School officials in both Westhampton Beach and Remsenburg-Speonk believe they can curb spending during the 2013-14 school year, just one year after escalating health care, salary and tuition costs forced both districts to pierce a new state cap on their tax levies.
While they said it is still too early in the budget process to release solid figures, representatives from both districts recently stated that they will be working to trim finances for the next school year while still maintaining the quality of education, with the goal of coming in under the 2-percent cap—if possible.
“We will see where we stand,” Westhampton Beach Schools Superintendent Michael Radday said last week, regarding the start of the process in which school officials will decide what programs can stay and what ones must be cut. “We certainly don’t want to get rid of any existing programs, but nothing is definite at this point.”
Under the new law, which was put into place last year, school districts that opt to pierce the tax levy cap must secure approval from at least 60 percent of taxpayers in a referendum to ratify a budget. If they fail to reach the mark, and a second budget proposal is also rejected by taxpayers, school officials must adopt a spending plan that does not increase spending by a single penny from the prior year—a situation that would inevitably force cuts across the board in most districts.
When the new tax cap took effect last year, several districts across the state struggled to keep their increases under the 2 percent figure. Three of the 16 East End school districts—Westhampton Beach, Remsenburg-Speonk and Amagansett—opted to pierce the cap. Voters in all three districts ultimately passed the inflated budget plans.
The new law, which also restricts spending by municipalities and public libraries, caps the amount of money that can be generated by new taxes in one fiscal year. Typically, the tax levy cap averages 2 percent, but that number can fluctuate based on state aid and other variables determined by the state.
Last week, Mr. Radday stated that while the task will be difficult because of increases in salaries and retirement contributions, his district is hoping to stay under the cap. He quickly added that the Board of Education could change its stance as it begins delving into the budget process for next year.
According to Mr. Radday, the two biggest challenges facing Westhampton Beach in its quest to stay under the cap are mandated pension increases, which are expected to jump by nearly $900,000 next year, from $3.86 million this year to more than $4.75 million next year, and a nearly $540,000 increase in health insurance premiums, from $4.49 million this year to just over $5 million next year.
Another hurdle will be the anticipated loss of approximately $200,000 in tuition after an exclusivity deal between the Tuckahoe and Southampton districts was reached in December. Even without the incoming Tuckahoe freshmen students, Westhampton Beach will continue to collect tuition from the Remsenburg-Speonk, East Quogue, Quogue and East Moriches districts.
Last spring, Westhampton Beach adopted a $51.8 million budget for the 2012-13 school year, a plan that included a $26.3 million tax levy—one that was 2.89 percent higher than the previous year’s $25.6 million levy.
In order to meet their budgetary goals, Mr. Radday said his district, like most, will evaluate all clubs, courses and activities moving forward. Early next month, the Board of Education will meet with each school principal and the athletic director to discuss both current and proposed programs. While he hopes to be able to maintain all programs, Mr. Radday said it may not be feasible and cuts will have to be considered.
Similarly in Remsenburg-Speonk, Board of Education President Kevin Federico said this week that his district is confident that it is on better financial footing than last year entering budget season, largely because of a projected decline in tuition fees paid to the Westhampton Beach School District. Though he did not have exact figures, Mr. Federico said there are fewer sixth-graders this year compared to last, meaning that his district, which only has an elementary school, won’t have to pay as much in tuition fees to Westhampton Beach next year.
Remsenburg-Speonk now pays approximately $19,000 in tuition for every student that it sends to the Westhampton Beach middle and high schools, and is spending an estimated $3.9 million on tuition fees this year. Remsenburg-Speonk, whose 2012-13 budget totals $12.35 million, currently sends 175 students to Westhampton Beach on a tuition basis, according to Mr. Radday. The district’s tax levy went up more than 2 percent last year, from $10.98 million last year to $11.2 million this year.