Tag Archive | "budget"

Hoping to Save Programs, Bridgehampton School Will Bring Budget to Voters a Second Time June 17

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Bridgehampton school personnel say extracurricular activities (like the community garden, pictured above) are what makes Bridgehampton School special and are worth piercing the tax cap. Photo by Michael Heller.

Bridgehampton school personnel say extracurricular activities (like the community garden, pictured above) are what makes Bridgehampton School special and are worth piercing the tax cap. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

After its budget fell short of approval by just 36 votes, the Bridgehampton Board of Education agreed last Wednesday, May 28, to present the same $12.3 million budget to the community for a second vote on June 17.

The 2014-15 budget, a 9.93-percent or $1.1 million increase over last year’s due largely to contractual obligations, required a supermajority of 60 percent because it pierced the state-mandated tax levy cap. With just 247 residents casting ballots, it came in short at just above 54 percent with 134 yes votes and 113 no votes.

“Certainly, while the support of the budget was positive, it wasn’t quite positive enough to get us to be able to pierce the levy limits,” said Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre. “In planning the budget, the board considered all possible scenarios. With community support, it decided the only way to move forward successfully was to pierce the cap.”
Members of the school board were optimistic they will see a larger, more supportive turnout June 17.

“I think it’s a learning experience,” BOE president Ronnie White said. “Maybe we should go back to the drawing board and try to get some of the folks, the naysayers, and really educate them on the actual numbers.”

Lillian Tyree-Johnson, a school board member since 2009, sent out an email May 21, the morning after the budget’s defeat, to her personal contacts with an attachment of Bridgehampton’s registered voters, whether they had voted in 2008 and 2009 (when Ms. Tyree-Johnson ran for the board and began keeping a tally of voters in an effort to mobilize them) and whether she thought they would vote yes or no.

Two days later on May 23, Ms. Tyree-Johnson sent a follow-up email with another spreadsheet, this time not including her thoughts on how people would vote.

“We just didn’t realize that it was going to be controversial,” she said in a phone conversation Tuesday about her decision to mark how she believed people would vote. “Some of our people that do really support us just get a little complacent and we don’t push so hard.”

Ms. Tyree-Johnson said her intention was not to target people, but merely to rally supporters to encourage people they knew who were on the list and did not vote to come out June 17.

“I did not send a list of parents trying to shame anybody, because for sure I don’t think you get anywhere with shaming everybody,” she said. “I’ve just been trying to encourage people who love it, who love this school.”

Mr. White said Wednesday the board never discussed the email collectively, adding that the list of registered voters is public information available under the Freedom of Information Law.

“Above and beyond being on the board, she’s a patron of the community,” Mr. White said of Ms. Tyree-Johnson. “So, whatever it is that she wishes to do to help our district out—I think she’s communicated with counsel to make sure the things she was doing were legit and legal, and it appears that there was no breach of any kind of confidential information.”

Ms. Tyree-Johnson wrote in the email that should the budget fail a second time, “The cuts that will have to be made are devastating.”

If the budget fails again, the district will be required to draft a new budget with a 0-percent tax levy increase, which would require an additional $800,500 in spending to be cut.

Dr. Favre sent out a letter to members of the Bridgehampton School community outlining some of those losses.

“The list is horrifying,” said board member Jennifer Vinski. “It would be devastating to our school and most importantly our children.”

Those cuts would include disbanding the pre-kindergarten classes for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“That’s a huge loss to me, because I think that’s what makes our school so special,” Ms. Tyree-Johnson said Tuesday, “especially for a school district where there’s a lot of lower income [families], because they can’t afford to send their kids to a private nursery or a pre-K program.”

A defeat would also require the district to cut its after-school programs, driver’s education, extracurricular clubs, drama program, field trips, swimming program, all summer programming (Young Farmers Initiative, Jump Start, drama program), Arts in Education and Character Education Programming, any increases in technology and updates to music equipment, the Virtual Enterprise program and internships, vocational education opportunities for students through BOCES, newsletters and printed communication and several teacher/aide/staff positions, among others.

