Tag Archive | "Dr. Lois Favre"

Bridgehampton School District to Pierce Tax Cap

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


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 Board of Education has decided to pierce the tax levy cap to save programs like robotics, which enables students like Monasia Street, above, to learn about technology. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

In a third and final presentation of the 2014-15 budget before it is adopted April 23, the Bridgehampton Board of Education unanimously decided to pierce the mandated state tax cap in order to salvage its programs, curriculum and staff.

After Superintendent and Principal Dr. Lois Favre presented several options to the school board on March 26, each with different spending increases and the corresponding cuts that would be required, the board decided to move forward with a 9.93 percent spending increase, which is 4.46 percent over the district’s allowable tax levy limit.

If Bridgehampton voters pass the budget, it would increase the tax bill on a $500,000 house by $56.64 for the year, an amount that costs “less than one latte a week,” Dr. Favre reminded those in the room.

The final budget removes the “wish list” items, mainly for technology advances, staff development and curriculum work, from the original budget draft, but allows for overtime. No staff positions or programs would be lost, but some programs will still have to be reduced, said Dr. Favre, such as the homework club, which will now run three days a week, rather than four.

The proposed spending for the 2014-15 school year is $12.33 million, an increase of $1.11 million over last year’s budget, largely due to contractual salary and benefit increases. The proposed tax levy increase of $909,781 would be $429,023 over the levy limit.

At a community forum on the budget March 5, those in attendance were unanimous in their opinion that the school district needed to pierce the cap if it were to continue providing Bridgehampton’s kids with a decent education.

The forum, Dr. Favre said, showed those residents’ “belief that actual dollar amounts are negligible compared to what could be lost if cuts are made too deeply.”

Dr. Favre also noted that the district is actually spending less than in previous years. The budget Bridgehampton originally proposed in 2010-2011 is higher than what is being proposed four years later.

“So, we’ve been doing what they asked, we’ve been making the necessary cuts,” Dr. Favre said last week.

“Each budget is only a cut for that school year,” she added. “The deeper the cuts, the harder it is to get the programs and people put back in.”

The school board agreed the 9.93 percent increase was the best option, providing a good balance between preserving programs without substantially increasing residents’ tax bills.

Douglas DeGroot, a member of the school board, said if the district could no longer support itself and had to close, the school taxes for Bridgehampton’s residents would go up, so piercing the tax cap now is the cheaper option in the long run.

“You can’t have a school district without a school,” said Mr. DeGroot. “So, we will become a part of somebody else’s and if we become a part of Sag Harbor—which is the closest and makes the most sense—the school portion of our tax bill, which is the majority of our tax bill, will treble here.”

A public budget hearing will be held May 7 at 7 p.m. at the Bridgehampton School.

Struggling to Stay Below Tax Cap, Bridgehampton School District Asks for Community Input on Budget

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


By Tessa Raebeck

The Bridgehampton School District held its third annual community conversation March 5, asking residents to voice their recommendations for savings and discuss the logistics of piercing the state-imposed tax cap on school budgets.

Superintendent/principal Dr. Lois Favre and school business administrator Robert Hauser have presented several variations of the proposed 2014-15 budget to the board of education. The tax cap limits the property taxes school districts can raise to 2-percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year is the rate of inflation is at 1.46-percent, according to Dr. Hauser. The district has the option of staying below the tax cap, or piercing it, however, in order to approve a budget above the tax cap it must secure a 60-percent vote in favor of the 2014-15 budget by district residents that cast ballots in the May 20 budget vote and trustee election. If the budget fails to earn that kind of support, the board can bring it back to residents for second budget vote. If it fails to earn approval then, the district must adopt a budget with a zero-percent increase.

“If voted down, we are in worse shape,” Dr. Favre said.

The district faces a catch 22; it needs to cut enough, but not too much, said Dr. Favre. If administrators go too low with cuts this year, they will struggle next year with a levy that can only go 2-percent above that.

The initial budget draft for 2014-2015 proposed $12,650,768 in spending, a 12.59-percent spending increase over 2013-2014 and well above the 2-percent tax levy increase. “We will continue to work to bring it closer into focus, as we do each year,” Dr. Favre said.

