $1 million, the total annual tax increase would come out to about $284.08, and in East Hampton that number would be $256.19.
Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto noted, however, the district won’t know the assessed value of properties until August when the numbers are officially unveiled.
The largest spike in district costs comes from the instruction end, which will total $1.2 million for salaries and benefits alone for the 2011-12 school year. Sag Harbor School District Business Manager Janet Verneuille added that both health care and pension costs went up this year by double digits.
Other major cost increases come from plans to improve school facilities. The district has injected $701,723 into next year’s budget for improvement projects including a playground at the elementary school (which is expected to cost about $150,000 — though half of this cost will come from funds the elementary school has set aside using money earned through its SHAEP program), as well as a Pre-K program and energy conservation measures.
Dr. Gratto explained that the district intends to spend about $387,150 for installing motion detectors and retrofitting the schools’ light fixtures, a project that would generate savings of about $33,000 annually and earn the district a $37,875 rebate the first year.
“We would break even after about 13 years, or so,” he added.
There is also about $118,000 set aside for health and safety items as basic as replacing guardrails at the elementary school; altering heating, venting and air-conditioning units; and replacing doors at both the elementary and middle/high school.
Off-setting these cost increases, however, Verneuille is quick to point out that the school did see some cost-saving measures this year (about $258,069) due to the purchase of school buses. In addition to saving on contractual fees, the district was able to charge other school districts to use school buses for sporting events.
The school also expects to see an increase in the number of out-of-district students next year. While total enrollment is projected at 946, with only 14 tuition-paying students expected at this point, both Dr. Gratto and Verneuille said they expect those numbers to climb.
A proposition will also be on the ballot to establish a reserve fund: “Facilities Renovation Capital Reserve Fund,” which would finance energy conservation measures and other facility repairs. According to Verneuille, the district would not be able to put more than $500,000 into the fund in a given year, and the fund’s total would not be able to exceed $5 million.
“We expect that we’re going to have extra money because of the teachers’ retirements,” said Verneuille explaining that new teachers taking over those positions will come in at lower salaries. So, if this fund were established, she added, “we could put some away at the end of this year.”
The benefit to establishing this fund, she continued, is that when the district goes to bond, it doesn’t have to ask as much from the community.
The budget will be put up for a public vote on Tuesday, May 17. Should a majority of voters vote against the proposed budget, either another vote will be held June 14, or the district will go to a contingency budget, which by law would only allow this year’s adopted budget to increase by $603,286 over last year.
Dr. Gratto noted that he will be speaking about the budget on Tuesday, May 10 at the Noyac Civic Council; Wednesday, May 11 at the PTSA meeting; and Thursday, May 12 at the PTA meeting. He added that he or Verneuille will also be available to give budget presentations, should any organization be interested in learning more.