Staff development programs mandated by many new state educational initiatives, summer guidance and library materials would also need to be reduced.

The proposed budget would enact a $10.6 million tax levy, an 8.8-percent increase from the current school year’s. For a homeowner of a $500,000 house, the annual tax bill would be increased by approximately $56 a year.

The second budget vote is June 17 from 2 to 8 p.m. in the Bridgehampton School gymnasium.

Bridgehampton School Board Will Bring Same Budget Back for Second Vote

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Monasia Street shows off her robot's skills to her classmates during a robotics demonstration at the Bridgehampton School in February. Photo by Michael Heller.

The Bridgehampton School District hopes voters will allow it to pierce the state-mandated tax cap levy so programs like robotics, pictured above, will be saved. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

After the budget fell short of approval by just 36 votes last week, the Bridgehampton Board of Education on Wednesday, May 28,  agreed to present the same $12.3 million budget to voters for a  second vote, on June 17.

“Certainly, while the support of the budget was positive, it wasn’t quite positive enough to get us to be able to pierce the levy limits,” Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre said Wednesday. “In planning the budget, the board considered all possible scenarios. With community support, it decided the only way to move forward successfully was to pierce the cap.”

The 2014-15 budget, a 9.93-percent or $1.1 million increase over last year’s due largely to contractual obligations, required a supermajority of 60 percent because it pierced the state-mandated tax levy cap. With just 247 residents casting ballots, it came in short at just above 54 percent with 134 yes votes and 113 no votes.

Members of the school board were optimistic Wednesday that they could get more parents and other supportive community members out to vote June 17.

“I think it’s a learning experience,” said Ronnie White, president of the school board. “Maybe we should go back to the drawing board and try to get some of the folks, the naysayers, and really educate them on the actual numbers.”

For a homeowner of a $500,000 house, the annual tax bill would be increased by approximately $56 a year if the budget is passed on the second go around.

“We probably need to work harder to get our word out to the public,” Dr. Favre said.

Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees Closing the Books

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By Stephen J. Kotz

The Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees will meet at 9 a.m. next Thursday, May 29, for its annual end of the fiscal year meeting. The board will also consider any other items that must be addressed in a timely fashion at the meeting, which takes place on the second floor of the Municipal Building on Main Street.

The North Haven Village Board of Trustees will hold its own meeting to close the books on the 2013-14 year at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, May 28, at North Haven Village Hall on Ferry Road.

Sag Harbor School Board to Videotape its Meetings

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By Tessa Raebeck

After months of debate, the Sag Harbor Board of Education on Tuesday approved the first reading of a policy to implement a six-month trial of videotaping its board meetings.

The policy, which requires a second reading before it is officially adopted, calls for the trial period to run from July 1 through December 31.

After forming a subcommittee to explore the matter that recommended the trial, the board met with Thomas Volz, the school attorney, and Kathy Beatty, the school’s public relations representative, in order to examine the options—and possible liabilities—of adopting the new procedure.

Mr. Volz wrote the policy, which could be amended when it is put before the board for a second reading on April 7.

Citing the lengthy process, BOE President Theresa Samot stressed the importance of making a “data-driven decision.”

Sandi Kruel, a longtime member of the school board, said the issue has “really grown to something that really made me sad,” due to her perception that there had been a public backlash directed at the board for not reaching a decision sooner. Ms. Kruel noted both Ms. Beatty and Mr. Volz had recommended against the district taping its meeting as of the more than 70 school districts each represents, only two tape their meetings.

“As a board member,” Ms. Kruel said, “as someone who was elected to this position, for me to be able to vote with 100-percent conviction tonight, I needed to do my due diligence and through that, I was very saddened by the way it transpired in our community. Moving forward, I will always do our due diligence.”

