Tag Archive | "Jennifer Buscemi"

First Full Draft of Sag Harbor School District Proposed Budget Presented

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first review of the entire proposed budget for the 2015-16 school year, Sag Harbor School District officials unveiled over $37.4 million in spending, the bulk of which will go to employee benefits and salaries.

While some numbers have yet to be disclosed, School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi made projections for several budget lines, including state aid and taxable assessed values for properties in the Towns of Southampton and East Hampton, based on last year’s figures.

Ms. Buscemi projected $1.7 million in state aid, although “this number is subject to change” as Governor Andrew Cuomo has still not released the final state aid numbers to districts, she said. That number represents an increase of 3.85 percent, or $63,027, from the 2014-15 budget.

The budget’s largest proposed increase is in instruction, in part due to a new in-house special education program “that’s going to allow a lot of our students coming in to stay in the district and receive services in the district,” Ms. Buscemi said. But those increases are expected to be offset savings in things like transportation and tuition fees. Total Instruction, which accounts for 57 percent of all expenses, is projected to increase by 3.14 percent, or $641,128 from this year’s budget, for a projected total of $21.06 million.

While instruction costs, which includes appropriations for all regular instruction at both the Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School, as well as expenditures for special education programs, extracurricular activities and athletics, is increasing, employee benefits are expected to decrease.

“We did receive an increase to our health insurance lines,” Ms. Buscemi said, “but [with the] decrease in our pension costs, we were able to show a decline for next year…that’s probably the first time in many, many years where you see a decline in employee benefits.”

Employee benefits, which represent almost a quarter of the entire budget, are expected to decline by 1.56 percent.

Salaries and benefits, largely contractual costs, together make up nearly 80 percent of the total budget.

Tuition revenues are expected to decrease by $147,000, because children who have been coming to the district from the Springs School District will now be going to East Hampton after a new agreement was made between those districts. Sag Harbor collected $550,000 in out-of-district tuition and transportation costs in 2014-15, and expects that revenue to decrease to $430,000 next year.

Ms. Buscemi again proposed that the district purchase a new bus. It would ease transportation scheduling and ultimately show cost savings, she said. Contracting out one bus run costs about $50,000 for the year, Ms. Buscemi said, “So it makes sense for us to go out and purchase a new bus” because the cost of $102,000 could be made up in just two years.

“We’re just under the cap right now at 2.65” percent, Ms. Buscemi said of the state-mandated tax cap on how much the property tax levy can increase year to year, “but in order to close our budget gap, we did need to use some of our reserve funds.”

As projected, the tax levy limit for Sag Harbor is above $34.1 million, or 2.68 percent. The percentage is not the same as the increase to an individual property owner’s tax rate. The tax levy is determined by the budget minus revenues and other funding sources, such as state aid. The tax rate, on the other hand, “is based not only on the levy, but also on the assessed value of your home,” Ms. Buscemi explained.

For the first time since the 2010-11 school year, the taxable assessed values for both the Town of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton increased from the prior year. Although the school district’s voters approved a budget last year that allowed for a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value actually decreased by 0.56 to 0.63 percent, depending on home value and town, because of the growth in taxable assessed value.

“Just because the tax levy is increasing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your tax rate is going to increase,” added Ms. Buscemi. “If the current year’s assessed value goes up these increases are going to decline and vice versa.”

The 2015-16 projected tax levy is about $34.1 million, which represents a tax levy increase of 2.65 percent and a projected tax rate increase of 2.5 percent.

That projected tax rate increase of 2.5 percent would translate to an increase of $130.26 for a home in Southampton valued at $1 million and $130.40 for a home of the same value in East Hampton, based on the 2014-15 assessed values.

A second review of the entire budget will be held on Tuesday, April 14, at 6:45 p.m. in the library of Pierson Middle/High School, located at 201 Jermain Street in Sag Harbor. The school board plans to adopt the 2015-16 budget on April 22 and hold a public hearing on May 5. The annual budget vote and school board elections are on May 19.

Sag Harbor School Board Taken Line by Line Through Proposed Athletics, Buildings and Grounds Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

With items as precise as $9 for red floor tape, on Tuesday, February 3, Sag Harbor School District Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi unveiled the athletics and buildings and grounds portions of the first draft of the district’s budget for the 2015-16 school year.

“We’re just starting from zero and working our way up,” Ms. Buscemi told the board, adding, “this is still a first draft and these numbers are going to be refined going forward.”

