Tag Archive | "school budgets"

Bridgehampton School District to Pierce Tax Cap

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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 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.

Sag Harbor School District Offers Early Retirement Incentives

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By Tessa Raebeck

Prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, Sag Harbor School District Business Administrator John O’Keefe presented a review of the entire draft of the 2014-2015 budget to the board.

At its meeting March 10, the board approved an agreement made with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor to enact an undisclosed early retirement incentive for teachers who retire from the district and are also eligible to retire from the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System on June 30, 2014.

The New York State guidelines require teachers to have worked for at least 30 years and be 55 or older or to have worked for at least 20 years and be 62 or older in order to not have benefits reduced upon retirement.

Mr. O’Keefe said with the early retirement incentive, there are a few projected retirements that reduce the budget lines from drafts presented at earlier meetings.

“These are people that we’ve identified already that have suggested they’d be leaving at the end of the year,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

Those projected retirements would provide for a reduction of $281,313 in teacher salaries and, when combined with others, an additional reduction of $60,708 paid to the state for employees and teacher retirement. Teachers receive retirement benefits from the state, not the district, and the district pays into that system based on its current salaries, not its retired teachers.

“So, if salaries go down, my retirement expenses go down because they’re a direct correlation to the total salaries,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

Reduced by $523,496 from earlier drafts, the proposed budget calls for $36.79 million in spending, a 3.62-percent increase over the 2013-2014 school year, which had a budget of $35.51 million.

“Because of the work over the last four or five years that the district has done with planning, we’re in a very favorable position,” Mr. O’Keefe said. “We may be the only district on the island that hasn’t had to reduce staff specifically for the purpose of balancing a budget.”

The second review of the budget will take place before the next board meeting, on April 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Pierson Library. The regular meeting will follow at 7:30 p.m. The final budget hearing is May 6 and the annual budget vote is May 20.

Employee Benefits Account for a Quarter of Expenses in Sag Harbor School District Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

On Monday, Sag Harbor School District administrators presented a draft of the last major component of the 2014-2015 budget to the Board of Education (BOE), which included projected expenses for the two school buildings, Pierson Middle/High School and Sag Harbor Elementary School (SHES), BOCES services and employee benefits.

Pierson principal Jeff Nichols said items that fall under the discretion of himself and SHES principal Matt Malone (those not related to contractual obligations like salary and healthcare) come to a 0.77-percent increase. He said the principals go “line by line” with teachers, and, after the budget is passed, each teacher has an individual meeting with their respective administrator “where they justify every single recommendation they’ve submitted to the district to purchase.”

“We’re pleased with the way that process has gone once again this year,” said Mr. Malone. “Everybody on staff is continuing to do an outstanding job on scrutinizing our discretionary spending and allowing us to maintain excellent programming.”

School salaries, equipment, contractual costs such as field trips or the rights to a play, and supplies are projected to increase by 5.5 percent next year, from $11,364,070 to $11,989,648.

Parent Alison Scanlon, who has voiced her disapproval of not having an in-house summer school program at previous board meetings, asked Mr. Nichols about that component of the budget.

“If we have the numbers sufficient to indicate that it would be in our benefit to run something in house here, we would do so,” Mr. Nichols replied, adding they are in the tentative planning stage of running a program for Common Core math, which a number of students have struggled with.

District wide benefits represent over 25 percent of the entire budget year-to-year, said school business administrator John O’Keefe. Thus, a significant portion “of our expenditures is going to expenses that we don’t really have any control over what the increase is going to be,” he said.

District wide employee benefits, including items like social security, retirement and health insurance, are proposed to increase by 7.41 percent, from $8,806,898 in 2013-2014 to $9,459,205 in 2014-2015.

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.