Thanks to careful spending in the current year and more state aid than expected, Shelter Island will stay within the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap for the 2014-15 school year while adding staff and programs and expanding some student services.
It won’t be official until a Board of Education vote on April 23, but it’s expected that voters on May 20 will be looking at a $10.45 million budget request, representing additional spending of $425,064 or 4.23 percent more than is currently being spent. The tax levy would fall at 1.7 percent.
In crafting the budget, the administration, board and staff aimed to not only stay within the tax cap, but to preserve existing programs; expand educational opportunities in and out of the classroom; maximize staff productivity; and demonstrate recognition of fiscal realities for many Shelter Island residents, Superintendent Michael Hynes said.
New course offerings for the next school year include and Intel science III research class; honors courses in math, science, social studies and English for seventh and eighth graders; introductory and global literature honors courses; topics in algebra; and applied mathematics and physics. Plans also call for advanced placement courses in physics and world history courses, an honors course in global history and geography and the launching of a three-year sequential technical program, including plumbing, electrical, carpentry and drafting skills. An apprenticeship program is planned for participating students in the third year.
Elementary school students will get one period a week of Greek for half the year, then switch to Latin.
The budget also allows for a three-day a week English as a second language teacher to accommodate the increasing Latino population on the Island. And the social worker, Jennifer Olsen, who has been working the equivalent of three days a week will have an extra half day added to her schedule. She has been working shortened days so she is on campus for some part of every school day and that will continue in the upcoming school year.
A pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds is in development, working with the existing Shelter Island Preschool that takes younger children as well as the 4-year-olds. And what was a kindergarten-first grade class this year will be split because of the projected class sizes.
The school district is increasingly reaching out to the wider community on Shelter Island and beyond. Partners in the next school year — some existing and others new to the collaboration — will be Mashomack Preserve, Sylvester Manor, the Shelter Island Historical Society, the Shelter Island Public Library, the Shelter Island Educational Foundation, Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Southampton, Southold and Shoreham-Wading River school districts and the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
A new dean of students/director of physical education will be hired, coordinating physical education and sports programs; taking over responsibilities for attendance that previously fell to school nurse Mary Kanarvogel; coordinating transportation needs; handling some components of human resources; and dealing with student discipline, including implementation of the Dignity For All Students Act. That program requires special certification through extensive course work, Dr. Hynes said.
While the superintendent had outlined an ambitious field trip policy for all students, fiscal realities require that it be rolled out more slowly. The first step will be the addition of a sixth grade trip to the Frost Valley YMCA for a team building day. Dr. Hynes also wants to reinstitute girls and boys varsity cross country teams; open a school store for supplies; replace a 20-year-old truck and a broken gymnasium scoreboard; and create a debate team. A debate team would correlate well with the school’s enhanced emphasis on verbal and written skills, Dr. Hynes said.
Information is still being gathered on needed building and grounds repairs, including an upgraded heating system; brick repointing and crack repairs; replacement of an acid neutralization tank; an improved fire alarm system and door locks; and replacement of carpeting and floor and some asbestos abatement. More information on those projects will be forthcoming in April and May.
Dr. Hynes is awaiting final proposals from both Johnson Controls, a performance contractor, and McClave Engineering with respect to upgrading the building heating system. McClave had outlined a broad plan, estimating the work could cost about $1.6 million. Some of the money could come from capital reserve funds, while most would have to be bonded. But if Johnson Controls tackles the work, it would do so, guaranteeing that over the life of the contract, the district would save as much or more in energy costs as the cost to do the work. Performance contracts can run for 20 years, but Dr. Hynes said Tuesday night he anticipated a contract with Johnson Controls would run for 10 to 12 years.
Proposals from Johnson Controls and McClave Engineering are expected this month and would be reviewed by the Board of Education in May.
At the same time, voters in May will be looking at a proposition to spend $381,000 in capital reserve funds — these are funds already collected that wouldn’t add to the budget — to tackle the other building improvement work. Just as voters had to agree to create the capital reserve fund, their approval is now needed to spend the money.
Assuming the voters give the go-ahead, Dr. Hynes would then have to gain State Education Department approval for the work, some of which might merit some state aid. For that reason, he plans to bundle all the projects into one SED request with an eye to most work occurring during the summer of 2015.
Voters are likely to face a vote on a building bond in early September for the heating system work, Dr. Hynes said.
It’s possible some carpeting work might be done this summer, the superintendent said. And a little non-disruptive work could be undertaken late next spring, but the majority of the work would be done when classes are out in the summer of 2015. That would require finding an alternative site for summer school, Dr. Hynes said.
While tending to the plans for the upcoming school year, the administration and Board of Education are cognizant of the ongoing need to continue to rein in expenses, board president Stephen Gessner said. While many expenses are mandated and others beyond control such as weather that affects fuel oil needs, one area the locals can target is benefits, Dr. Gessner said. In recent contracts, Shelter Island, like other public employers, has required higher contributions toward health insurance, especially for newer employees. That’s something the board will be looking at in the future, Dr. Gessner said, noting there is no local control over retirement costs.