School budget finish line in sight

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | School Superintendent Michael Hynes has been crunching numbers in preparation for Monday night's Board of Education budget meeting.

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | School Superintendent Michael Hynes outlined spending plans at Monday night’s Board of Education budget meeting.

Shelter Island is closing in on a final proposal for its 2014-15 school budget.

A fourth Board of Education workshop wrapped up Monday night with Superintendent Michael Hynes outlining spending plans related to the capital budget, including plant operations and maintenance, athletics and cafeteria spending.

But board members will have until April 23 to weigh in with questions and changes before they’re slated to vote that night on the proposal they will put before voters May 20.

The district is still looking at a $10.45 million budget for the next school year, representing $400,000 in additional spending. A large chunk of the additional spending represents hikes in allocations for health care insurance, fuel oil, pension obligations and contractual increases, meaning there’s not a lot theBOE could cut without slashing money from existing programs and services.

Pending a decision on how to address the district’s need for a new heating system, there’s the ongoing need to pay overtime for employees forced to put in extra hours to keep the aging faulty system functioning. And until the old system is replaced, there are ongoing increases in the amount of fuel oil being burned.

It’s possible that voters will be facing a proposition on the May ballot to float a bond to pay for installation of a new heating system. That is unless the district enters into a performance contract with a company  guaranteeing savings resulting from the work done would equal or surpass the amount it would cost for the new system. Such savings would be accrued over the life of the contract, typically 20 years.

No matter which direction the district goes with the project, work wouldn’t start until the summer of 2015.

Perhaps the most dramatic changes in the parts of the budget outlined Monday night would occur in the cafeteria. BOE member Linda Eklund has been working with staff to improve both the menu and the system that has been extremely demanding for two workers to manage. Because of current scheduling, there is no prep time available to get a head start on the next day’s meals, Ms. Eklund said. Under the current practice, the two cafeteria workers are charged with cooking breakfast for some students then immediately turning to preparing lunch that for some students starts as early as 10 a.m.

In place of a cooked from scratch breakfast, Ms. Eklund is recommending nutritious “grab and go” meals that could include fruit and a healthy oatmeal cookie or breakfast bar that would be available to all students without charge. That would free up the two workers to start preparing the lunch meal earlier, leaving them prep time toward the end of their schedules to do some work for the next day’s meals.

Business Manager Kathleen Minder described the cafeteria as “a little business of its own,” but a business that traditionally has to bleed money from the general fund. The projection for the 2014-15 school year is to reduce the blood-letting from $118,421 in the current school year to $88,950 next year.

At the same time, Ms. Eklund is proposing adding a cashier for two hours a day to relieve the two cafeteria employees from that responsibility. The job could go to someone already on staff at the school, Ms. Minder said. Another step is streamlining the payment process and also removing the stigma from students whose meals are subsidized. That could be achieved with the installation of a thumbprint system that would be geared to smooth the payment process, account for varying costs to students and make it impossible to know which students were receiving subsidized meals.

Ms. Eklund is also recommending a salad bar be available for lunch and she will help to guide development of more “kid-friendly” meals.

The district anticipates retaining the same athletic offerings it has in the current school year, although that could change based on student interest, Dr. Hynes said. He’s projecting a $115,293 expenditure, up from $111,710 in the current budget.

Dr. Hynes outlined a budget for plant operations that would cost $539,340 up from a budgeted $467,750 in the current school year. But the hike is actually only $31,516 over current spending, largely the result of overtime payment that has resulted because of the breakdown in the building heating system.

Plant maintenance expenses are projected to go down slightly from a budgeted figure of $179,352 this year to $179,174 in 2014-15. But actual spending this year on plant maintenance is projected to come in at $237,110, much of which results from contractual expenses and salaries that were higher in the current school year.

Mike Dunning, who oversees the plant and maintenance function, said he needs to spend just under $23,000 for a new truck to replace one that is at the end of its useful life. He also wants to replace a scoreboard that has been repaired in the past, but for which parts are becoming obsolete. Those items will push the equipment budget from $21,000 to $46,084.

Among other capital expenses are payments on principal and interest for bonds on school renovations that will total $162,530, up slightly from $161,289 in the current school year, and similar payments on the bond issued for a new generator, required so the building can function as a town emergency shelter. That number will go from $59,655 to $60,114.

Because taxes and state and federal aid money doesn’t reach the district in a timely way to meet expenditures, Shelter Island, like all school districts, must float tax anticipation notes that will cost $$6,500 as compared with $6,000 this year.

Tuesday night, Dr. Hynes will offer a budget overview and projected time lines for a possible bond and capital expenditures.

That meeting is in the boardroom at 6:30 p.m. On April 23 at a 6:30 p.m. meeting, the board will formally adopt the budget proposal it will submit to voters on May 20 when the polls will be open between noon and 9 p.m.