Director of Facilities Montgomery Granger presented his proposed buildings and grounds budget, joking to the board, “This will be the most exciting budget presentation you’ve ever heard, it’s really scintillating.”

He asked the board to consider hiring another custodian for Pierson Middle/High School, at a starting salary of about $37,000. The “guidance” of how many custodians a school should have, he said, is one custodian per 20,000 square feet. At 140,000 square feet, Pierson has five janitors and a supervisor who also helps clean. Mr. Granger said the new hire could be a “floater” between schools, rather than hiring a substitute, which are often difficult to find.

“We have significant use of the building until late at night every single night plus the weekend use of the facility, so it is a huge challenge for the number of staff that we have,” Mr. Granger said of keeping Pierson clean.

The buildings and grounds budget includes a proposed $80,000 increase for “items that are much needed,” said Ms. Buscemi, including a Ventrac model tractor, a machine that can be used for both lawn mowing and snow plowing.

“These things tear through snow—it would have torn through that snow we recently had in an amazing fashion,” said Mr. Granger, who estimated it could last from three to 12 years depending on weather and use.

Mr. Granger also asked the board to purchase a new district vehicle, as its current vehicle, a 1995 Ford F250, is, understandably, on its last leg, despite valiant efforts by the schools’ mechanical team, he said, adding the proposed purchases will save money on repairs and labor costs moving forward.

The proposed total for the buildings and grounds 2015-16 budget is around $2.4 million, up by about $163,000, or 7.37 percent, from 2014-15.

With a projected total of about $781,000, the athletics budget, which covers Pierson Middle/High School’s 53 sports teams, is up by $6,465, or 0.83 percent. Seventy-eight percent of Pierson students participate in at least one sport, Athletic Director Donnelly McGovern said Tuesday.

“The athletic department has also inventoried everything we have…[Mr. McGovern] knows how many balls and how many basketballs,” said Superintendent Katy Graves, adding that the athletic director spoke with every coach individually to assess what each team has and needs.

The administration provided immense detail for a school district budget, including low-cost lines like $89 for yellow disc cones, $40 for a goalkeeping throat protector and $6 for a practice net setter.

Due to the salary differential between last year’s full-time athletic director Todd Gulluscio and Mr. McGovern, who serves part-time, instructional salaries in athletics have gone down by 6.59 percent.

The school board has often discussed hiring an athletic trainer over the past several years. Mr. McGovern said he has had trouble finding applicants for the position who are certified school athletic trainers, but that a local trainer has proposed acting as a consultant athletic trainer for the district at a cost of $10,800.

Should a player get hurt, Mr. McGovern said, their coach would call the consultant trainer, who would give an assessment of the injury, “work with the parents” and either advise the player on what steps to follow in order to heal or help set up an appointment with an orthopedist, removing the need for the family to see a general practitioner on their own.

“I think it’s a good model that really could give us that piece that we’re missing,” he said, “because I’d love to have an athletic trainer.”

As with any school budget, the athletics component has several federally and state-mandated requirements, the importance of which the board found difficult to grasp.

In a new rule proposed by the National Federation of State High School Associations, which in turn guides the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, field hockey uniforms can no longer have a side panel that is a different color than the jersey’s other panels. Pierson’s current jerseys are red with white panels, so the district must buy new uniforms in one solid color, at an estimated cost of $400.

The cost of athletic supplies is expected to increase by 24.26 percent, due to the need for additional uniforms and supplies, but the district expects to see some savings thanks to a recent decision to join a statewide purchasing cooperative.

Prior to revealing the complete first draft on March 23, the district will host budget workshops on technology, special education, debt service, employee benefits and transportation on February 23, and on the elementary, middle and high schools, and BOCES administration and services sections on March 9.

A second review of the entire budget will be held April 13, followed by the scheduled budget adoption April 22 and another review April 27. The budget hearing is May 5 and the district wide vote is May 19, as are school board elections.

Local Leaders Accept Sag Harbor Express’s Ice Bucket Challenge

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County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves accepted an ice bucket challenge issued by the Sag Harbor Express, which was dutifully administered by School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols on Friday, August 22. Photos courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves accepted an ice bucket challenge issued by the Sag Harbor Express, which was dutifully administered by School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols on Friday, August 22. Photos courtesy Sag Harbor School District.

By Tessa Raebeck

After being issued an ALS ice bucket challenge by the Times Review, Sag Harbor Express co-publishers Kathryn and Gavin Menu and consultant and publisher emeritus Bryan Boyhan boldly accepted the challenge on Thursday, August 21. View the video here.

