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Feb 15, 2012 12:24 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Remsenburg-Speonk School Board Hopes To Stay Within State Tax Cap

Feb 15, 2012 12:45 PM

Remsenburg-Speonk Board of Education members took a first look at a proposed 2012-13 budget this week, assuring nearly 20 residents in attendance that they are working toward adopting a spending plan that stays within the limits of the state’s new 2-percent tax levy cap.

“At first blush, we still have a lot of work to do,” said School Board President Kevin Federico, who added that the tax cap complicates the process and could potentially threaten existing programs.

The new tax cap, which took effect in June, limits the growth of a school district’s tax levy—or the amount it collects in taxes each year—at 2 percent per year or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Last year, School Board members adopted a $12.2 million budget that included a 2.8 percent increase in spending. As a result, the district’s tax levy totalled approximately $10.9 million this year, representing a nearly 4.7-percent increase over the previous year. Taxpayers approved the budget last May, 198-179.

“We’d like to stay within the cap,” Remsenburg-Speonk Superintendent Dr. Ronald Masera said during Monday night’s board meeting. “Some of the challenges are with tuition, which makes things difficult.” He declined to share a copy of the draft budget since it is still a work in progress.

This year, in order for a school district to pierce the tax cap, at least 60 percent of taxpayers, or a super-majority, will have to approve a spending plan. But Dr. Masera said on Monday he hopes that board members will not have to ask taxpayers to do that.

A spike in anticipated tuition costs could make that a challenge. Remsenburg-Speonk currently sends 179 middle and high school students to the Westhampton Beach and Eastport South Manor school districts on a tuition basis, but expects that number to rise to 195 in September. As a result, the district expects to spend up to $600,000 more in tuition fees next school year. This year, it expects to spend $4.1 million in tuition fees.

An estimated 30 sixth-graders will head to either Westhampton Beach Middle School or Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School in September, and it is anticipated that either 13 or 14 will require special education services, resulting in an added expense.

Noting that this year’s budget planning process will be tough, Dr. Masera said: “The increase in the number of students we will be paying tuition on is an issue for us and it results in a pretty sizable increase that we will have to make up for elsewhere.”

“As we work through it, we might have to make some very tough decisions, but we are hopeful that they are not drastic ones,” Mr. Federico said.

The Remsenburg-Speonk School District will benefit from pension and retirement exemptions, according to Dr. Masera, though he declined to offer specific figures. As a result of an expected decrease in enrollment at the elementary school, the district will have one fewer class section next year. Currently, 188 students are enrolled at the school. One teacher will retire at the end of the school year, resulting in the elimination of that position by attrition. It is not yet known if any programs or jobs will be threatened as officials look to trim the budget.

The parents of middle and high school age students have the option of sending their children to the Westhampton Beach or Eastport South Manor school district. According to Dr. Masera, Westhampton Beach currently charges about $19,000 per student in annual tuition while ESM charges approximately $9,000 per student.

“They are two excellent choices and we feel very confident that wherever they choose, they will get a great education,” said Dr. Masera, who prepared an analysis for parents to help them make an informed decision when choosing a district.

He said he has examined the passing and mastery rates on Regents exams, as well as Advanced Placement results and athletic and extracurricular programs. A higher number of ESM students are passing and mastering the Regents exams; still, Dr. Masera said that both districts performed very well overall. Remsenburg-Speonk’s sixth-graders will have an opportunity to tour both school districts next week during February break.

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