Springs Budget Is Team Effort

Springs School Durell Godfrey

With less than three weeks to go until statewide school budget votes on May 15, the Springs School District is the focus this week in The Star’s ongoing examination of 2018-19 proposed budgets in each district in our coverage area, in an effort to offer details of proposed changes and projections. 

The Springs School Board recently adopted its  proposed budget of approximately $28.9 million, an increase of $760,610 from this year, which represents a 2.98-percent state cap-compliant tax increase.

“Unlike many schools,” said Debra Winter, the district superintendent, in her first budget season at the school, “We first started the process by asking what each department needs.”

“It was like a wish list,” said Michael Henery, the school business administrator, also in his first Springs budget season.

The wish list, however, created about two months ago, was “a shock for the board,” according to Mr. Henery, since it came in well over $29 million. He then worked with each department head to prioritize their needs, and slowly the team whittled the figures down to cover “only what’s good for the kids,” Ms. Winter said. “There’s no admin stuff in here at all.”

One of the most important increases incorporated into next year’s budget will be in the area of security — both physical upgrades and a greater focus on mental health. Together they fit under the school’s theme for next year, which is “the whole child,” the superintendent said.

Her rationale is straightforward: It is of little use to simply beef up security with an extra guard or metal detector if children are having a mental health crisis that may be undetected. 

“We need to know where our children are mentally,” she said. This has resulted in making a second full-time psychologist available, as well as providing more hours for a second nurse to be on hand.   

Yoga classes will be added to the physical education program as well as mindfulness exercises, keeping kids involved in sports by offering more athletic options, continuing to develop the newly formed robotics team, and other STEAM-related activities.

Physical security measures will be upgraded with the addition of two school resource officers and extra cameras. The building will soon install a special card reader in the entry vestibule, which scans valid driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs. An immediate check is made against the national sex offender list as well as disgruntled ex-employees, persons with injunctions or court orders, and anyone who does not belong on school premises.

With President Trump announcing in February that he would cut roughly $3.6 billion in education aid during the next fiscal year, Ms. Winter pointed to the uncertainty of receiving grants, especially those linked to offsetting teachers’ salaries. “These are not competitive grants,” she said, but ones that are automatically granted based on the size of the school and the number of students. However, unable to predict what the school might receive next year, she said they had to budget $227,000 as a contingency.

Approximately $100,000 will be placed in the school’s capital repairs reserve for unforeseen overhaul needs. This is standard procedure in most schools, she said.

The school announced on April 9 its  proposed move from its current SCOPE Educational Services prekindergarten program to one at the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center in East Hampton. A story on that proposal appears elsewhere on this page

Voters on May 15 will see a separate proposition on the ballot for $150,000, earmarked for two new wheelchair-accessible school buses to replace outdated ones. Also included in the proposition is $31,000 to buy and install security cameras for most of the buses.

If the school’s proposed 2018-19 budget of approximately $28.9 million is passed, homeowners of properties with an assessed value of $600,000 will see an estimated $175 increase in taxes per year; an $800,000 assessed property value will incur about $234 extra, and a property assessed at $1 million will see an annual increase of $292. 

On March 6, Springs taxpayers also approved a $16.9 million bond to cover the school’s expansion plans. However, those taxes will not go into effect until the school borrows the money. “We don’t anticipate borrowing for another year,” Ms. Winter said.  

Also on May 15, Barbara Dayton, the board’s president, will seek re-election, having served on the board since 2015. She is uncontested so far.

If the budget is rejected, Ms. Winter said, the school board would have to come back with a zero-percent increase from last year, which means all enhancements such as new mental health programs, Project Most after-school activities, and the pre-K changes would have to go.

The superintendent hopes that on voting day, the Springs community will see that “We’ve done our homework, we’ve taken the taxpayer into consideration, and we’re taking the whole child into consideration.”

A public budget hearing will be held on Monday, May 7, at 7 p.m. in the school library.