Tag Archive | "Robert Hauser"

Bridgehampton School District Unveils First Draft of Proposed $12.6 Million Budget

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Bridgehampton School Business Administrator Robert Hauser presents the first draft of the 2015-16 budget to the Bridgehampton Board of Education, including (l. to r.) District Clerk Tammy Cavanaugh and Ronnie White, president of the school board, on Thursday, January 29. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Bridgehampton School Business Administrator Robert Hauser presents the first draft of the 2015-16 budget to the Bridgehampton Board of Education, including (l. to r.) District Clerk Tammy Cavanaugh and Ronnie White, president of the school board, on Thursday, January 29. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

The Bridgehampton School District appears to be in “much better financial shape this year than last year, according to business administrator Robert Hauser, as the school board on Thursday, January 29, took its first look at a preliminary $12.6 million budget for the 2015-16 school year.

The first draft represents an increase of nearly $330,000, or 2.67 percent, over last year’s budget.

“Fortunately, this year, things look a lot better than they did last year,” Mr. Hauser told the board.

Last spring, the school board had difficulty getting the current year’s $12.3 million budget passed. That spending plan pierced the state-mandated tax cap with an 8.8-percent increase over the previous year. It failed to receive the required 60-percent supermajority in the first vote in May, then barely passed when 62 percent of voters supported it in a second and final ballot in June.

The state-mandated limit, which determines how much a district can increase its property tax levy from one year to the next, is known as the 2-percent tax cap, but the percentage actually varies based on the Consumer Price Index. This year, at 1.62 percent, the cap will again be lower than its name.

“So, we’re only allowed to collect, in a sense, 1.62 percent more from the residents here,” explained Mr. Hauser. “However, the spending is going up 2.67 percent. So…the spending’s going up more than the actual amount we’re allowed to collect.”

The first draft of Bridgehampton’s current budget, presented last winter, breached the cap by over $1 million; the 2014-15 draft is over the cap by about $106,000, Mr. Hauser said.

Many of the included expenses are mandated by the state, such as Common Core-related professional development for teachers, fingerprinting for all new staff, and nearly $7,000 for “records management,” as school district payroll reports must be maintained for 50 years.

New items in the 2015-16 budget include adding iPads, Google Chromebooks and other technology updates as part of the district’s 5-year plan, a base increase in social security tax for employees, which the school district must match, and increased building maintenance.

During last year’s cutting of the current budget, the school board chose to reduce the number of days the Homework Club was offered after school to cut costs. Mr. Hauser said the school intends to restore those hours for the next school year.

An increase of $24,734, slated for adding a high school girls volleyball team and purchasing new volleyball equipment, is included in the proposed athletics budget, which is about $150,000 in total.

Health benefits for retirees and full-time employees are expected to increase by almost $100,000 to over $1.5 million, Mr. Hauser said. Most of that expense is for vision, dental and health benefits for full-time employees, as Medicare primarily covers retirees. Under the new Affordable Care Act, the district must provide health benefits to any employees who work more than 30 hours a week.

Some components of the budget, such as salaries determined by unsettled teachers and administrative contracts, insurance costs, and revenue from state aid, are not yet finalized. In a move that is unprecedented in the last 40 years, Governor Andrew Cuomo will not be releasing the amount of aid he is proposing for New York’s schools to the school districts ahead of time.

On January 21, in his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo said he would grant an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, to New York’s schools only if the Legislature passes several of his proposed educational reforms. If the Legislature, divided between a Democratic Assembly and a Republican Senate, does not comply, the governor threatened to limit that increase to 1.7 percent.

“In the meantime, we’re all in limbo here, because we don’t know how much aid he’s proposing to give us as a base,” Mr. Hauser said Thursday.

One of Governor Cuomo’s conditions is another overhaul of the recently revamped teacher evaluation systems, so that student test scores account for more of a teacher’s rating. Others include making it harder for teachers to get tenure and easier for them to be fired, establishing more charter schools, which would be required to take less advantaged students, and sending specialists in to transform failing schools.

The final numbers for the state’s $23.1 billion education budget will be revealed in the legislative budget on April 1. School districts, however, are required to tell the state comptroller’s office whether or not they will try to pierce the tax cap a month beforehand, by March 1.

Mr. Hauser said Bridgehampton, which generally gets about 5 percent of its revenue from state aid, relies less on the governor’s budget than other districts, and the budget wouldn’t be drastically affected should the legislature fail to comply with the governor’s demands.

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

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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.

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

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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.”