Bridgehampton Budgeting for Job Readiness

In less than six weeks, on May 15, voters in school districts across the state will head to the polls to cast their ballots on next year’s budgets and board member elections. Each week leading up to the vote, The Star will focus on the budgets proposed by each school district in our coverage area, in an effort to highlight the changes and projections that are often unique to each. 

In Bridgehampton, Robert Hauser, the school’s superintendent, appointed only a month ago, presented next year’s proposed school budget to the community on Wednesday.

Mr. Hauser, formerly the district’s assistant superintendent of finance and facilities, took over at the helm following the retirement of Lois Favre, the superintendent of the last seven years. Melisa Stiles, the former district treasurer stepped into the role of the business administrator, or the fiscal officer, for the district.

The district’s proposed budget for the 2018-19 school year is just under $16.3 million, an increase of $1.9 million, or 13.5 percent over this year’s budget. The proposed budget stays below the state-sanctioned 2-percent cap on tax levy increases, meaning revenues raised through property taxes will increase by less than 2 percent. Mr. Hauser said he anticipates the budget to be adopted at the Bridgehampton School Board’s April 18 meeting.

The largest increase — $988,965 — represents the first payment on the $24.7 million bond approved by voters in 2016 to finance the school expansion and renovation. The bond will be paid off over 20 years. Construction is expected to begin on July 1.

New staff positions proposed for general education programs account for approximately $200,000 of next year’s increase. The special education department will receive an additional $450,490 toward new staff as well as out-of-district tuition and transportation costs. 

Following East Hampton’s push to offer students greater vocational education options, Bridgehampton will also revamp its career and technical education department “as part of our career and college ready initiative,” said Mr. Hauser. Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, the school’s longtime environmental design and technology teacher, will be reappointed to oversee that initiative, and the cost of a replacement technology teacher has been factored into the budget.

The vocational offerings in Bridgehampton seem to focus on giving students an insight into the farming and horticulture sector with new courses such as agriculture foundations, agriculture technology, and agriculture business and finance being added to next year’s choices. There will also be nutritional and culinary arts classes added, as well an introduction to environmental science, and a virtual enterprise course in horticulture.

“These are all work-based learning courses,” said the superintendent, “to offer kids the opportunity to work while still at school.”

Another noteworthy development  will be at the school’s elementary level, where the hiring of a guidance counselor who specializes in the emotional well-being of elementary-age children is included in the budget. Mr. Hauser stressed that this is a nonmandated — though state-recommended — position, intended to better serve the psychological needs of the youngest students. Currently, there is a school-wide psychologist and a guidance counselor.

Also in the elementary program, Mr. Hauser said the district would like to continue Dr. Favre’s legacy of implementing a specialized co-teacher in a classroom containing special education students, which reduces the need to pull out those students for separate instruction, and allows them instead to be in an inclusive setting.

The school also projects an increase in enrollment of approximately 10 students. Prekindergarten numbers are expected to increase by five, although that could be higher, said Mr. Hauser, as the school is looking to separate the 3 and 4-year-olds, which would allow for more students in each classroom.

High school enrollment is also expected to increase by five students. The scheduled closure of the Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School in Riverhead will possibly send some its  students to Bridgehampton, said Mr. Hauser, since the nearest options for Catholic schools are in West Islip and Melville. The superintendent said that many McGann-Mercy families have requested tours of his school as they search for nearby alternatives.

“Out-of-district tuition is $16,000 per year at Bridgehampton,” he said, adding that McGann-Mercy was probably at least double that, which makes Bridgehampton an appealing option.

Mr. Hauser and Ms. Stiles are confident that the budget will be approved by voters in May. 

Last year, Long Island saw a history-making approval of budgets in all of 124 public school districts. It was the first time the region produced a 100-percent passage rate since one-day balloting began in 1996, and was largely credited to the introduction in 2012-13 of the 2-percent property tax cap. Those limitations, in effect, make school systems more reliant upon state aid and require that legislators put together timely aid packages that help districts with their budget planning.

With that in mind, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators announced Saturday that Long Island’s public schools will get an extra $100 million in state operating aid for the 2018-19 academic year. Although financial experts say this number does not reflect the rate of annual growth and spending for schools in the last few years, it is nonetheless enough to help districts curb taxes or add such services as security enforcement and psychological counseling.

The Bridgehampton School District received the second largest boost in state aid among South Fork schools, with an additional $47,704 earmarked for next year, which is a 6.5-percent increase over this year. Sag Harbor benefited the most with a 10.3-percent increase.

Changes in aid allocations, though governed by state formulas, vary widely from one district to another, depending upon such factors as local spending decisions. The Sagaponack and Wainscott districts are not included in this package as they are systems with fewer than eight teachers and receive state aid through a different funding stream.