In light of the current economic climate, the Sag Harbor school district has decided to begin delivering the expected budget for 2009-2010 to the community in chunks, prior to board of education meetings over the next few months.
There will be five or six budget meetings in total. The first of these meetings was on Monday when the school’s business manager, Len Bernard, presented a proposed budget for certain departments of $9.7 million — up from $9.4 million for the 2008-2009 school year.
Departments included under this portion of the budget are the board of education, district clerk, district meetings, chief school administrators, auditing, treasurer, purchasing, legal, personnel, public information, transportation, recreation, employee benefits, and insurance and debt service.
According to Bernard, the district is expected to lose 11.6 percent in state aid next year, the highest amount among East End schools. In response, the district has been looking at ways to reduce costs.
One cost saving plan the district is considering is the purchase of a school bus and a van for the transportation department, which would lower the total of this portion of the budget from $9.7 million to $9.6 million.
Currently, the school district contracts for bus service and in his report, Bernard outlined the benefits of purchasing the two vehicles, indicating that a savings of $684,133 could be realized over the next six years.
“You are talking about quite a bit of savings,” Bernard said on Monday, “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Bernard presented two different analyses, one for the bus and one for the van. The bus, he said, can be used for school trips, while the van could be used for sports activities and transportation of BOCES students, which Bernard said is expensive through contracted bus service, even for one-way trips. The van could also be used for district students who travel to the Ross School or Stella Maris. Bernard explained the district is expecting teaching assistants and custodians to become the drivers.
“We could pay them to do the extra work,” Bernard said.
In his analysis, Bernard included $10,000 for the cost of the drivers, which he added could increase if the district has to find outside drivers.
School board member Ed Haye asked if those numbers reflected vehicle insurance and maintenance that the school would have to pay on both the van and the bus. Bernard said that he talked to the district’s current bus company and found that it would fall under the umbrella of insurance they already have.
Superintendent Dr. John Gratto said the useful life of a bus is 10 years, “But in all likelihood, it would last longer.”
Bernard also said that he talked to the bus vendor and said the company was willing to give the school a bus for lease for a trial run.
The van could transport up to 30 kids and would be wheelchair accessible, according to Gratto.
“We have a lot of flexibility here,” said Gratto.
A few weeks ago, the school district held focus groups for different community groups, parents, students and faculty asking for suggestions on how to cut costs in light of the reduction in state aid. Some of the ideas generated from the forum were also mentioned in Monday’s presentation. Of those suggestions, the bus and van were the most frequently mentioned idea, according to Bernard.
In the chief administrator’s office both the superintendent and the superintendent’s secretary and the administrators in the business department will all receive five percent raises in next year’s budget. Bernard also said that there was a reduction of one full time staff member in the business department that will not be filled for next year. The two departments combined are projected to cost just over $530,000 for 2009-2010.
Another idea that came from the focus groups was to explore health insurance and dental coverage options, which Bernard said is being considered; but some of that depends on the on-going contract negotiations with teachers, custodians and secretarial unions. Bernard said during his presentation that the school does have another health insurance provider that could give better rates.
Of the departments that were presented on Monday, health and dental insurance had the biggest portion of the proposed budget. It is projected to cost the district $2.7 million for 2009-2010, up from $2.6 million for 2008-2009. Bernard said that this number was determined from an estimate of a five percent raise for the teachers, custodians and secretarial contracts that are still being negotiated.
Of the departments talked about on Monday, debt service represented the second highest dollar amount for next year’s budget.
“We sold a note the first week of September,” Bernard said and then talked about the economic climate crisis that hit the following month. “Then everything hit the fan, now rates are down again.”
He said the interest rates keep coming down and “it will change on a day to day basis.” Next year, Bernard said, will be the last payment of the 1997 bond — which was used to make improvements to the high school.
When asked if there is any consideration for changes to the other existing bonds for new interest rates, Bernard responded, “No, but we are always looking for windows of