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Story - Education

Mar 24, 2010 9:25 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor schools hoping for more savings from employees

Mar 24, 2010 9:25 AM

The Sag Harbor School Board told another large audience of parents and teachers that it is hoping to find additional cost savings through channels other than cutting programs from its budget in hopes of reducing the nearly 10-percent tax increase that would result from the district’s proposed 2010-11 spending plan.

But board members said they do not have plans to restore any more of the nearly 90 cuts they have made from the original budget in the last two weeks, including reducing the number of fifth and sixth grade classes, laying off a teacher, and eliminating a host of extracurricular clubs and programs.

At the same time, administrators said that the cuts that would be necessary if the budget were to be rejected by district voters, and the district were subsequently put on a state-mandated austerity budget, would be “devastating” to the educational programs of the two schools.

At the School Board’s meeting on Monday night, Business Administrator Janet Verneuille gave residents a look at what the budget, in its current form, would cost taxpayers in Sag Harbor if were it to go into effect. The $30,897,811 budget is a 4-percent increase in spending over the current year’s operating budget. But because of cost overruns in 2008-09 and overestimated revenue streams, the district will need to raise taxes nearly 10 percent to close the gap.

The tax rate for Southampton Town residents would climb from $4.19 to $4.65 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The increase translates to an annual tax hike for the owner of a house valued at $500,000 of approximately $228; for the owner of a house valued at $1 million, the hike would be about $456. East Hampton Town residents would see somewhat lower increases, about $178 per year for a house valued at $500,000, and about $356 for the owner of a $1 million house.

School Board member Ed Haye told the audience at Monday night’s meeting that the board is in the midst of talks that may lead to additional operational cost savings without deeper cuts to the education programs. He would not go into detail about who the negotiations are with, but he said the board is asking its employees to allow the district to make changes that would cut spending. He said the savings the board is hoping for were not related to the ongoing contract dispute with the district’s teachers association.

Several staff members, speaking outside the meeting, said they were not aware of any talks with the board other than the contract negotiations. “They’re not telling us anything—that’s why I came tonight,” said one teacher, who asked not to be named.

Board members, teachers and residents all openly expressed concerns that if the budget is put up for a vote by district residents in May the way it stands, the size of the tax increase might spell defeat.

“When I look at how we build a budget, I don’t think about what will sell to the public,” Mr. Haye said in response to an audience member’s query about the whether the budget would pass muster at the polls. “We look to the administration to present a good education program and tell us how much it will cost. With that said, however, I don’t think this is the right budget to take to the public.”

If the budget were to fail as proposed, the board could make more cuts and then put it up for a re-vote. If it were to fail a second time, the district would be forced to adopt a “contingency” budget. District Superintendant Dr. John Gratto said the spending constraints of a contingency budget would limit them to less than one-half of 1 percent in spending increase, requiring an additional $1.4 million to be cut from the budget. Such additional reductions could probably not be made without severe cuts in educational and sports programs and staff reductions.

“If we had to cut $1.4 million—that would be devastating,” Dr. Gratto said. “It would mean we’d have to look at everything non-essential: sports, guidance counselors, summer school, kindergarten.”

The contingency budget constraints, however, would cut the tax hike substantially, down to about $111 per year for the owner of a $500,000 house in Southampton Town and $61 for a similar house on the East Hampton Town side.

The board must adopt an operating budget by April 20. The school district elections and budget vote will be held on May 18.

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In reserching old articles on Sag Harbor School it looks like the Board of Ed DID create budgets with what would sell to the public. For anyone to say otherwise is really dishonest, based on what one reads when researching past budget processes. Some of the current Board members , based on the reports, always put the bottom line first. They were bailed out by years of overtaxing and surplus they could use to hit their bottom line without cutting programs. I found one account where several years ...more
By hohum123 (91), springs on Mar 27, 10 10:14 PM
Just read through this article again and My question is what do overspent budget lines last year have to do with the tax rate increase this year? The spending increase is effected by what is spent from one year to another. So the increase is 4%, overspneding included. The tax rates go up because of two reasons -- non-tax revenues go down meaning they have to be replaced by property tax revenue, and two -- spending goes up that is paid for by additional tax revenues. If spending is going up by ...more
By hohum123 (91), springs on Mar 28, 10 10:17 PM
ARE THEY CRAZY???? CONTINGENCY YES!! VOTE AGAINST UNFAIR TAX INCREASES FOR SENIORS ON FIXED INCOMES! LAY-OFF, CUT BACK ...JUST LIKE WE ALL HAVE HAD TO DO IN THIS ECONOMY.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Mar 29, 10 6:16 PM
Nellie -- you stop buying heating oil because the price went up? You burning logs now instead? I doubt it.

The price of a good educations has gone up, so do you go to logs?
By hohum123 (91), springs on Mar 31, 10 7:32 PM
YOU CANNOT BE FOR REAL. By the way, it is only 60 degrees in my house.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 3, 10 9:58 PM
hohum123 maybe nellie had to cut back on something else because the school taxes are getting out of hand. Remember the state took away our STAR program. Everyone else that works in the community is not getting raises and they are looking at cuts in their jobs. Just look at the front page of the local papers. The school district needs to cut somewhere before the taxes drive us all out of here. I notice hohum123 that you are from Springs so maybe you don't pay the high taxes that we pay here ...more
By favaunt (24), Sag Harbor on Mar 31, 10 8:47 PM
1 member liked this comment
Too many adiminstrators... too many useless teachers; too few good teachers. How dare they ask for any tax INCREASE...
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Apr 1, 10 1:33 AM
1 member liked this comment