School budget expected to stay under state cap

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Auditors Ted Campbell (left) and David Tellier from  the Melville Accounitng firm Nawrocki Smith have given the Shelter Island School District a clean bill of health.
Auditors Ted Campbell (left) and David Tellier from the Melville accounting firm Nawrocki Smith have given the Shelter Island School District a clean bill of health.

Superintendent of Schools Michael Hynes doesn’t anticipate going above the state-mandated 2 percent cap for the school budget for 2014-15.

The rise will be set at 1.46 percent. Staying below the cap is the result of a lowered Consumer Price Index, the federal calculation of inflation on the economy.

Dr. Hynes hasn’t yet laid out the budget proposal for 2014-15, but warned the Board of Education at its meeting January 23 that it would be challenged to shave $200,000 in proposed spending from the draft. At the same time, he noted that both the Town of Shelter Island and the public library were forced to pierce the state cap to arrive at their budgets for the year and said it’s likely the school district would be looking at the possibility of doing the same when it crafts its 2015-16 budget.

While the State Legislature usually restores some funding for education to the governor’s proposed budget, as it sits now, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal would see the district lose about $39,000 in aid that it received for the current school year. That number includes $50,000 Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. secured for the district late in the budgeting process last year.

State aid is currently projected to decrease, with many expenses expected to rise, Dr. Hynes said. He pointed to the East End Health Plan covering district employees, which increased 10 percent this year and is expected to go up 11 percent in 2015. Teachers and employee retirement system contributions also continue to rise.

Meanwhile, the district has been able to reduce spending on transportation by 39 percent; BOCES expenditures by 33 percent; and cafeteria services by 28 percent.

Salaries have increased 7.5 percent over a four-year period while the cost of benefits has escalated by 46.3 percent, Dr. Hynes reported. That’s not because employees have received new benefits, noted District Business Manager Kathleen Minder, but because the cost of the benefits they currently receive, even when offset by their contributions, have increased dramatically.

At subsequent budget sessions, Dr. Hynes will outline projected spending in the three key areas that comprise the budget — administration, educational programs and capital expenses and facilities. Currently budget sessions are slated for February 10, March 17, March 24, April 1 and April 23, when the Board of Education will be adopting the proposal it will submit to voters on May 20.

While the district is currently undergoing an audit by the State Controller’s staff — something all districts are subject to from time to time — it got a clean bill of health from its external auditing firm, Nawrocki Smith of Melville.

Auditors David Tellier and Ted Campbell told the board there are no material weaknesses while outlining a few areas where the district could improve its financial records. They suggested cleaning up the vendor database to eliminate duplications. The district has also implemented a standardized budget transfer form as suggested by the auditors. Work is under way to integrate compensated absences into the payroll system and stream line purchase order dates so they aren’t coming in after invoice dates.

A major undertaking, according to Ms. Minder, will be compiling the district’s various policies and procedures dealing with finances into a single manual. And the district also has work to do in creating a disaster recovery plan for school records it’s required to keep.

Of 16 issues raised by the district’s previous auditors last year, Mr. Tellier said 10 heave been implemented and the others were in process