Tag Archive | "tax cap"

Sag Harbor School District’s Proposed Budget Won’t Pierce Tax Cap

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By Tessa Raebeck

Unlike budgets proposed in East Hampton and Bridgehampton, the Sag Harbor School District’s proposed 2014-15 budget does not pierce the state-mandated tax cap.

In a second presentation of the full budget on Monday, administrators proposed spending of $36.87 million, an increase of $1.36 million or 3.83 percent over the 2013-14 budget.

The tax cap, established by the state in 2011, prohibits school districts from raising property taxes by more than 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. This year, that cap has been set at the rate of inflation, 1.51 percent. The district budget calls for a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, which is just below the cap.

The budget nearly doubles, to $75,500, the amount set aside for “public information” and postage. Only $38,505 was set aside for that purpose in the current fiscal year.

That increase is in part due to $30,000 being earmarked for improving online communications, whether by expanding the role of the public relations firm Syntax Communications or hiring an in-house webmaster responsible for managing the website, social media and other online tools.

A survey of over 600 students, parents and staff conducted by the district’s Communications Committee found that all parties preferred getting communications online, but the website and other portals were lacking information, disorganized and not regularly updated.

Technology spending increases by 20 percent under the proposed budget. The $95,009 would fund an ongoing initiative to replace computers and Smart Boards, upgrading the wireless network and for the purchase of iPads, Google Chromebooks and MacBooks for classroom use.

An increase of $4,000 is budgeted for the Big Brothers, Big Sisters mentoring program, recently reinstated by the national organization.

Addressing the need for increased math instruction required under the state’s Common Core Learning Standards—as well as the difficulty many students and parents have had with the new math standards—the district is considering adding a math lab. The budget draft includes $40,000 to hire a teacher who would work 60 percent of full time, to supplement a full-time staff member in the lab. “So that way the lab has a teacher all the time,” School Business Administrator John O’Keefe said Tuesday.

The board will vote on the budget at its April 23 meeting. The community budget vote and school board elections are Tuesday, May 20, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Pierson gymnasium. Applications to run for school board can be found in the district clerk’s office and must be submitted by Monday, April 21, at 5 p.m.

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.

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.

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

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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.

Sag Harbor School Board Hopes to Host Educational Summit on Administrative Sharing

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Diana Hinojosa proudly watches her husband Fausto receive tenure at the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday.

Diana Hinojosa proudly watches her husband Fausto receive tenure at the Sag Harbor Board of Education meeting Monday. (Tessa Raebeck photo).

By Tessa Raebeck

Facing substantial losses in state aid and severe limitations on its ability to raise local revenue, the Sag Harbor School District is hoping to host an educational summit this summer to discuss sharing administrative services with nearby districts.

At Monday’s board of education (BOE) meeting, Dr. Carl Bonuso, interim superintendent for the district, said he had recently discussed possible cooperation with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, as well as leaders from other school districts.

Daniel Hartnett, a BOE member, first proposed examining the possibility of an administrative merger at the December 2 board meeting.

“We’re beyond — in terms of shared services — buying toilet paper as a collective,” Hartnett said Monday. “I think we’ve milked every penny we could out of that.”

Board member Mary Anne Miller said both East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez and Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming have approached her to express their interest in the consolidation of administrative functions.

The BOE hopes to accelerate the discussion before fiscal limitations mandate severe cuts to school programs, supplies and teaching positions as, like districts across the state, Sag Harbor is facing an uphill battle this budget season.

Under the “tax cap,” a regulation enacted by the New York State Legislature in 2011, school districts cannot increase property taxes by more than two percent or the rate of inflation (whichever is less) annually, limiting districts’ ability to raise local revenue.

A provision of the tax cap legislation permits a handful of school districts with enrollments of 1,000 students or less to share a superintendent. The Greenport and Southold school districts were the first in the state to announce plans to do so in November. Starting in July, current Southold Superintendent David Gamberg will work for both districts and report to both school boards, with the districts splitting the costs of his salary evenly.

