Security, Job Readiness Are Focuses of School Budgets

Every district from Montauk to Bridgehampton stays the under tax cap
Voting is on May 15. Christine Sampson

Residents of local school districts will head to the polls on Tuesday to decide the fate of eight school budgets, all of which are under the state-imposed limit on tax levy increases.

That limitation continues to force schools to find ways to curtail spending but still maintain educational programs for students and faculty. 

Adding new security measures accounted for notable increases across all districts. For instance, in Amagansett, upgrading security measures represents approximately $72,000 of the district’s $73,421 increase over this year’s budget. In Montauk, the school put out an official notice for bids for “armed security services” to be present at the school. And in Springs, the district has budgeted to increase both physical security measures, such as the installation of a state-of-the-art identification card reader, as well as the number of psychologists at the school, to tie in with the school’s focus on “the whole child.”

A new focus on career readiness for high schoolers has also emerged, reflecting a major shift from the spotlight on college readiness in the recent past. Both Bridgehampton and East Hampton have added money to their budgets to develop programs for high school students to train, and sometimes, receive certification, in certain trade jobs such as farming, culinary arts, and the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning business.

Both East Hampton and Sag Harbor districts reported that almost 78 percent of their budgets was allocated to staff salaries and benefits. In East Hampton, this was partly due to bringing its prekindergartners to an in-house program at the John M. Marshall Elementary School rather then sending them to the Eleanor Whitmore Early Childhood Center, saving the district approximately $600,000 and several staff jobs, which would have been eliminated due to decreasing numbers in the pre-K population. Sag Harbor’s high staff salary numbers were mostly due to an apparent push to offer the community increased professional services for children with dyslexia and reading disorders, as well as improving best practices for integrating students with autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome.

Voters will also cast ballots on Tuesday for school board candidates. Unless last-minute write-ins emerge, the only districts with contested seats are East Hampton, Amagansett, and Sagaponack. 

Below is a district-by-district guide to what’s on the ballot Tuesday.

AMAGANSETT

Voting hours: 2 to 8 p.m. in the school 

School budget proposal: $10,752,240

Propositions: Two additional propositions are on the ballot but neither will incur additional cost to the taxpayer. The first involves dipping into a 2007 energy and technology capital reserve fund for a maximum of $107,000 to purchase and install technology systems at the school. The second proposition is for the use of a maximum of $100,000 from a 2015 renovations and upgrades capital reserve fund for the purchase of a new school bus.

School board candidates (one seat available): Dawn Rana-Brophy, an incumbent, faces Mary A. Eames.

The proposed budget reflects a $73,421 increase over this year’s total, of which about $72,000 constitutes the cost for security upgrades. With a proposed tax levy increase of $276,743, or 2.98 percent, it is estimated that for a homeowner with an assessed property value of $6,000, school taxes would rise by about $40 for the year. If Amagansett fails to pass its budget, the board may elect to resubmit the same budget or propose a modified one for a second budget vote in June. If that too fails, the district would be relegated to a contingency budget, which means there could be no increase in the tax levy over the previous year. The district would therefore need to cut $276,743, which school officials say would result in the elimination of many programs, services, and staff.

BRIDGEHAMPTON

Voting hours: 2 to 8 p.m. at school

School budget proposal: $16,297,465

School board candidates (three seats available): Ronald White, the current president, Lillian Tyree-Johnson, the vice president, and Douglas DeGroot will run unopposed.

Bridgehampton’s budget proposal shows an almost $2 million increase over this year’s total. Of that, almost $1 million 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.

EAST HAMPTON

Voting hours: 1 to 8 p.m. at East Hampton High School

School budget proposal: $69,846,198

Propositions: Voters will find a second referendum on the ballot as the district seeks approval for an $8.9 million bond to cover the purchase of a three-acre property on Springs-Fireplace Road, and the subsequent construction of a school bus depot and vocational education center there. The new facility would offer students the opportunity to be job-ready in such fields as auto repair, welding, and automotive computer programming. Currently, students enrolled in such programs must travel to a Board of Cooperative Educational Services center in Riverhead, which costs the district $14,000 a year per pupil. The new facility, which, if approved, is expected to be operational by 2020, would allow students to gain instructional time that is lost at the moment due to traveling to and from Riverhead. If the bond referendum is not approved, the board said it would be forced to reconsider the controversial Cedar Street property as the site for the bus depot. 

