The projected Sag Harbor school budget for next year is $29.5 million, a 3.3 percent increase over last year’s spending plan, although those numbers are not final.
The Sag Harbor school district’s budget advisory committee (BAC) has been meeting regularly to work on the 2009-2010 school budget to bring their recommendations to the board. On Monday, school superintendent Dr. John Gratto headed the meeting and said that he would be giving a “condensed version of the budget.”
Gratto explained that some of the major increases over last year’s budget include teacher salaries and the district’s contribution to the teacher retirement system. The district was required to estimate the increase in teacher salaries because teacher contract negotiations are still being hashed out.
The estimated increase for teacher salaries is just over $800,000, the teaching assistant salaries have an increase of $190,000 and the district’s contribution to the retirement system is estimated at an additional $40,763.
This year, the BAC also worked on reducing expenditures and cutting costs. In doing so, the committee shaved $278,825 from the BOCES contract by changing certain services provided by BOCES. Gratto also announced, that the school was able to save $126,549 by purchasing a bus and a van.
There was also $40,000 savings from the combination of the Athletic Director and Facility Manager positions and a $17,899 savings in a reduction for dental insurance costs.
In their findings, the BAC and the district administration also outlined that the estimated tax rate per $1,000 assessed value is a 5.78 percent increase for East Hampton ($660.80 to $699) and a 5.8 percent increase for Southampton residents ($4.03 to $4.26).
The draft budget also has a 2.5 percent buffer, adding approximately $600,000 for unforeseen expenditures.
That buffer became a point of contention at the meeting, when Mary Lynne Hess, BAC member, thought that it would not be enough of a cushion.
“We need to accrue for the retirement for next year,” she said.
But former school board president Walter Tice, a BAC member, said, “This is one of those unusual years, the amount is uncertain from this year to next year’s budget.”
School board member Mary Anne Miller said that some school districts go up to eight percent, which is highly controversial in those areas, but the state comptrollers recommend at the most, an increase of four percent. Gratto said that he thought the 2.5 percent “buffer” is a good compromise.
Chuck Neuman, president of the Noyac Civic Council, said that he was concerned about covering the costs of retirement.Â
“Len [Bernard, business manager for the district] and I did a cost analysis for retirement,” Gratto said, “but we don’t have that many teachers at the age of retirement.”
These preliminary numbers will be presented to the board of education on February 23, leaving an entire month for the board to make changes before it needs to be finalized.
Also during Monday’s meeting, BAC member Sandy Kruel asked the superintendent about a rumor that the district was canceling its participation in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Gratto replied that “it is not false,” and informed the room that he sent a letter to the organization in an effort to save $5,000 — the membership fee.
Gratto said that could change, now that he has received feedback from others.
“Now I’ve been hearing what a terrible decision that was,” he said.
Kruel said that it is a “great program,” and that the organization offers a scholarship of nearly $30,000 to one graduating senior from the school — every year.
“I can reverse that decision,” Gratto said.
But Noyac resident and BAC member Elena Loreto was not in favor of keeping the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in the school.
“I think it is a great thing, that is $5,000 we can use somewhere else,” said Loreto.