Residents gathered at the Bridgehampton School last Wednesday, March 13, to discuss the proposed 2013-2014 budget and where cuts can be made. Photo by Amanda Wyatt
By Amanda Wyatt
With less than two months until its spring budget and board of education vote, the Bridgehampton School held its second annual “community conversation” last Wednesday for the public to help the district explore ways of trimming the proposed 2013-2014 budget.
“Tonight we’re looking for input, ideas and suggestions on how we might strategize as a board and as an administrative team if we have to make some difficult cuts,” said Dr. Lois Favre, superintendent.
During the opening presentation, Dr. Favre revealed that next year’s draft budget is $11,456,039, which is$759,675 or about seven percent higher than last year’s budget. Much of this increase can be attributed to rising costs in health care and retirement, step increases, increased technology needs and out-of-district tuitions.
The proposed tax levy for next year is $10,181,467, which is $747,221 or 8.13 percent greater than in 2012-2013.
Still, budgeting remains a tricky task, given that Bridgehampton and other school districts are once again facing a state-mandated two percent tax levy cap, which limits the amount of money they can raise through taxes.
But as Dr. Favre noted, it does not mean that taxes can only go up by two percent. For Bridgehampton specifically, the overall tax levy cannot exceed 4.48 percent. Exempt from the cap are the capital projects and increases in the teachers’ retirement system.
To stay within the cap, the school can only raise the budget by $423,036. This means that as it stands now, the school must trim $324,185 from its proposed budget or ask voters to support the district in piercing the tax cap, which would require at least 60 percent of all votes cast for the budget to be in favor of the spending plan.
And while the school has not ruled out the possibility of piercing the cap, administrators and board of education members have expressed a desire to “whittle down” the budget as much as possible.
“If we have to make cuts to make our tax levy limit, what are we willing to give up?” asked Dr. Favre.
“We built a wonderful program here for our kids. I’m the first one to tell you, I don’t want to live without any of it,” she added.
After the presentation, the audience split into six groups to discuss what they felt were priorities in the budget, and what cuts they would and would not make. Responses were, indeed, varied, but there were some items that several groups agreed were “non-negotiable.”
For example, several groups believed that keeping the cafeteria stocked with healthy, organic food was a priority and did not want to make any cuts in that category. Some groups emphasized the school needed to update its technology, and others said sports programs needed to be kept intact. For others, not cutting any programs or teachers was important.
When it came to making cuts, many of the groups agreed the number of school administrators could be reduced. According to literature given out at the meeting, Bridgehampton has four administrative positions, and cutting one administrator could save the district $150,000.
As one parent said, “In comparison to other districts, we are totally top-heavy…We have a district this size; do we really need a superintendent and a principal, both full-time positions?”
Making cuts in the areas of transportation, homework club, summer programs and summer curriculum work were all brought up in several other groups.
But as some participants pointed out, making stringent budget cuts would not be necessary if the school were to ask taxpayers to pierce the cap during the spring budget vote. Piercing the cap would mean not having to cut faculty/staff or programs, and not jeopardizing the quality of education at Bridgehampton, they said.
On the flip side, other groups pointed out the school could receive backlash from the community if they asked voters to pierce the cap. Furthermore, it would need 60 percent of voters to approve the budget and if the school’s request was rejected by voters, the consequences would be dire: Bridgehampton would not be allowed to raise the tax levy at all, and even more severe budget cuts would have to be made.
In related news, Bridgehampton School held a public vote on March 20 in order to establish a five year capital reserve fund. The fund — which comes from unanticipated savings and revenues received by the school — is intended to provide the district with monies for repairs outlined in its Five Year Plan.