Board vice president Chris Tice, who was on the committee that recommended the trial, said although she does still support the measure, she was glad the board had thoroughly weighed the issue.

“Some districts actually saw reduction in attendance at meetings” after implementing such policy, she said. “The last thing we would want to do is reduce the number of people here.”

“I respect your desire to get information,” David Diskin, the BOE member who first called for videotaping, said to Ms. Kruel, adding he was “still okay with it.”

Board member Susan Kinsella said while she was hesitant about taping meetings, she would stand with the board in supporting the measure. “I just hope we’re all still willing to speak our minds,” she said.

Calling himself a “fairly aggressive proponent for it,” board member Daniel Hartnett said, “I think we’ve thoroughly vetted it.”

Scott Fisher, the district’s director of technology, assured those in attendance Tuesday that community members who address the board from the podium during public input will not be on camera, nor will students who attend meetings. The camera will only be focused on the board and perhaps also the projector, which often displays presentations.

John Battle, a member of the community who has called on the district to increase transparency by taping its meetings at nearly every board meeting, thanked the board for passing the first reading, as well as for taking the time to examine the undertaking in-depth.

“It’s a lot easier to be an advocate than a responsible board member,” he said.

Sag Harbor School District Presents Budget Draft on PPS, Transportation and Technology

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the third budget presentation before the Sag Harbor Board of Education this school year, district administrators outlined their respective draft budgets for Pupil Personnel Services, technology and transportation.

In addition to the 2-percent tax levy cap, the district must contend with state-mandated instructional training, data reporting and technology equipment to meet new educational standards.

PPS Director Barbara Bekermus presented her department budget to the board on Monday. Ms. Bekermus has included an increase of 20 percent, or $5,000, under “instructional salary tutor” because she feels the demand for at home tutoring is growing.

Overall, the PPS department asked the board to increase its funding by 3.83 percent or $184,337 for a total of  $4.81 million.

Director of Technology Scott Fisher presented his portion of the budget, saying that many of his requests stemmed from direct conversations he had with the teachers and administrators at both Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle and High School “to try and better understand what the instructional needs of the students are.”

“By and large,” Mr. Fisher told the small crowd, “what I heard from the teachers was everything’s running really well, but we need to have more computers.”

Technology equipment expenses are projected to increase by 15.63 percent, representing an increase of $125,904 from last year’s budget for a proposed total of $931,640.

The transportation budget, prepared by Head Bus Driver Maude Stevens and presented to the board by School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, asks for a 0.98 percent increase, or $7,300. If accepted, the department’s total budget would be $750,992.

During the 2014-2015 school year, with payments spread between July 2014 and June 2015, the district will pay $1.44 million in debt service for bonds issued in 2006, 2009 and 2011.

First Draft of Bridgehampton School Budget Asks for 12-percent Increase

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By Tessa Raebeck

Bridgehampton School District officials were quick to stress last week that a newly unveiled budget calling for a 12.59-percent spending increase for the 2014-15  school year was only a first draft that would see significant cuts in the coming months.

“It always looks like we need to panic,” said Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre at the Bridgehampton Board of Education (BOE) meeting last Wednesday. “I have no doubt that we’ll get this where we need to be.”

The $12.62 million budget contains many “wish list” items and would carry a $1.4 million increase over last year’s budget.

Enrollment at Bridgehampton School is projected to increase by three students next year. The projected numbers for 2014-15 are 24 students in the pre-kindergarten program and 145 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Total enrollment is expected to reach 169 students, the largest enrollment at school in recent years, according to Dr. Favre.

“If everything remains the same,” Dr. Favre told the board, “and we add in what we believe we’d like to see happen here, it would be a [nearly] 12.6-percent increase, which we know is unreasonable. It’s not in the realm of things right now.”