Prior to the tax cap, in 2009 the state adopted the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA). Legislators developing the state budget realized the state’s anticipated revenue did not cover expenses, resulting in a “gap.” The GEA was created to fill that gap, essentially passing the burden onto the state’s school districts.

The state now uses a calculation based “primarily on district wealth,” according to School Business Administrator John O’Keefe, to determine a district’s GEA, an amount that is then deducted from their state aid.

Sag Harbor had some $243,000 in state aid taken away last year due to the GEA, O’Keefe said Monday.

According to the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), school districts have lost more than $8 billion in state aid since the start of the GEA four years ago.

Since state aid and local property taxes are the primary means for a district to raise revenue, the GEA and the tax cap have forced districts “to make difficult choices,” according to NYSSBA.

Such choices are prompting the school board to spearhead the conversation on superintendent sharing on the East End.

Dr. Bonuso said a steering committee would ideally be formed in the spring, consisting of several administrators, legislators and board members who would then organize an agenda or protocol for an educational summit or similar legislative meeting to take place over the summer.

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said he believes the tax cap is a result of the poor economic climate and may be removed as the economy recovers.

BOE Vice President Chris Tice, who presided over Monday’s meeting in President Theresa Samot’s absence, replied that the cap is politically tied to rent control laws in New York City and will not sunset for another seven years.

Tice expressed her support of putting a group together in the spring and hosting a summit this summer.

“The sooner we can think of these things and do it the better we’ll be,” agreed David Diskin, a member of the school board.

“People who are more in touch with what’s actually going on in their communities understand how important and valuable education is,” he said, adding the higher up in government, “the more it becomes an abstract concept.”

Also at Monday’s meeting, the BOE honored Fausto Hinojosa, a teaching assistant (TA) in the district, with tenure.

“Fausto,” said Nichols, “for me, in many ways represents that key piece, that key connection between the school and many students in the ESL [English as a Second Language] population. He has a passion for trying to make the transition for the students who come from other countries a smooth one.”

“The way you interact with staff and with every student is with such dignity and respect and joy,” added Tice. “And they have a visceral positive response to you.”

Joined by his wife Diana, also a Sag Harbor teacher’s assistant, Fausto received a standing ovation from the room of administrators and colleagues.

Holding back tears, he addressed the room.

“There’s one thing that none of you have said,” he said. “One of the most joyful things that I live with here at school is the people that I work with…this is our home and I’ve told Mr. Nichols this many times, we’re just thrilled to be here every morning.”

Sag Harbor to Adopt $8 Mil Plan

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By Kathryn G. Menu


The Village of Sag Harbor is poised to adopt an $8,056,311 budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. If a public hearing held last Friday is any indication, no one is protesting the 2.78-percent increase in spending.

Under New York State’s mandated two-percent tax cap, the village is allowed to raise its levy — the amount of money raised through property taxes to fund the budget — by 2.7-percent.

Due to an expected increase in revenues of $300,000 for 2012-2013, mostly from anticipated increases in mortgage tax revenues, dock rentals and justice court related fees, this budget would result in a 1.4-percent tax levy increase.

Based on assessed values of homes in Sag Harbor Village, the general fund budget will result in a tax increase of one percent. For a home in the village with an estimated value of $795,000, this would result in a tax bill of $2,175.80, a $21.55 increase over a tax bill received in 2011-2012.

Following the budget presentation on Friday, no one spoke against the proposed spending plan or the village’s proposed sewer budget, which has remained steady at $506,224.

While the village has managed to keep the general fund budget under the two-percent cap, several projects including the remediation of Havens Beach, the restoration and possible reconstruction of the Municipal Building and a bulkhead at West Water Street are not included in the spending plan. According to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, those projects will likely be funded through the use of the village’s reserve account, which currently holds $2.1 million.

Also absent from the budget is any increase in pay for officers in the Sag Harbor Village Police Department, which is in the midst of a contract negotiation that has been ongoing for the last year. An increase in pay in the 2011-2012 spending plan was also not budgeted for.