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Mr. Thiele, who was allegedly out of town Friday, accepted the challenge in Marine Park on a beautiful morning Wednesday, August 27. Photo by Mara Certic.

While trying to hide their fear awaiting the buckets–aptly distributed by our intern, Sam Mason-Jones–the publishers challenged some local heavy-hitters: Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves and New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

At the top of Pierson Hill on Friday, August 22, Mr. Schneiderman and Ms. Graves were doused with buckets of ice water–much to the delight of their respective staffs. In the district less than a month, new School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi selflessly accepted the opportunity to dump ice on Mr. Schneiderman, while Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols soaked Ms. Graves with a smile on his face. A full video recording of that endeavor is available here.

 

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Sag Harbor School District’s New Business Administrator Excited About Small Town Possibilities

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Jennifer-Buscemi

Jennifer Buscemi.

By Tessa Raebeck

After managing a budget of just under $100 million, a staff of about 900 and seven separate school buildings, school business official Jennifer Buscemi is grateful to be coming to Sag Harbor.

The Sag Harbor Board of Education wasted little time in appointing Ms. Buscemi on July 28 to the school business administrator position vacated by John O’Keefe in early July. She comes to Sag Harbor from the West Babylon School District, where she served as executive director for finance and operations for nearly three years.

“I was basically looking for a change,” Ms. Buscemi said in a phone interview on Tuesday, August 5.

With about 4,200 students, a $99.3 million budget and a payroll of about 900 full- and part-time employees, West Babylon is a “fairly large school district,” she said—and monstrous when compared to those on the East End.

Sag Harbor, in turn, has about 1,000 students and, at $36.8 million, this year’s operating budget is slightly over a third of the size of West Babylon’s.

“There were many projects and many things that I wanted to accomplish over the years at my other school district that I just couldn’t move forward on, because there was just so much to do… I spent a lot of time constantly putting out fires,” Ms. Buscemi said of her previous position. “So, I was really looking for something on a smaller scale, so that I would be able to go ahead and move forward on those projects that I’ve always been thinking of doing.”

Once settled in Sag Harbor, Ms. Buscemi hopes to spend time looking at programs and doing “a lot of cost-benefit analysis,” as well as finding new sources of revenue.

“These are all the things that I want to sort of delve into, but I could never do that in such a large school district. So, I’m hoping to be able to get to do that here in Sag Harbor,” she said.

Attracted to the village’s “small town feel” and the options it affords her professionally, she plans on moving to the East End once her husband, Frank, retires, which he’s planning on doing sometime in the next one to three years.

Ms. Buscemi received her bachelor’s degree, with a major in accounting and a minor in economics, from Queens College in Flushing. She went on to Dowling College in Oakdale, where she earned a master of business administration degree in Public Management, and advanced certificates in Human Resource Management and School District Business Administration.

Prior to joining the West Babylon School District in 2011, she worked as an intern in the business office of the Commack Union Free School District for a year in order to fulfill advanced certificate requirements.

This past May in West Babylon, the district attempted to pierce the state-mandated 2-percent tax levy cap.

“We tried to pierce the tax cap because we didn’t want to make drastic cuts to programs and that’s what we were faced with,” Ms. Buscemi said of the decision. “The board wanted to move forward with trying to pierce it, but because of the property tax rate this year, I think a lot of voters came out and, unfortunately, the budget got voted down.”

With 51.3-percent voter approval, the district was shy of the 60-percent supermajority required to pierce the cap.

“So, what we did,” she explained, “was we revised the budget. We did end up reducing some programs, but from out of nowhere [State Senator Phil Boyle] was able to find $125,000 for us to restore those programs. So, we were able to go into the June 17 vote with a reduced budget that was within the cap and everyone was eligible for their property tax rebate check at that point.

On its second go-round, West Babylon’s budget passed with over 70-percent voter approval.

Although Sag Harbor has not yet had to ask voters to pierce the cap, Ms. Buscemi believes the tax cap will continue to be a challenge for all of New York’s school districts.

“I think every district is just going to have to rethink the way they’re providing programs at this point. [Governor Andrew Cuomo] wants us to find efficiencies and cost savings and be able to share services. So, eventually…we’re going to have to move in that direction,” she said.

Aside from size, another significant difference between Sag Harbor and West Babylon is the extent of state aid given to the districts.