The administrators cut $316,100 from the initial draft by removing items like an updated outdoor sign, pre-K program for three-year-olds, a physical education teacher, and by reducing Common Core training (much of which is state-mandated). iPad acquisition and other items were also trimmed from the budget. After those cuts, the budget still has a 10-percent spending increase and is about $677,502 over the cap, with a 6.82-percent proposed tax levy increase.

Dr. Favre and Mr. Hauser outlined other ideas to consider, such as reducing stipends by half, cutting the remaining iPad acquisitions, removing the after school program, cutting a teaching assistant, reducing pay for substitute teachers, and cutting a day of the homework club, to name a few. Those additional cuts would save the district $277,500.

After substantial cuts to the initial budget, a “wish list” spending plan, the latest draft leaves the district at an 8-percent increase in spending, which is still about $400,000 over the cap at a 4.03-percent tax levy increase.

The district gave examples of the respective budgets and their annual cost to taxpayers. For a homeowner with an assessed value of $500,000, the 8-percent spending increase would cost $32.17 more than if the cap is not pierced. For the owner of a $1 million home, the difference between not piercing the cap and an 8-percent spending increase is $64.32.

“It’s a marginal cost to a family,” said Bonnie Gudelauski, a new parent in the district, “and families need to understand that we lose a lot more by not doing it.”

The next Bridgehampton Board of Education meeting will be held on March 26 at 7 p.m.

After Significant Cuts, Bridgehampton School District Budget Draft Still 4 Percent Over Tax Cap

Tags: , , , , , , ,


By Tessa Raebeck

In a second budget presentation to the Bridgehampton School Board of Education, Superintendent and Principal Dr. Lois Favre highlighted cuts she said would likely have to be made because of the state-imposed tax cap on school budgets.

In January, Dr. Favre presented a first draft of the budget with a “wish list” of items the district was hoping for, such as laminating machines and Common Core training for teachers. But with the initial budget projecting a spending increase of more than 12 percent, those additions were not included in the second draft presented at the February 26 meeting. The initial budget for 2014-2015 was $12.62 million, a $1.41 million increase over the current year.

“In the last few years we’ve made a lot of pretty significant cuts,” Dr. Favre told the board. Over the last two years, the district has realized savings by not replacing one administrator, a full-time secondary teacher, a full-time head custodian and a senior accounting clerk. It has also cut nearly 15 percent from materials and supplies budgets across the board ; and had a salary freeze covering all employees in 2012-13.

Dr. Favre walked the board through significant cuts in programming and staffing that would still result in an increase, but of 4.03 percent rather than 12.59 percent. “So all the things that we put into the budget hoping to have for next year we’ve now taken out,” said Dr. Favre. With those cuts, the budget was reduced by $316,100.

Additional cuts that could be made in order to get closer to the tax cap include cutting a teaching position, a teaching assistant position, and materials and supplies. “None of these are my recommendations,” she said. “These are just to give you a sense of what kind of digging we’re going to have to do to stay under the cap.”

“I love everyone who’s here, I love everything that we’ve built here. Every one we’re looking at right now is starting to dig into the things that make us special,” said Dr. Favre.

Spring Break Threatened by Snow Days in Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton

Tags: , , , , , , , ,


 

Young Grace Gomolka tries her hand out at helping dad shovel their sidewalk following the blizzard on Wednesday, January 22. Photo by Michael Heller.

Young Grace Gomolka tries her hand out at helping dad shovel their sidewalk following the blizzard on Wednesday, January 22. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

As incredible as winter weekdays spent sledding, ice-skating and relaxing by the fire are, snow days tend to be bittersweet memories come springtime, when long past days off begin to cut into awaited vacation time.

Because they are required by law to have 180 full days of instruction each year, school districts must make difficult decisions on how to compensate when inclement weather makes it impossible—or at least ill advised—for students to come to school.

The Sag Harbor School District planned for two snow days this year, but school has already been closed for three days and, according to the infamous groundhog, the winter weather is showing no signs of letting up any time soon.

If the two snow days had not been used, the district would have been closed the Friday before Memorial Day and the Tuesday afterward. Since those days have already been used up, the holiday weekend will only include the Monday of Memorial Day weekend, May 26.

“Now,” said Dr. Carl Bonuso, Sag Harbor’s interim superintendent, “we have to go in with that third day and take what would have been a vacation day and make it a school day.”

