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Mar 10, 2016 12:12 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Bridgehampton School Board Reduces Proposed Budget, Still Faces Tough Decisions

Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre explained some of the great programs that the Bridgehampton School provides for its students. ALISHA STEINDECKER
Mar 15, 2016 5:03 PM

Bridgehampton School District officials told residents attending last week’s budget meeting that their district’s proposed 2016-17 spending plan would be continuously tweaked over the next few weeks, and that projected spending would most likely be reduced.

While her district still has not ruled out the possibility of piercing the state cap on tax levy increases, which is just 0.12 percent this year, Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre said she had “better news” for the estimated 40 people in attendance last week: Board members had managed to trim roughly $489,000 from the initial spending proposal.

Therefore, next year’s budget now stands at $13,778,226, which would represent a spending increase of $959,881, or 7.49 percent, over the current year. That plan would still pierce the cap, meaning that at least 60 percent of district voters would have to approve the budget.

District residents voiced concern after the board released a $14,267,351 tentative spending plan in January that would also pierce the tax levy cap. Following that announcement, Dr. Favre said she received numerous emails from the public requesting a breakdown of the spending plan, prompting last week’s forum.

But after spending nearly two hours discussing what they have done to date with next year’s spending plan, district officials ran out of time and could not then open the floor to questions from the community. They scheduled a second meeting, scheduled to take place last night, Wednesday, March 16, where concerned taxpayers were supposed to break off into smaller groups to discuss proposed cuts and help decide if the district should attempt to pierce the cap.

“Things change daily. We find out students moved in and out of the district, or we don’t need a transportation route,” Dr. Favre said, naming a few of the things that could influence the final numbers. “As we go through the process, we continually work to refine the budget.”

Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Facilities Robert Hauser echoed that sentiment, adding that the board expects to reduce spending even more, possibly by working with neighboring districts on combining transportation routes. “Typically, the trend is to come out with a budget that’s higher, then we work our way down,” he said.

Mr. Hauser noted that Bridgehampton is “unique” in that it could actually increase the tax levy, which currently totals about $11 million, by 3.06 percent, or $336,704, once various exemptions are factored in and still come in under the cap.

He noted that a sharp increase in one budget line—employee and retiree health insurance costs—is going up by $403,700, to about $1.9 million, a 26-percent jump. Included in that increase is a 7.5-percent hike in health insurance premiums for existing employees, as well as the offering of health insurance plans for four new teachers. Mr. Hauser said the district is budgeting $80,000 total, or $20,000 per new teacher, under the budget proposal.

“Am I reading that right?” asked Jenice Delano, a member of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee, who attended last week’s meeting on March 9. “That’s a huge cost.”

The district has no control over the increase in health insurance costs, Board of Education member Jeffrey Mansfield responded. “I think our teachers understand, in this day and age … we are aware of these costs and we are doing everything we can to help the teachers contribute more in the future,” he said, noting that the district’s teachers will contribute 16 percent of their health insurance costs during the 2016-17 school year, up from 14 percent this year.

“No matter what, to get under the levy this time, some type of programming is gonna have to go,” Dr. Favre said. “If that is the direction the community wants to go in, that is the recommendations we will make to the board. We want to hear what your ideas are, because we are running out of ideas.”

She also told those in attendance last week that she is proud to be the superintendent and that district officials have worked diligently to maintain current programming. She added that Bridgehampton’s teachers, who currently earn an average annual salary of $102,000, did not receive any raises in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school years.

“We are committed to taking good care of what we have in Bridgehampton,” Dr. Favre said. “It never ceases to amaze me the amount of talent that resides in our school community—they [students] are always willing to learn.”

She also noted that the district currently uses less staff than the state recommends for “ideal teacher staffing” to save money. The district employs 39 teachers to educate its 204 students while the state suggests that Bridgehampton employ 42.5 teachers.

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It's that time of year again - when school districts across the Island threaten us with cutting programs (or sports). I'd love just once to see a district say that the administrators have agreed to a salary freeze so as to save money. Just once. A couple of years ago, both the teachers' union and the CSEA union at Bridgehampton agreed to a salary freeze, but the administrators still took their annual increases, and you can bet that the 6-percent raise administrators give themselves equals a lot ...more
By MrsD (52), Hampton Bays on Mar 10, 16 1:19 PM
2 members liked this comment
Four new teachers? If four retired wouldn't there be lower wage spent? A 6% wage raise, WOW, cost of living, wish SS gave me 6%...
Sounds like creative book keeping to me. Where is the school board?
By knitter (1808), Southampton on Mar 10, 16 4:05 PM
$$$$ 60,000+ per student each year. $$$
By Lets go mets (374), Southampton on Mar 11, 16 6:14 PM
its time to discard pride and merge with Sag Harbor. Thats in the best interest of the kids. These small school districts so close to each other just do not work. The tax cap was created to force them to merge
By GALAXIE (43), SAG HARBOR on Mar 15, 16 7:50 PM
1 member liked this comment
The Hampton Classic, Horse Show, Bridgehampton