“In this age of the tax cap, it’s a big number,” added Dr. Favre, referring to the 2-percent tax levy limit that prohibits school districts from raising the tax rate by more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, unless the district can secure a 60-percent majority vote in favor of its budget. “So, I’m just saying that I know that that’s not where you want to stay, but you just need to see all the numbers and we’ll go together as a team to see where we can get.”

The large increase is attributed to several unavoidable costs, such as “ever increasing” employee/retiree benefits, as well as desired items like laminating machines and technology updates to keep in line with the district’s five-year plan, Dr. Favre said.

It also budgets for a new outdoor sign and opportunities for state-mandated staff development (staff must be trained for the state-imposed educational curriculums).

“I think this board,” said Dr. Favre, “has done an exceptional job every year of cutting back and giving a good budget to the community.”

What really stands out, Dr. Favre said, is the amount of money that has been asked for in preliminary budgets, but which has ultimately been cut over the last six years, which amounts to $4.5 million. Last year’s budget actually called for less spending than the budget that was requested in 2010. In 2012-2013, the final budget was $636,678 less than the administration’s original proposal. In 2013-2014, the district proposed a budget of $11.37 million and ended with an actual budget of $11.21 million, a difference of $158,064.

The budget does not consider the impact of raises beyond the step increase factored in each year. Dr. Favre noted contract negotiations are just beginning with the teachers’ union.

Dr. Favre told the board it would need to discuss whether or not it should pursue piercing the tax cap.

Sag Harbor School District Announces Preliminary Budget for Buildings and Grounds, Athletics

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By Tessa Raebeck

With no audience members but a captive board of education, on Monday Sag Harbor School District administrators presented an update on the athletics and buildings and grounds portions of the district budget for the 2014-2015 school year.

John O’Keefe, school business administrator, outlined Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2014-2015 executive budget, which was publically released January 21.

The executive budget is $21.88 billion for 2014-2015, up from $21.07 billion this year. It represents a 3.83 percent, or $806.98 million, total increase statewide.

There is a 2.6 percent, or $58 million, increase in aid for Long Island school districts overall. The average change on the East End is 3.54 percent, but for Sag Harbor the increase in aid is 1.16 percent, which amounts to an increase of less than $18,000.

“So obviously, not even close to the percentage statewide,” O’Keefe said Monday.

O’Keefe estimates the district will receive $1,563,504 in state aid for the 2014-2015 budget, compared to $1,545,583 last year.

Another factor in state aid is the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was adopted by the state in 2009. The GEA calculates an amount that is deducted from a district’s state aid in order to fill a “gap” in the state budget.

According to the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), school districts have lost more than $8 billion in state aid since the GEA was started four years ago.

In 2013-2014, the GEA removed $241,395 in state aid from Sag Harbor. For 2014-2015, it is estimated to eliminate $235,361, or $6,034 less.

O’Keefe reminded the board that this is an original draft of the executive budget and that local legislators are “going to go to bat for Long Island and see what else they can get.”

“Last year,” he added, “we did end up in a slightly better position. But even if they do good by us, it doesn’t amount to a lot because we don’t get that much of our budget from state aid.”

The district budget is primarily funded by property taxes, yet under the tax cap legislation enacted by the state in 2011, school districts cannot increase property taxes on a year-to-year basis by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The consumer price index for 2013 — and thus the allowable growth factor — is 1.4648 percent, not two percent.

According to O’Keefe, a rollover budget for the school district for 2014-2015 is $37,408,672, a $1,900,050 or 5.35 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget.

O’Keefe and other district administrators are going through the budget line by line in an effort to reduce expenses.

Todd Gulluscio, director of athletics, presented to the board on the athletics budget. Approximately 350 Sag Harbor students participate in 60 teams, 34 of which are hosted at Pierson.

For the 2014-2015 school year, the entire girls tennis program will merge with East Hampton. Currently, the middle school girls play at Bridgehampton, the JV program is at Pierson and the varsity girls go to East Hampton. According to Gulluscio, about five Sag Harbor players are on the varsity team and some 13 are on JV. The East Hampton teams would include players from East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton.