“In my previous district, we relied very heavily on state aid, so whenever the governor’s budget came out, whenever the governor’s proposal came out, it was a real defining moment for us during the budget process, because if we did not get a decent increase in state aid, we were done,” Ms. Buscemi said.

“So, I have to say,” she continued, “in Sag Harbor, what is unique is that we don’t rely on state aid as much; I think less than 5 percent of our budget is funded through state aid… It’s a real community school, because the funding comes 100 percent pretty much—95 percent—from the tax levy.”

Unlike most school districts, especially those up-island (East End school districts have historically received less state aid than others on Long Island because of their high property values), Sag Harbor taxpayers bear most of the financial burden. Although this can be tough on residents, it means the district doesn’t have to deal with the unpredictability of being supported primarily by the state.

“They have to deal with fluctuations in state aid and when state aid does go down, that could mean drastic reductions,” explained Ms. Buscemi.

A self-described “numbers person,” Ms. Buscemi first gained administrative and financial management experience in state government. She was part of the management team at the New York State Comptroller’s Office and worked as a tax auditor for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

“I’m very, very analytical, so I love the fact that I’m doing something that is very rewarding,” she said. “Because, ultimately, we’re benefitting students; we’re providing really great educational opportunities and programs, and I know that whatever I do in all of my work on a daily basis is contributing to that.”

“When I worked as a state auditor,” she continued, “the job just was not as rewarding as [working in schools]. It was sort of like a thankless job. No one ever liked us coming in, no one ever liked us leaving, no one was happy to hear from us.”

“But when you work for a school district as a business official,” she continued, “every single thing you do is contributing to the benefit of the students, which is really great. So, at the end of the day, you feel like you actually did something wonderful and accomplished something.”

Sag Harbor School District Hires New School Business Administrator

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Jennifer Buscemi will be the new School Business Administrator for Sag Harbor.

Jennifer Buscemi is the new School Business Administrator for Sag Harbor.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Sag Harbor School District on Monday, July 28, appointed a new school business administrator to fill the position left open by John O’Keefe’s departure earlier this month.

The new administrator, Jennifer Buscemi, will start work on Monday, August 4, and serve a three-year probationary term ending August 3, 2017.

“I am very excited to get started in my new role,” Ms. Buscemi said in an email Wednesday, July 30.

Ms. Buscemi, who lives in Brentwood, is leaving her post as executive director for finance and operations at the West Babylon School District. She has held that position since November 1, 2011.

“I feel that my background and work experience will enable me to support the educational and fiscal goals of the superintendent and the board of education,” she continued. “I will work hard to maintain all the wonderful programs the district currently offers, while also working to expand educational opportunities for all students. In the coming weeks, I look forward to meeting and working in partnership with my new colleagues and all the members of the Sag Harbor community.”

Mr. O’Keefe started as business administrator in 2012 and left the district on July 16 for a position as assistant superintendent for business and operations in the West Hempstead School District.

At Monday’s board meeting, school board member David Diskin congratulated the superintendent and those involved in hiring Ms. Buscemi.

“That’s a very difficult thing to walk into and to do it so quickly and successfully—great,” Mr. Diskin said to Ms. Graves, who started in the district this month.

“This was someone with exceptional skills,” Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said of Ms. Buscemi, adding that she “comes with a wealth of fabulous experience.”

“We’re very fortunate,” agreed board president Theresa Samot.

Also at Monday’s meeting, Ms. Graves outlined her entry plan, saying her focus, especially in the beginning months, would be on listening to and learning from all the various stakeholders in the community.

In her decision making, Ms. Graves said she simply asks herself, “What is best for students, fair for adults and what the community can sustain?”

Ms. Graves outlined a timeline starting in July 2014 that will begin collecting “evidence and documentation of the district’s strengths, challenges and needs.”

She said the remainder of the summer would be spent conducting interviews, reviewing documents and implementing surveys to learn more about her new district.

Ms. Graves also presented a timeline of interviews she hopes to conduct with a number of groups and individuals across the community, ranging from bus drivers and student leaders to the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce and local real estate agents.

During October, with the help of the school board, she will analyze that data and prepare a report to reflect the findings, then share that report and solicit feedback from administrators, faculty and staff, and school committees.

By mid-November, Ms. Graves said she will have created a work action plan for the year with “vision, goals, objectives and measurement indicators,” and present a draft of that plan to the district’s stakeholders.

The next meeting of the board of education will be held Monday, August 18, in the Pierson library.