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Mar 7, 2012 11:20 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Superintendent Warns School Board That It Will Have To Make Cuts

Mar 7, 2012 12:39 PM

Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Michael Radday is warning Board of Education members that they will have to trim at least $1.5 million from next year’s budget—assuming that they simply roll over the current year’s $50.4 million spending plan—unless they plan on piercing the state’s new tax cap.

For the second consecutive week, Mr. Radday reminded School Board members on Monday night that simply maintaining the status quo would force them to go over the 2 percent cap. Board members are now crunching the numbers for the 2012-13 budget.

“If we were to do nothing and roll over our current budget, we would be looking at a $1,964,000 increase, a 3.9 percent budget-to-budget increase,” Mr. Radday told board members during their inaugural budget meeting last week.

He added at the time that, in order to stay under the cap, the board would have to limit next year’s budget increase to approximately $445,000, or less than 1 percent.

Mr. Radday and School Board member Beecher Halsey also explained that, in order to stay under the cap, they must adopt a spending plan that limits next year’s tax levy increase to 1.74 percent. The tax levy is the amount of money that a district must raise through property taxes each year. Due to various state-approved exemptions, school districts could have tax levy increases that fall either above or below the 2 percent threshold and still have spending plans that meet the new state requirement.

Mr. Radday repeated his same warning during Monday night’s meeting, the second hearing on the proposed 2012-13 school budget. School officials have not yet released any concrete figures regarding next year’s spending plan.

“We have a lot of tough decisions that we will have to make over the next several board meetings,” Mr. Radday said. “We’ll have to decide whether or not it makes sense for our community to try to live within that tax levy limit or opt for the supermajority and exceed that cap.”

School Board members said this week that it was too early in the process to say if they will have to pierce the cap to get a workable budget. Board President Jim Hulme said on Tuesday that the board is currently looking at what programs might have to be trimmed.

“I expect the impact could be significant, however, we should understand that soon,” Mr. Hulme said. “We have worked hard over time to create a wonderful educational program in our school district and I, for one, do not want it to be dismantled,” he added.

If they ultimately opt to pierce the cap, at least 60 percent of taxpayers will have to sign off on the spending plan for it to pass as part of the new supermajority clause. Last May, nearly 65.2 percent of voters approved the current $50.4 million spending plan; the budget passed 436-233.

If they decide to pierce the cap and their budget is ultimately 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.

Mr. Hulme noted that, in previous years, the board has pieced together balanced budgets that have earned the support of the community, and he thinks that will be the case again if the members decide they must pierce the cap. He added that their commitment to education has allowed Westhampton Beach to be one of the top-performing schools in the county and state.

“If that leads us to a budget that exceeds the cap, I believe the residents of our community will continue to support this form of excellence,” Mr. Hulme said.

As the budget review process progresses, Mr. Hulme is suggesting that the district prioritize programs and look more closely at its reserve funds and school expenditures. Mr. Radday added that, while working on the budget, school officials will remain focused on their core mission of educating students.

Mr. Halsey said he would like the board to consider three scenarios, including one that exceeds the cap and one that comes in under it. The third scenario, he continued, would involve calculating the fallout from being forced to pass a spending plan with a zero-percent tax levy increase—a scenario that could happen if the board tries to pierce the cap and fails to get enough public support.

“We have a pretty good feeling of the damage that would be done,” Mr. Halsey said, referring to the scenario in which the board adopts a plan that meets the cap limit.

Over the past two budget meetings, six school administrators have presented their 2012-13 budget requests to the school board. Though he is looking for slightly less money next year—a 0.22 percent drop—Westhampton Beach High School Principal Chris Herr said that any cuts to his programming “would be a major hit to programs.” He did not provide actual numbers, only percentages, while addressing the board.

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It's only money. What do you want to bet they will vote to pierce the tax cap? To bad they can't return the turf- but then again it only cost about $2.5 mil.
By realistic (465), westhampton on Mar 8, 12 7:00 PM
The Hampton Classic, Horse Show, Bridgehampton