By Claire Walla
On Tuesday, Sag Harbor School District residents will go to the polls where they will vote on a proposed budget of $33,226,084 for the 2011-12 school year. This represents a spending increase of 5.48 percent over this year’s budget.
“It maintains all programs in the district, as it is now,” said the district’s director of business operations Janet Verneuille. With a tax levy increase of 4.69 percent, the board of education aims to increase spending for three key initiatives: energy conservation measures and a new elementary school playground (together estimated to cost $701,723) and a universal pre-K program (estimated to cost $180,000).
Together with fixed increases for benefit costs ($605,688) and salaries ($546,726), district spending will increase a total of $1,725,273.
At Monday’s school board meeting, Verneuille briefly spoke to the importance of the new programs built into the proposed budget, explaining that the current elementary school playground is nearly 20 years old.
“It’s time for a new one,” she continued. “We have to make sure it’s safe for our kids.”
As for pre-K, she said the benefits are a little less indirect, but still important.
“If we can address [academic or social] problems at an earlier age, research shows we will save money in the long run,” said Verneuille.
According to school superintendent Dr. John Gratto, the budget would be 2.3 percent less without these added expenditures.
“But, indeed those things need to be done,” he said. “For many years we’ve been putting off building improvement projects.”
The proposed budget represents a projected tax rate increase of 5.85 percent for East Hampton (or $256 for a home worth $1 million), and 6.07 in Southampton (or $284 or a home worth $1 million). However, Verneuille was quick to add that she received a new estimate recently that projects this figure to be under six percent in both towns.
Verneuille added that one of the important components of this budget package is the creation of a reserve fund, to be called the “Facilities Renovation Capital Reserve Fund.” If created, the school would be able to add up to $500,000 of savings a year, and the fund would not be able to exceed $5 million at any point in time.
“It’s not something the school would be committed to. If you don’t have the money, you can’t do it,” Verneuille noted.
Dr. Gratto explained that this year, for example, the district has $500,000 in savings from teachers’ retirements and transportation savings that would be eligible to go into such a fund. Verneuille added that because this fund would only be sustained by surplus funds at the end of the year — should they exist —it would have no effect on taxes.
“I think it’s a very positive thing for the district,” she concluded. “It’s kind of like a savings account.”
The budget vote will take place Tuesday, May 17 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson High School Gym.
In other news…
As of this week, the middle school sailing club is not continuing as a program this spring. According to Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols, the school advertised within the district for a teacher who would be willing to commit two hours, two days a week for eight weeks — but no one stepped forward.
He said if any parents or community members are interested in the supervisory position, it still may be possible to get the program up and running.
Anyone interested in helping with the Middle School Sailing Club has been requested to contact Jeff Nichols.