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Jun 13, 2012 10:04 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Tuckahoe School Prepares For Another Vote On Tuesday

Jun 13, 2012 11:09 AM

Tuckahoe School District officials said they trimmed away all the fat from what was already a lean budget for the 2012-13 school year, hoping voters will approve it on a second try on Tuesday, June 19.

Nearly a week after the failure of their first proposed spending plan last month, the Tuckahoe School Board adopted an amended $17.7 million budget, reflecting only a 0.99-percent, or approximately $157,000, tax levy increase over 2011-12, from about $15.82 million to about $15.97 million.

Spending in the adopted budget is nearly $593,000 more than this year’s $17 million budget, but about $150,000 less than in the failed spending plan.

According to district officials, the budget and tax levy increases this year are the lowest in the last 10 years in the district because of the New York State-mandated 2-percent tax levy cap, and increasing pressure to save taxpayer money in light of decreasing property tax assessments within the district.

A resident whose home is assessed at the average district value of $685,800 for 2011-2012 paid about $4,530 in school taxes this year. The tax rate was $6.60 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Although the tax rate for next year could still change, district officials said the estimated tax rate for next year is $7.22 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. A resident’s home assessed at the estimated average district value of $653,703 for 2012-2013 could expect to pay $4,723 in school taxes next year—a $193 increase. The impact on individual tax bills could be more or less, depending on how much a specific home’s assessment changed.

There has been much confusion among Tuckahoe residents about the role the district has played in affecting the tax rate. District officials have stressed in recent weeks that they have no control over where the Town of Southampton sets the total assessed value for Tuckahoe, and that their part of the equation is well below the tax cap.

According to Tuckahoe School Business Official Keri Loughlin, officials made tough choices to get to the amended budget by cutting a full-time position in the business office and a business position shared with Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services. The district instead will hire two part-time business employees at a cost savings of about $45,000. Other cuts were made in maintenance, equipment and general supplies budget lines and transportation, as well as ending a contract with BOCES for its recruitment program, all adding to an approximate $103,000 in savings.

School Superintendent Chris Dyer said that no instructional costs were cut in an effort to continue providing an educationally sound program to students. Officials said they are keeping average class sizes at 21 students per class, maintaining the art, music and technology programs, and implementing a full day prekindergarten program with transportation.

“It’s a real educational challenge,” he said. “If we don’t provide that educational environment for our children, we will not be making productive citizens.”

School Board President Robert Grisnik said that the amended budget is largely influenced by a $500,000 increase in special education costs, contractual increases, and tuition and secondary school costs, which will account for approximately $4.4 million—costs which are “out of our hands,” Mr. Grisnik said.

Now, facing a revote on Tuesday, June 19, the district held its last budget hearing this week as part of its second attempt at passing its budget.

Some members of the public questioned the validity of including a full-day prekindergarten program in the budget. Mr. Dyer said the district would like to keep the full-day pre-K program, citing a study he took part in over the last decade that concluded that a full-day pre-K program increased student performance levels, especially students whose first language was not English. Officials said making the investment now will save money in the future as less English as a Second Language and remedial help would be needed if help is offered at a younger age.

The School Board will once again ask voters to approve a $465,000 capital expenditure on Tuesday to replace deteriorated steam pipes in the school. Proposition 2 also failed last month, but a lever on one of the polling machines—the one recording “yes” votes for proposition—was not working properly. The malfunction might have contributed to the proposition’s failure. The proposition does not have a financial impact on taxpayers, since funds have been set aside since 2007.

If the budget fails again on Tuesday, the district would have no choice but to adopt a contingency budget, which would not allow for an increase in the tax levy for the 2012-13 school year. District officials said to adopt the contingency budget, they would have to cut another $157,258 in spending.

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