The spring break this year was scheduled for Monday, April 14, through Friday, April 18, with students returning to school on Monday, April 21. As of press time, April 14 will now be a school day, but the rest of the vacation remains intact for now.

Dr. Bonuso said if the district has to be closed again, the next vacation day to be eliminated would likely be Tuesday, April 15.

“And if we needed another day, Wednesday and so forth,” he added.

Local school districts have had to make such adjustments the past two years. It’s been snow this year, but last year it was Hurricane Sandy that forced the closure of school more than two days.

Sag Harbor has already adopted its calendar for the 2014-15 school year and again has factored in just two snow days.

“But,” said Dr. Bonuso, “it’s something we need to keep in mind when we construct calendars, whether we build in more days up front or say what days we should use should we run into emergency days.”

“This winter was definitely a tough one,” he added. “So it’s something we have to think about.”

The Bridgehampton School District factors in three “inclement weather days” each year.  If there are no snow days during the year, those days become days off for staff and students, typically at the end of the school year. If there are snow days, the inclement weather days function as regular school days.

Bridgehampton’s inclement weather days for this year were set for March 14, May 2 and May 23, the Friday before Memorial Day. Because Bridgehampton has also used three snow days during the 2013-2014 school year thus far, each of those days will now be full days in class for students.

According to Bridgehampton Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre, if another snow day has to be called, a staff development day (when the staff comes in for training but students get to stay home) scheduled for April 11 could instead be used as a full day for both staff and students, “rather than take away the April break, as many families have already made plans,” she explained.

“Moving forward,” she added, “I am looking at the 2014-2015 calendar to see where we might build in an extra day for an inclement weather day.”

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,


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.

Bridgehampton Voters Approve $827,000 in Spending for School Capital Projects

Tags: , , , , ,


The Bridgehampton School.

The Bridgehampton School.

By Tessa Raebeck

Bridgehampton voters overwhelmingly agreed to fund $827,000 in capital projects at the Bridgehampton School, including the installation of new fire escapes and other major repairs considered essential by the district.

Out of the 70 district residents who voted Tuesday, 64 approved the spending. Four absentee ballots were tallied.

Built more than 85 years ago, the Bridgehampton School has never had any major updates to its infrastructure, according to Superintendent/Principal Dr. Lois Favre. Additional outer buildings that were supposed to be temporary have been in use for “many more years than planned,” she said.

Voters approved the establishment of a five-year capital plan to fund major improvements and repairs at the school last March and the Board of Education (BOE) put $827,000 in that reserve fund in June. Tuesday’s vote approved the actual spending of that money.

Dr. Favre said after reviewing the building’s five-year plan, “it was indicated that due to the budget crunching in recent years, we are getting behind on repairs.”

The district can now move forward on longstanding priority items like installing new fire escapes and replacing the gymnasium floor and skylights.

Bridgehampton students will also enjoy new playground equipment and could be playing on it by the next school year; the district hopes to complete all projects over the summer of 2014 so as not to interfere with school instruction.

Smaller capital projects are also covered by the funding, including installing a new generator, resurfacing the outdoor basketball court, fixing leaks in the electrical room and replacing emergency lighting in several buildings.

“In an effort to keep to our five year plan and assure safety for our students,” said Dr. Favre, “the board believes that catching up with, and assuring attention to the five year plan is in the best interest of all. The allocation of the funds by the public will assist us in doing just that.”

Two-Hour Delay for Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton Schools Tuesday Due to Extreme Cold

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


 

A woman endures the cold on a dock in Sag Harbor Village Monday evening. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

A woman endures the cold on a dock in Sag Harbor Village Monday evening. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

In anticipation of bitter cold, freezing rain and icy roads, the Sag Harbor School District has announced all schools will be operating on a two-hour delay on Tuesday, January 7. The morning Pre-K session is cancelled.

The Bridgehampton School District will also be having a two-hour delayed opening Tuesday, according to Dr. Lois Favre, superintendent for the district.

A bitter cold wind chill advisory is in effect from midnight Monday to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The temperature Tuesday is expected to be well below freezing, with a high of 16 degrees and wind chill values as low as -8 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Suffolk County residents who are without shelter during the extreme cold can contact the Temporary Housing Assistance Unit at (631) 854-9517 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. At all other times, please call the Emergency Services Unit at (631) 854-9100.