Sending all programs to East Hampton will be “certainly less expensive,” Gulluscio said.

“You also,” said BOE vice president Chris Tice, “have a start to finish program that can be led and grow all together.”

“It’s a good example of short term reasonable consolidation,” she added.

Gulluscio also said the athletic program would be eliminating the “goalie” coach positions for the soccer and field hockey teams next year, amounting to a cost savings of roughly $12,000.

Gulluscio recommended the potential addition of a Fitness Room Monitor position for after school to allow all middle and high school students to use the facilities to work out. The cost of such a position is yet undetermined.

The 2014-2015 proposed budget for athletics is $772,417, a $15,088 or 1.99 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget. Most of those increases come from contractual salaries; there is no projected change in expenses for equipment or supplies.

O’Keefe also presented the facilities budget prepared by plant facilities administrator Montgomery Granger, who was not at Monday’s meeting.

The buildings and grounds proposed budget for 2014-2015 is $2,210,901, a $19,703 or 0.88 percent decrease from 2013-2014.

“Monty’s been on a pretty good campaign to replace equipment as it’s needed,” O’Keefe said Monday of the factors that helped Granger arrive at a lower number.

“There’s a reason,” added Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent, “why all these budgets look so consistent — and I do want to congratulate John O’Keefe.”

$15,500 in “Public Information” Funding Projected for Sag Harbor School District’s 2014-2015 Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first budget workshop of the school year, the Sag Harbor School District outlined its projected 2014–2015 budget for support services.

Presenting prior to Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, school Business Administrator John O’Keefe showed the board tentative numbers on the BOE, central administration, legal services, public information services and insurance components.

The BOE is attempting to keep the 2014-2015 budget below the state-mandated two percent property tax levy cap. Quite unpopular at BOE meetings, the tax cap is a legislative limit that prohibits districts from increasing the levy, or the amount of funding the district must raise through property taxes, by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

The support services component of the budget is at present projected to increase by 1.55 percent. According to a budget worksheet prepared by O’Keefe and interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso, a rollover budget for 2014-2015 is $37,408,672, a $1,900,050 or 5.35 percent increase over the 2013-2014 adopted budget.

The tentative budget projects $15,500 in funding for “public information,” primarily referring to the district’s consultant agreement with Syntax Communication, a public relations firm in Bohemia.

The BOE adopted two contracts with Syntax this year, one valued at $6,500 for work on the bond proposition and another for $9,500 for PR work from January 1 to June 30.

The district also used Syntax as a vendor for printing services for bond related work, at a cost of $2,025 for the bond newsletter and $1,130 for the post card mailer. In 2012-13, the district expended $1,738 on public information. In 2011-12, the district spent $2,072.

The projected expense for “public information” for next year’s budget, which could include renewed contracts with Syntax, is $15,500.

At Monday’s meeting, Syntax President Kathy Beatty told the board what that money buys.

“We take the burden off you dealing with the media,” she said, adding the firm never speaks on the district’s behalf without approval from the BOE or superintendent.

Landslide Victory For Sag Harbor Budget, Incumbents Reelected

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Above: School Board Candidate Tom Gleeson (top, far left) waits to hear the results of Tuesday’s election.

By Claire Walla

Coming as no surprise to the small crowd gathered in the Pierson Middle/High School gymnasium Tuesday, May 15, the Sag Harbor School District’s proposed $34,182,256 million budget passed by a landslide, with 892 votes for the budget versus only 420 against.

Similarly, Proposition #2, which will allow the district to spend up to $575,000 for the purchase of six new buses, passed with a similar margin: 851 to 432.

“I’m very pleased the budget passed,” District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto commented after the results were read. “And I’m pleased the bus proposition passed.”

This year’s election garnered 1,377 total votes, a drop of 264 from last year.

