School District looking at unexpected state aid cut

JULIE LANE PHOTO Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik, facing his first budget in that role, responded to a number of queries and agreed to take others back to the staff Monday to see if more cuts could be found.

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik, facing his first budget in that role, responded to a number of queries and agreed to take others back to the staff Monday to see if more cuts could be found.

If the state aid number for the Shelter Island School District’s 2015-16 fiscal year remains firm, it’s not only below what had been anticipated, but $50,428 less than received for the current school year.Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik said he got information showing Shelter Island would receive $538,784 when he had been expecting a $100,000 to $150,000 boost from the $589,222 the district received for the 2014-15 school year.
Mr. Skuggevik told the Board of Education at Wednesday night’s budget hearing he has the firm’s accountants, Cullen & Danowski, looking into the funding and has also reached out to Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. to try to determine what happened to the anticipated hike in state aid.

What he knows is that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal had aid remaining flat, but in a compromise agreement with state legislators, aid was bumped up 6.2 percent statewide. How that would breakdown by district has apparently been made known to district superintendents, but is still not posted on the State Education Department’s website.

If Shelter Island receives another $60,000 to $70,000 Mr. Thiele has requested in a member’s bill, it would help to close the gap, but Board of Education members still have their sights on reducing the tentative $11.269 million budget Mr. Skuggevik constructed.

With the district on spring break this week, the Mr. Skuggevik and the Board began a line by line examination of the numbers Wednesday night raising more questions than could be answered.

Critical information they need from district treasurer Deborah Vecchio and building and grounds supervisor Mike Dunning won’t be available until Monday. And possible cuts in other spending depend on Mr. Skuggevik talking with faculty members Monday.

“This is a work in progress,” said Board Vice President Thomas Graffagnino, sitting in for Dr. Stephen Gessner.

“We’re trying to pare this down,” he said at the outset, noting that it has been “a huge team effort” with administrators, faculty and staff and Board members.

One of the major hits Shelter Island takes is in its transportation budget.

“What we’re paying in transportation is heartbreaking,” Mr. Skuggevik said. “All districts are brutalized by it,” he said. But as Islanders dependent on ferries and buses, it’s particularly expensive whether it means transporting a team to an off-Island practice or game or transporting a single student to another school to receive services that range from special education and occupational education to private schools falling within a 15-mile radius.

Special education expenses are determined by a committee of educators, parents and specialists and Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott had to plug in her best estimates since CSE sessions haven’t yet been held to determine needs. The district also has to be prepared to bear expenses should a student with special needs move to Shelter Island after the budget is completed.

Because the State Education Department is delayed in reviewing requests for building projects, Shelter Island still awaits permission both to replace its faulty heating and ventilation system and to push forward with a performance contract that would save money in energy costs.

There’s hope the projects could get under way this summer or at least start in the fall. If that happens, there could be savings in energy costs. But if it doesn’t, Mr. Skuggevik said he has to budget for the excess costs that the district has been paying since the school’s heating and ventilation system broke down in October 2013.

Former superintendent Michael Hynes estimated that overuse of fuel oil has been at the rate of about 260 gallons a day, he said.

Mr. Skuggevik is also looking at a way to cut back on the use of its accounting firm that has been rendering extra services since Shelter Island lacks a business manager. He’s looking at the possibility that a business manager might be hired by Shelter Island and another unnamed district with costs being shared.

What can’t be cut are contractual services, including salaries arrived at through negotiations with unions and service companies.

Health insurance premiums and pension costs are also out of the district’s control.

Another frustration for both the superintendent and Board of Education is changing requirements in the budget that on a line-by-line basis can appear to represent major cuts or additions, but are really the result of simply shifting expenses from one code area to another.

Such shifts makes it difficult to compare budgets year to year and line to line.

Costs for Eastern Suffolk BOCES came in for questioning since the district has to pay a membership fee and then buy various services. It’s a target for many school districts.

Mr. Skuggevik compared it to a membership fee people pay to buy from a wholesale club, but he agreed to look at the BOCES services Shelter Island uses to see if any can be cut.

JULIE LANE PHOTO Board of Education member Linda Eklund posed most of the questions about the 2015-16 budget at Wednesday night’s hearing.

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Board of Education member Linda Eklund posed most of the questions about the 2015-16 budget at Wednesday night’s hearing.

Board member Linda Eklund posed a host of questions about various spending, acknowledging that it might appear she was nickle and diming the budget. But even small cuts can add up to substantial savings, she said.

The Board will continue its budget review Monday night at 7 p.m. and, if needed, hold another session on Wednesday, April 15.

The Board needs to solidify a budget proposal on April 22 to submit to voters on May 19.

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