If you are in need of home heating fuel or an emergency burner repair, call the Suffolk County Department of Social Services Home Energy Assistance Program at (631) 853-8820 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. or the Suffolk County Department of Social Services Emergency Services Unit at (631) 854-9100 at all other times.

Looking to Spend $827,000 in Capital Reserve Funds, Bridgehampton School District Will Hold Special Vote January 14

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Bridgehampton School administrators and members of the school board at the November 20 meeting.

Bridgehampton School administrators and members of the school board at the November 20 meeting.

By Tessa Raebeck

In need of new fire escapes and other major repairs, the Bridgehampton School District will host a special meeting January 14 for the community to vote on spending $827,000 in capital reserve funds.

Last March, Bridgehampton voters approved the establishment of a five-year capital plan to fund major improvements and repairs throughout the school. The board of education (BOE) funded the capital plan with $827,000 in June. Now district voters must voice their support of actually spending that reserve money.

At the school board meeting November 20, Robert Hauser, Bridgehampton’s school business administrator, said district architects have detailed about $790,000 in spending on items “they feel are a priority that need to be done.”

The largest priority items are replacing the gymnasium floor and skylights and installing new fire escapes; smaller capital projects would also be covered by the $827,000. If the spending is approved by majority vote, the district hopes to complete the projects over the summer so as not to interfere with school instruction.

Also at the November 20 meeting, Hauser updated the board on the progress of upgrading school security. New interior doors for the front entrance were installed Wednesday. When a visitor comes through the original exterior doors, they enter into a vestibule, where the new interior doors are now locked.

The school plans to install a camera and intercom system, so front desk personnel can buzz visitors into the building upon identification. Bridgehampton School staff members have been issued ID cards and students in grades six through 12 will receive cards in the next two weeks.

School districts nationwide are increasing security standards following the fatal school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut last December. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law in January requiring schools to submit school safety plans.

“With all the new changes in the regulations,” said Dr. Lois Favre, Bridgehampton’s superintendent/principal, “everybody in the school needs to get certain kinds of training.”

Also at the meeting, Hauser cautioned the board about the tax cap for this year’s budget, which he estimates will be 1.54 percent. In June 2011, Governor Cuomo mandated school districts and local municipalities limit the annual increase in property taxes to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. With increasing security standards and decreasing funds, school districts like Bridgehampton are wary of drafting their budgets.

“We’re only allowed to collect 1.54 percent of the last year’s levy,” said Hauser. “So it’s not on what we’re going to spend, it’s what we actually collected — and that’s about $160,000. $160,000 is not a lot to work with.”

Employee benefits for district staff and retirees are projected to go up by about seven percent, Hauser said.

“We’ve come once again to the realization that some significant cuts will have to be made to be able to stay within the two percent tax cap levy limits,” said Dr. Favre. “Like everywhere else in New York State, we’ll be scrambling once again to try to come up with a budget that’s viable for the district and meets the taxpayers’ approval.”

Dr. Favre attended talks by educational experts Bill Mathis and Diane Ravitch on the prevalence of standardized testing and the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) in New York, which has sparked controversy across the state. Many educators are finding more issue with the implementation of CCLS in New York State and the “rush to test,” as Ravitch calls it, rather than the curriculum itself.

Dr. Favre said looking to increase technology and fostering pedagogy that is “not so much worried about the test scores as we’re worried about our kids,” aligned with the experts’ recommendations.

While addressing Long Island superintendents and board members in Hauppauge last week, Ravitch called for superintendents to boycott Common Core testing altogether.

“In my contract,” the superintendent said, “it says I need to follow the rules and regulations of the Commissioner of the State of New York.”

“We do advocate for our students,” she continued, adding that superintendents from Western Suffolk and Suffolk County have sent statements regarding CCLS to Commissioner John King.

“We here at Bridgehampton School are looking at Common Core very seriously,” said Dr. Favre. “We see some of the value in it. We know we need to move our kids, but you can’t just shove this down kids’ throat.”

Bridgehampton School Board Adopts $10.69 Million Budget

Tags: , , , ,


Last Wednesday, the Bridgehampton School Board of Education formally adopted a $10,696,364 budget for the 2012-2013 school year. The budget represents a 1.1-percent or $119,650 increase over last year’s budget and falls below the New York State imposed two-percent tax cap.