The 2012-2013 budget represents a spending increase of $956,172 over this year’s operating budget. But, more importantly, is represents a tax-levy increase of only 1.94 percent, which means it successfully falls below the two-percent tax cap imposed by New York State for the first time this year.

The real nail-biter this year was the race for school board, which had three candidates vying for two open seats. In the end, incumbents Gregg Schiavoni and Walter Wilcoxen each managed to secure another three-years on the board, putting Schiavoni in his second term and Wilcoxen in his third.

“The vote on the board is a testament to the trust the community has in the job this board has done,” Dr. Gratto noted.

When the votes had all been tallied, Schiavoni was the clear victor with 1,039 total votes. Wilcoxen came in second with 795 and Gleeson was a not-too-distant third with 576 votes.

Many in the gymnasium that night congratulated Gleeson on a hard-fought campaign.

“It’s tough to beat the incumbents,” Gleeson said after having walked over to congratulate Schiavoni on his win. (Wilcoxen had a work conflict and was unable to make it to the gymnasium before doors closed at 9 p.m.)

“It was a good learning experience,” he added. “I just hope the board continues to improve education. The kids are what’s most important.”

With his youngest daughter — who stood by his side as results were read — graduating from Pierson this year, Gleeson said his loss wouldn’t mean he would vanish from the district.

“I’ll try to stay involved as much as possible,” he declared.

In the wake of his win, Schiavoni — flanked by his two young sons — smiled as he talked about his plans for the upcoming year.

“What’s next will be keeping track of IB [the International Baccalaureate program], making sure it’s implemented correctly, and keeping track of the Pre-K program,” he said. “Going forward, we just have to keep the ball rolling.”

In an interview the day after the vote, Wilcoxen said he was excited to find he had been elected for a third term.

“We have a lot of challenges, like trying to understand how we can deal with each other more effectively [as a board],” he said.  “That seems to be number one on the list.”

But, he added that supporting IB and continuing to find ways to make the school’s finances more transparent will be key issues in the coming year.

After congratulating candidates, both board members Theresa Samot and Chris Tice said they were very pleased to hear the election results for the budget this year.

“The margin the vote passed by was really great,” Samot exclaimed, as Tice noted it was nearly 2:1. “The administration put a lot of hard work into the budget.”

Board member Sandi Kruel concurred with this sentiment, and applauded voters for passing Proposition #2.

And to her fellow board members about to begin their new three-year terms, she added, “Congratulations.”

Tax Rate Stays the Same in North Haven

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By Claire Walla


Though North Haven Village had entertained the thought of imposing a minimal tax increase this year, that plan was promptly abandoned.

At a village board meeting last Tuesday, April 3, the board voted unanimously to keep the tax rate the same as it was last year — in fact, board members pointed out, they kept it the same as it’s been for the past five years.

According to figures presented by Village Clerk Georgia Welch, the village is looking at a budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year of $1,326,330. This represents an overall increase over this year’s operating budget of 1.38 percent.

“We’ve been a very responsible board and kept the tax rate the same,” said Mayor Laura Nolan, emphasizing the board voted not to increase taxes despite rising costs and revenues that are down.

While the village’s fire contract is expected to go up by about $9,000 for next year, village assessments have not increased by as much as they had in years past. At $1.47 billion, assessment numbers for the 2012-2013 fiscal year are up about $5.6 million over this year’s value. From 2009 to 2010, however, assessment values increased by about $126 million.

In addition, building permits are down, having fallen from 117 last year to 80 this year. Besides taxes, this is one of the village’s only sources of direct revenue.

To balance the books, the village will take $351,197 from this year’s fund balance — which is expected to total about $700,000 at year end — and apply it to next year’s budget.

While the village had already voted to pierce the two-percent tax levy cap, which was adopted by the state last year and imposed for the first time during the 2012-2013 budget process, it was unnecessary. The village’s tax levy came out just under the two-percent limit.