That contract negotiation has entered mediation. The next meeting between the village, the mediator and the Sag Harbor Police Benevolent Association is scheduled for June.

On Friday, Mayor Gilbride did not expect the budget would change before the board adopts the spending plan, during its Tuesday, April 10 meeting at 6 p.m.

Tax Rate Stays the Same in North Haven

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By Claire Walla


Though North Haven Village had entertained the thought of imposing a minimal tax increase this year, that plan was promptly abandoned.

At a village board meeting last Tuesday, April 3, the board voted unanimously to keep the tax rate the same as it was last year — in fact, board members pointed out, they kept it the same as it’s been for the past five years.

According to figures presented by Village Clerk Georgia Welch, the village is looking at a budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year of $1,326,330. This represents an overall increase over this year’s operating budget of 1.38 percent.

“We’ve been a very responsible board and kept the tax rate the same,” said Mayor Laura Nolan, emphasizing the board voted not to increase taxes despite rising costs and revenues that are down.

While the village’s fire contract is expected to go up by about $9,000 for next year, village assessments have not increased by as much as they had in years past. At $1.47 billion, assessment numbers for the 2012-2013 fiscal year are up about $5.6 million over this year’s value. From 2009 to 2010, however, assessment values increased by about $126 million.

In addition, building permits are down, having fallen from 117 last year to 80 this year. Besides taxes, this is one of the village’s only sources of direct revenue.

To balance the books, the village will take $351,197 from this year’s fund balance — which is expected to total about $700,000 at year end — and apply it to next year’s budget.

While the village had already voted to pierce the two-percent tax levy cap, which was adopted by the state last year and imposed for the first time during the 2012-2013 budget process, it was unnecessary. The village’s tax levy came out just under the two-percent limit.

Tax Cap Worries

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The Sag Harbor School District has accomplished an impressive feat. With a lot of careful tweaking, the district has come up with a budget that falls just below the two percent tax cap. It’s a feat that most likely would have required much more gruesome slicing and dicing in prior years.

Last year alone, the school board presented a budget that projected a 6 percent increase to the tax levy, and a year before that the projected tax-levy increase hovered around a whopping 10 percent—which, at that point, was the highest tax rate increase the district had experienced in 10 years.

But times have changed. This two percent tax cap is here to stay. This year, the district has not only had its sights set on keeping its budget under control, it has taken a magnifying class to current expenditures.

The business department took crucial steps to streamline its costs — from refinancing the 2002 Bond Issue ($22,524) to paying off Teachers’ Retirement System Incentives early ($132,240) — garnering a total savings of nearly $400,000. And the Special Education Department, which has worked hard over the years to facilitate special needs students’ transitions into regular classes, this year showed savings of almost $500,000.

In total, the district claims it has taken measures that have resulted in exactly $935,413 of cost savings.

Furthermore, the district has shown significant efforts to think outside-the-box to save even more on costs. While the district proposes spending nearly $570,000 of tax-payer money to buy six new buses this year, that money would be accounted for via cost savings by the 2017-2018 school year. Overall, the business office projects this maneuver would generate upwards of $170,000 in savings over the next seven years.

Our hats are off to you, Sag Harbor School District.

However, we can’t help but worry about what this budget process will look like down the road. And not just in the distant future, we worry about where we’ll be exactly this time next year.

Getting through the first year of a mandatory tax cap is admirable. But getting through it in year two, three, four and beyond — well, that’s going to take some doing.

So while the district has taken several cost-cutting measures that have helped with the budgeting process this year, these won’t necessarily generate additional savings each consecutive year. In fact, while special education has seen a dramatic decrease in costs this year, this number can just as easily increase in coming years—and this is not something the district can necessarily plan for.

At this week’s school board meeting, board members Walter Wilcoxen and Ed Drohan spoke to a need for developing a long-term plan for the district. And we support this idea in full.

