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Feb 25, 2016 12:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Bridgehampton School District Faces Tough Decision On 2016-17 School Budget

Mar 2, 2016 10:16 AM

As it prepares a proposed budget for 2016-17, Bridgehampton School District officials have not ruled out the possibility of asking voters for permission to pierce the state cap on tax levy increases.

Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Facilities Robert Hauser told members of the Bridgehampton School Board at a meeting last Wednesday night, February 24—as they sat in silence—that if the district would opt to stay under the near-zero cap, many school programs would need to be cut.

The state cap on tax levy increases, which is based on inflation, is just 0.12 percent this year. Mr. Hauser said the school could actually increase the levy by about 3 percent, after various exemptions are factored in. That would mean the district could collect $336,704 more in taxes for next year’s budget. But, he noted, employee and retiree health insurance cost increases alone, at $403,700, or 26 percent, exceed that amount.

This week, Mr. Hauser explained that those costs are made up of a 7.5-percent increase in premiums for existing employees, which is about $97,000, plus another $100,000 set aside for employees who may get married and switch over to a family plan. Additionally, the district expects to hire four new teachers and, for each of their health insurance plans, officials have budgeted $20,000. “Every time we add a new staff member, we have to budget conservatively, that that staff member is going to take a family plan and not necessarily a single person plan,” he explained.

The remaining $120,000 is a cushion in case employees who are not on the district’s health insurance plan decide to switch to district insurance.

“To try to get under the cap, we would have to look at dismantling more programs, which would reduce opportunities for students,” Mr. Hauser said at the meeting. “Once we cut these programs, who knows what the following year’s tax cap will be like.”

The second draft of the proposed total budget for the district is $14,157,226, which is a spending increase of $1,338,881, or 10.45 percent. Much of that increase is due to contractual agreements related to personnel costs, as well as the cost of out-of-district and special education transportation, and classes for students with special needs.

School officials have examined possible cuts to the budget, which could include but are not limited to Common Core training, the after-school ASPIRE program, driver’s education, summer camps and teacher aides, Mr. Hauser said.

He noted that two teachers might choose to retire this year, which would allow the district to hire replacement teachers who could be paid as much as 50 percent less, saving the district as much as $150,000 in total. Additional cost-saving initiatives could include working with neighboring districts to save on transportation costs, as well as using $50,000 from the retirement reserve, he said.

The board was required to fill out a state form this week that asks whether the district intends to pierce the tax cap. “Probably not any district knows with certainty whether they are going to do that or not,” said School Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre. “They don’t hold you to it, but you have to pick a lane.

“These are just ideas that can be cut,” she continued, referring to the programs listed as potential cuts. “We are not saying that we will cut.”

The Bridgehampton School will host a community budget forum on March 9 at 7 p.m. to understand how the community feels about a possible pierce of the tax cap.

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Superintendent, assistant superintendent of finance $$$, where is the money going, GUESS???
By knitter (1940), Southampton on Feb 25, 16 9:14 PM
Why is the first things to be cut, the programs that benefit the kids. Sounds like an over paid admin is the problem.
By Corwin1879 (40), Southampton on Feb 26, 16 8:59 AM
1 member liked this comment