School board candidates (two seats available): Christina DeSanti, the current vice president, Sarah Minardi, and Jeffrey Erickson will vie for two seats on the board. 

East Hampton’s proposed budget represents an increase of $956,000 or 2.2 percent over this year. The increase stays below the allowable tax cap. The district estimates that for a house with an assessed value of $6,000, the school tax increase would be about $52 next year.

MONTAUK

Voting hours: 2 to 8 p.m. at Montauk School

School budget proposal: $19,792,316

School board candidates (one seat available): Lee White is running unopposed to keep his seat.

 

The increase from this year of about $970,000 is mainly due to an $800,000 proposed payment into the school’s capital reserve fund, which the district hopes to use next year to replace its aging portable units. The Montauk budget proposal stays within the tax cap limitations and its estimated annual tax rate is $537.99 per $1,000 of assessed value, which represents a 1.04-percent increase over this year.

SAG HARBOR

Voting hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Pierson High School

Budget proposal: $41,880,896 

Propositions: Voters will weigh in on whether to reduce change the district’s current policy for transporting students in kindergarten through 12th grade from the existing one-mile minimum limit to a half-mile minimum limit at no additional cost to the taxpayer.

School board candidates (two seats available): Susan Schaefer, an incumbent, and Jordana Sobey, a newcomer.

The tax-cap-compliant budget proposal will maintain all current programs, services and staff positions, and allows for further development opportunities for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics for students. The middle school assistant principal position would be transformed into a middle school principal position and security is a priority in the budget. For a house with a market value of $1 million, school taxes could rise by about $150 to $190, depending on whether the house is located in East Hampton Town or Southampton Town.

SAGAPONACK

Voting hours: 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Sagaponack School

Budget proposal: $1,538,692

School board candidates (one seat available): Lauren Thayer and Diane Payne, both newcomers, will vie for the seat vacated by Joseph P. Louchheim, the current board president.

 

Sagaponack’s proposed budget shows a decrease of $165,890 when compared to this year. Projected enrollment for next year is down and therefore less money will be required for out-of-district tuition, school supplies and equipment, and transportation. The district also estimates spending $91,000 less on capital improvements, which is the largest saving in total expenditures. No teaching jobs were cut, however, and the total administrative budget reflects an almost $11,000 increase.

SPRINGS

Voting hours: 1 to 9 p.m. at Springs School

Budget proposal: $28,873,698

Proposition: Voters will be asked to vote on $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 many of the buses.

School board candidates (one seat available): Barbara Dayton, the board’s president, will run unopposed.

The proposed budget represents an increase of $760,610 from this year, or a 2.98 percent state cap-compliant tax increase. School officials say this proposed budget maintains all of the district’s core academic programs and adds mental health wellness staff and programs, as well as new extracurricular programs such as the newly formed robotics team, and other STEAM-related activities. Threatened cuts in federal funding, which covers certain teacher’s salaries, forced the school to reserve $227,000 as a contingency. If the budget is passed, it is estimated that 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. If the budget is rejected, 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.

WAINSCOTT

Voting hours: 2 to 8 p.m. at Wainscott School, 47 Wainscott Main Street

Budget proposal: $3,333,277

School board candidates (one seat available): Kelly Anderson will run unopposed.

Wainscott’s proposed budget shows an increase of $383,938 from this year’s budget. School officials say this is the first increase after the board has successfully decreased budgets for the previous six years. Despite this, the school board is proposing a .05-percent decrease in the tax levy, making it the seventh consecutive budget in which the tax rate has been reduced, and the sixth in which the tax levy dropped. The district also publicized a 69-percent increase in enrollment over the last five years, which will probably result in future tuition increases, the board cautioned.