School Supe projects tough year to stay within tax cap

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | School Superintendent Michael Hynes addressed the second budget meeting of the Board of Education Monday night.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | School Superintendent Michael Hynes addressed the second budget meeting of the Board of Education Monday night.

It’s a good news, bad news scenario for Shelter Island, Superintendent Michael Hynes told the Board of Education Monday night at the second budget workshop.

First the good news: Dr. Hynes laid out a budget that would decrease administrative expenses by 7.3 percent, lopping off $77,364 from projected spending by the end of the current fiscal year.

That includes administrative salaries and benefits, Eastern Suffolk BOCES fees, contractual agreements, materials and supplies, travel and conference fees and retirement benefits.

Not so easy will be cutting the educational part of the budget, Dr. Hynes said. He’ll be reviewing that at the next workshop on March 17. It will be particularly difficult if the district offers its own pre-school program (see separate story) the superintendent is proposing and if anticipated state funding for that program isn’t forthcoming.

On the negative side, while Shelter Island appears to be getting an $11,000 boost in state aid based on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget, it actually amounts to a $39,000 cut when you factor in $50,000 Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. delivered to the district for the current year.

“The extra $11,000 is insulting,” Dr. Hynes said. “I am hopeful that the governor reconsiders his proposed state aid numbers.”

Prior to Mr. Cuomo’s election, the traditional wisdom was that a school district budgeted using the governor’s proposal, but knew it was a conservative figure. They could count on state legislators increasing it at some point in the process. Then came the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap, and less money in the state till to allocate.

At the same time, school districts have been faced with unavoidable increases in the costs of fuel oil, employee health insurance premiums, pension increases and contractual agreements that couldn’t be broken.

That has forced Shelter Island, like other districts, to dip into reserve funds to balance budgets without gutting educational programs, Dr. Hynes has said. But as he said at this time last year, that can’t continue forever without leaving the reserve fund empty within a couple of years.

Such a result would mean that a district would have to return to taxpayers for more money in the event of an emergency.
At the initial budget hearing in January, Dr. Hynes told Board of Education members he would be asking them to shave $200,000 from a proposed spending plan to avoid piercing the tax cap. That remains about on target if current aid numbers remain the same.
Dr. Hynes hasn’t yet released all parts of his budget proposal, but has indicated he’s looking at a 3.69 percent increase in spending if the Board of Education doesn’t find areas to cut.