Salary concessions from its teachers union will not be enough to prevent the Remsenburg-Speonk School District from piercing the state’s new tax levy cap if it wishes to maintain current programming, School Superintendent Dr. Ronald Masera announced at an emergency community forum held at the elementary school on Monday evening.
At the standing-room-only meeting, which attracted about 140 people and lasted approximately two hours, Dr. Masera announced that the current version of the district’s proposed $12.5 million 2012-13 budget comes with a 6.85-percent increase on the tax levy—shattering the 2 percent cap that the state is implementing for the first time this year. The proposed plan, which would increase overall spending by $343,379, or approximately 2.8 percent over the current year’s $12.2 million budget, comes with a tax levy of $11.7 million, up from just under $11 million this year, according to district officials.
Therefore, if Board of Education members opt to adopt the $12.5 million budget, at least 60 percent of district taxpayers, or a supermajority based on the state’s new standards, would have to sign off on the spending plan on May 15. Last year, voters in Remsenburg and Speonk narrowly approved the school budget by a vote of 198-179; such a vote next month will equal a failed budget under the new state rules.
If they opt to pierce the cap and the budget is voted down, board members still have the option of revising their spending plan and holding a second vote. The difference this year is, if that happens and the budget is rejected a second time, school officials must then adopt a spending plan that has a zero-percent increase on the tax levy.
“I think that if the parent base is mobilized, and people go out and grab their friends, and they understand the situation, I think we can get [the supermajority],” said Dr. Masera after Monday’s meeting. “I think we still have work to do. Hopefully, we can get the numbers down a little bit more, but I think that we have a supportive community.”
According to Dr. Masera, the levy would have been much higher if not for salary concessions made by the district’s teachers. The teachers, who had been working without a contract for the past 10 months, finally agreed to a new contract earlier this week that is valid through the 2012-13 school year. As a part of that accord, teachers have agreed to forgo a pay increase for the current and the 2012-13 school years, as well as their contractual steps for next year.
While he does not know how much the concessions will save the district, Dr. Masera thanked the teachers for being amenable. “I have to thank the teachers because that is a big thing to give back,” he said during the meeting, which was followed by a round of applause from audience members.
The superintendent also stressed that the proposed spending plan could still be tweaked prior to its adoption, tentatively set for Monday, April 16.
The current version of the $12.5 million spending plan calls for the elimination of three full-time and one part-time teaching position at the elementary school. The board will not replace one full-time teacher who is retiring at the end of the school year and intend to lay off one special education teacher and a teaching assistant. A part-time speech teacher will also be let go. Dr. Masera also announced that there will be spending cuts in teaching supplies, technology upgrades, textbooks, transportation and non-mandated special education services.
Also at Monday’s meeting, it was announced that the estimated tax rate for next year is expected to increase by about 35 cents, or nearly 7 percent, from $5.01 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to approximately $5.36. Therefore, a taxpayer whose home is assessed at $1 million can expect to pay about $5,360 in school taxes next year, or $350 more than the current year.
Most of those in attendance Monday night said they were in favor of exceeding the tax cap if the current spending allows the district to preserve most of its programming for children. One Remsenburg resident, Christian Killoran, who has three children in the district, said he believes that parents should take a proactive approach in ensuring that the budget passes.
“I am 100 percent for this budget and for piercing the cap in order to preserve everything that was discussed,” Mr. Killoran said during the community input portion of the meeting. “When I look at the budget, I don’t look and see a bunch of itemized expenses. I see itemized investments—investments in our kids. We are not talking about adding an extra wing to the school or a new building—we are talking about preserving the status quo.”