The two-percent tax-levy cap will be here again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that… for at least four more years until the state will finally have the chance to reassess the legislation. Who knows what will happen then? But in the meantime our school district is looking at a cap, all the while costs of benefits are expected to increase each year by more than that.

At some point, the tax cap is not going to allow us to keep up with those expenses — the next round of contract negotiations could be an issue. This means cutting costs. This can mean cutting programs, or staff members, or teachers, or — you knew we were getting to this — cutting benefits.

It was mentioned on Monday and we’re going to say it again: we highly encourage the Sag Harbor School District to enter into contract negotiations with the teachers’ union early. And we urge the teachers’ union to consider negotiating down.

The cost of personnel is high and continuing to climb. Let’s try to curb these growing costs before we have to make serious cuts to our children’s educational programs.

And let’s not wait until next year to do it.


Sag School Board Approves $34 Million Budget

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By Claire Walla

Pulling no surprises, the Sag Harbor Board of Education voted on Monday, March 26 to approve the district’s proposed $34 million budget for the 2012-2013 school year.

“I want to thank the district for all its hard work,” said board member Chris Tice. Because this is the first year the district has had to make allowances for the state-imposed two-percent tax-levy cap, Tice said the budget process “was particularly rigorous this year.”

Passed by Congress last spring, tax cap legislation has caused most school districts across the state to search for ways of trimming expenditures—Sag Harbor not excluded.

With the rising cost of health insurance and increases for teachers’ retirement plans to contend with, the Sag Harbor School District ended up with a proposed budget up 2.88 percent from this year’s operating budget, which represents only a 1.94 percent tax-levy increase.

According to the district’s budget presentations, Sag Harbor has managed to maintain a budget that keeps all programs in place thanks to significant savings in several key areas.

According to numbers compiled by Dr. Lisa Scheffer, the district’s director of pupil personnel services, the special education department has shed nearly $500,000 in expenses, which is reflected in next year’s budget. The decrease is due to program changes, including the elimination this year of three staff members.

The school has also seen nearly $400,000 in savings from the district business office, as well as $60,000 in savings in transportation. While the budget calls for $500,000 of the district’s fund balance to be put toward energy conservation measures, District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto pointed out that there will be a bond measure tied to the budget vote in May that—if passed—is estimated to generate significant savings for the district.

Proposition #2 would allow the school to purchase six busses at a cost of $575,000. The district estimates that by bringing transportation costs in-house, it will be able to save roughly $170,000 over the next seven years.

However, while the district was able to squeeze the budget beneath the tax cap this year, school board member Walter Wilcoxen expressed some trepidation about the future.

“You’ve taken so much slack out of the budget it’s laudable,” he began. “But, down the road, how are we going to get the big nut? The problem is, I don’t’ see any major change coming. And that creates some discomfort.”

What Wilcoxen was referring to, specifically, were labor negotiations.

According to Verneuille, teachers’ retirement benefits have not yet been quantified for the coming school year, but last year health expenses went up 13.5 percent. And with a two-percent tax levy cap in the mix, expenditures will inevitably outpace revenues. In other words, the school will eventually be forced to look at ways of cutting costs more dramatically.

“You’re absolutely right, the driver of our budget is labor costs,” Dr. Gratto responded. But, he said the situation might not be so grim. Later that evening, the school board voted to approve bus-driver salaries, which had been negotiated down from its 3.5-percent raise this year to a two-percent raise for next year, with no step increases.

“I think what you’re seeing is a trend,” Gratto added.

Though good news, board members seemed to sympathize with Wilcoxen’s less-than-enthusiastic response.

“This is sort of like the fly on the tail of an elephant,” he joked. “But, at least it’s a start.”

The budget vote will be Tuesday, May 15 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Pierson High School Gym. Should the budget not pass by simple majority, the district would go to its contingency budget, which would strip $551,510 from the proposed budget, which—according to the district—would eliminate the $500,000 set aside for building improvement projects off-the-bat.