By Amanda Wyatt
Pressed for time, the Sag Harbor School District announced last week that it will not go forward with a state grant to explore consolidation and shared services — at least, not for this year.
Sag Harbor, along with several other local school districts, had been in discussions for months about the possibility of reapplying for a Local Government Efficiency Grant. Last year, many of the same districts unsuccessfully applied for the grant, which provides schools, municipalities and other organizations with funds for exploring ways to save money by merging or sharing services.
While Sag Harbor’s school board had previously expressed interest in applying for the grant this year, there simply is not enough time to gather together the interested parties and submit an application. So rather than scrambling to make the deadline for this year — March 13 — Sag Harbor and the other districts involved will wait until next year to apply for the grant.
“We’ve decided to apply not for this upcoming application but for the next application, so that we can truly go forward with a powerful grant that’s thoughtfully done and not rushed to the table,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent, at the March 6 board of education meeting.
“But we are already doing work because unlike in the past, we realize sometimes an application like that takes literally many months,” he added.
Still, Dr. Bonuso said that Sag Harbor and its neighboring districts want to aggressively pursue ways in which they can share services — effective immediately.
“We walked away smiling because we had some hope that maybe there are some dollars to be found on the revenue side of the ledger,” he said. “And that’s because we talked about everything from sharing sports teams to transportation to plumbing services to electrical services to field maintenance.”
As Dr. Bonuso pointed out, looking into sharing services was something that districts could do on their own, with or without the “seed money” from the state.
“We’re going to continue to meet and see if we can wire together some things that would allow us to save some money now,” he added.
In a separate conversation, Dr. Bonuso said since districts are currently engaged in budget season, the next meeting about shared services would likely be delayed for another few weeks.
It remains to be seen which neighboring districts will officially come aboard for next year’s grant application. Still, Dr. Bonuso mentioned that representatives from Bridgehampton, Southampton, Springs and Tuckahoe had been present at recent meetings about shared services, and a few others have also expressed interest.
At the same meeting, Dr. Bonuso also announced that the district hoped to stay under the New York State mandated two percent tax levy cap, although it was “truly pressed” to do so, he added.
“We have no intention of piercing that budget. We have every intention of making sure we meet, indeed, perhaps even go a little bit lower than whatever we are allowed because we realize that we need to be fiscally responsible,” he said.
At a budget workshop prior to last week’s regular board meeting, John O’Keefe, the school business administrator, revealed that the maximum tax levy limit for the 2013-2014 school year would be $32,826,416. This represents a levy-to-levy increase of $1,279,697.
During the workshop, O’Keefe also pointed out that there was a sizeable increase in district-wide benefits for the next school year. Due to the rising costs of the teachers’ retirement system, unemployment insurance and other items, $8,806,898 is budgeted in benefits for 2013-2014, compared to the $7,450,371 approved for this year.
Principals Jeff Nichols and Matthew Malone were also on hand to present the budgets for the middle/high school and elementary school, respectively. In total, $1,130,685.88 has been proposed for the year 2013-2014, which is a 1.76 percent decrease from this year’s budget of $1,150,952.23.
The items included in this figure are regular school expenses — such as equipment, textbooks and contractual obligations — as well as expenses for library and AV, occupational education, curriculum development, guidance, health services, supervision and co-curricular activities.
The next board of education meeting and budget workshop will take place on Thursday, March 21 at 6:45 p.m.