Security Upgrades in Amagansett Budget

The second in an East Hampton Star series on school budgets for 2018-19 focuses on the Amagansett School District, which has classes from prekindergarten through sixth grade.

The Amagansett budget, adopted by the school board last week, is about $10.7 million and reflects a $73,421 increase over this year’s. Of that, $72,000 is earmarked for anticipated security measures and improvements at the school, according to Eleanor Tritt, the district superintendent, who will retire as of June 30.

“We worked hard to hold the line and maintain all our services and programs for the kids without any increases,” she said in her office on Friday, adding that the school will maintain the tax levy below the cap. “The only real increase for something new in our budget is the $72,000 for security,” she said.

The specifics of those measures are not known yet, she continued. “We are reviewing what we want and might need. We are meeting with technology experts, other superintendents and districts, security companies, looking at upgrades to our existing system and installing new technology.” 

Ms. Tritt stressed that security is “pretty good” right now, but she felt that it was incumbent upon the school to explore ways to improve it and have the money ready to do so. “To ensure the safety of our children is our number-one concern,” she said.

One of the biggest decreases in the budget is about $250,000 less allocated for tuition students, that is, for students who graduate from Amagansett and attend East Hampton or other schools, as well as children with special education needs. Every year those numbers change, Ms. Tritt said, and this year they were able to budget for fewer children. Those savings, however, are almost entirely negated by a $240,000 increase in employee health benefits and insurance, a sharp rise that many school districts are having to absorb. The exact insurance rates will not be finalized until January of next year.

Staffing changes, with employees retiring and leaving, also allowed the school to allocate just under $31,000 less toward administrative salaries next year. No jobs were cut, Ms. Tritt emphasized.

Although the projected enrollment for next year is 90, which is four fewer students than this year, she pointed out that those numbers often change during the late summer, when families make a final decision about relocating and whether to join the school district.

Some noteworthy additions to curricular programs include “more creativity” in the arts offerings, Ms. Tritt said. Students will also see the return of Shakespeare to the curriculum, something that has been absent for the last few years. The study of a Shakespearean play will culminate in a schoolwide production. A hydroponic garden will also be instituted, enabling children to learn how to grow herbs and vegetables, which will be donated to the St. Michael’s senior citizens housing complex in the hamlet.

When district voters head to the polls on May 15, they will be asked to consider two additional items. The first involves dipping into a 2007 technology reserve fund for approximately $100,000 to cover the cost for upgrades of smartboards, laptops, and the phone system. Some of that money will also go toward updating the technology of the school’s security system. The other item requiring voter approval is the use of approximately $100,000 from a 2015 capital reserve fund for the purchase of a new school bus.

“I hope people will look at the budget and see that we keep providing all the services even as times change,” said Ms. Tritt, “and that we have been very responsible. The proof is in the pudding, as our kids do very well in the world after a strong foundation here.”

As for finding a new superintendent to take the helm before the beginning of the next school year, the search is underway. On Tuesday, a consultant spent the day at the school, from 8:15 a.m. to 8 p.m., conducting a focus group with parents, community members, teachers, administrators, and members of the police and fire departments. 

The superintendent has urged parents and residents to contact her should they need a detailed explanation of the budget. “It can be very confusing, and I’m always here to sit down with anyone and go over it,” she said.