The tax levy, or the amount of money the school district will seek to raise through property taxes, is $9,734,246 — a $545,515 and 5.94-percent increase over last year.

According to Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre and business administrator Bob Hauser, because New York State allows the school to subtract monies for capital projects like the ongoing middle school renovations, the construction of a new café and a window replacement project when calculating how much a district can spend under the tax cap, the budget falls just below the cap despite the 5.94 percent increase in the tax levy. As such, the district needs just a simple majority of residents who turn out on May 15 to vote for or against the budget and elect three residents to the school board.

Incumbents Lillian Tyree-Johnson, Doug DeGroot and Ronald White are all seeking re-election to the board of education. Newcomer Gabriella Braia has also joined the race.

According to Dr. Favre, a majority of the increases in spending this year are attributed to a rise in health and dental insurance costs. Since the budget advisory and administrative staff at Bridgehampton began hacking away at the tentative budget over two months ago, Dr. Favre said the district was able to achieve a low tax increase thanks to faculty and staff voluntarily agreeing to freeze their salaries next year at a savings of $100,000. Also keeping the spending in check is a 15-percent reduction in spending across most budget lines, $113,000 in savings in reduced transportation costs after a new contract was negotiated and a $166,000 reduction in BOCES costs.

The Bridgehampton School Board of Education will hold a hearing on its proposed budget on Tuesday, May 8 at 7 p.m.

School Nixes Food Service

Tags: , , , ,


By Kathryn G. Menu

The Bridgehampton School has abandoned its longtime food service provider in favor of developing its own, in-house food service program in tandem with the construction of a new cafeteria in a former kindergarten classroom.

On Wednesday, March 20 the Bridgehampton School Board voted not to renew a food service contract with Whitson’s Culinary Group. Instead the school is opting to develop its own food service program to provide students with breakfast and lunch. The move coincides with the board’s decision to fund the renovation of the former kindergarten classroom into a new cafeteria and multi-purpose room.

“I am so happy to see something happen that we have all been talking about for a couple of years now,” said school board member Doug DeGroot at Wednesday’s meeting. “That it has moved in this direction is a wonderful thing.”

The Bridgehampton School community has prided itself on the development of its edible schoolyard, complete with a greenhouse that has been used to grow some of the produce sold in the school cafeteria. However, this week Business Administrator Bob Hauser and Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre said the decision to switch to an in-house food service program was not just to provide healthier meals at Bridgehampton School, but also to save taxpayers money.

While the district still needs to go out to bid to develop its new food service program, Hauser said based on an internal analysis of a self-operating cafeteria he estimates the district will save anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000 annually over what it costs to have Whitson’s Culinary Group provide the same service. For 2012-2013, Hauser said he projected operating the cafeteria through Whitson’s would have cost $175,000 before revenues were taken into account. He estimates a self-operating cafeteria will cost between $125,000 and $150,000 before revenues.

The district’s main savings derived from having its own food service operation, said Hauser, is the elimination of a management fee the district is required to pay Whitson’s. For the 2011-2012 school year, the management fee was approximately $50,000 in addition to the employee salaries, food and material costs the district also had to pay.

According to Hauser, the renovation of the cafeteria will cost about $187,000, which will be included in the proposed 2012-2013 budget. The district does need approval from the New York State Education Department as well as the Suffolk County Department of Health Services before it can move forward with construction, said Hauser.

The district has been wrestling with a 2012-2013 spending plan for the better part of two months. The last draft of the budget discussed at a workshop came in around $10.8 million, following a decision by the Bridgehampton Teachers Association and members of the administration to forgo salary and step increases for the 2012-2013 school year. A $10.8 million budget puts the district just below a state-mandated two-percent tax cap, and was also achieved by cutting most departments by 15-percent. The district will also not replace a retired staff position.

That budget will be presented to the school board on Wednesday, April 18 at 7 p.m. District residents will vote on the budget May 15.

Residents will also vote on three school board positions that evening. DeGroot, Lillian Tyree-Johnson and Ronnie White are up for re-election. Other community members interested in running for school board can pick up a nominating petition at the district clerk’s office. Those petitions are due on April 16.