Shelter Island School budget still in limbo

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik outlined spending on capital expenses at Monday night’s hearing. The next budget hearing is Monday, March 30, at 7 p.m.
Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik outlined spending on capital expenses at Monday night’s hearing. The next budget hearing is Monday, March 30, at 7 p.m.

It’s back to the drawing board to craft a proposal for Shelter Island School’s capital spending.

Numbers were given to the Board of Education by Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik at Monday night’s school budget hearing, but BOE members raised questions. The result is the superintendent taking more time to ensure all figures are solid enough to submit to voters in May.

What remains clear is that the 2015-16 school budget won’t pierce the state-imposed tax cap. That means a continued tax freeze for local property owners who received reimbursement checks from the state based on last year’s tax bills.

Implemented last year, the tax freeze credit provides reimbursements to those homeowners who experience increases in local property taxes on their primary residences. What amounts to a refund check from the state will apply to residents in school districts where the tax cap is not exceeded and the property owners receive the STAR property tax exemption based on having a total household income of $500,000 or less.

New York State’s Tax Department automatically mails the refund checks to eligible homeowners.

“Nobody paid an increase in school tax this year and the same will happen in the year ahead,” Mr. Skuggevik said.

After reviewing a tentative capital budget that covers plant operations, maintenance, equipment and debt service, the BOE was looking at a figure of $1.3 million.

There’s a decrease in many expenses where increases might have been expected, such as fuel oil and gasoline. But there’s a question whether those savings will be totally realized, since new energy efficient boilers due to be installed are still on hold. District voters green lighted the boilers, but the BOE must wait a go-ahead from the New York State Education Department.

As soon as the new boilers are on line, more savings are expected. But Mr. Skuggevik had to budget with the current year’s numbers in mind in case the district is kept from moving forward as rapidly as it would hope, he said.

There were also questions about state mandates pertaining to plant operations and maintenance. BOE member Linda Eklund questioned if there might be any savings realized there or any unanticipated additional expenses. The district pays for the services for an Eastern Suffolk BOCES expert who reviews plant operations and offers training when needed. Mr. Skuggevik agreed to double check on mandates and report to the BOE.

Accounting for “tax anticipation notes” — money borrowed to cover bills while awaiting receipt of taxes — also came under scrutiny. In the past, such notes were generally handled by banks and now they’re usually issued by bond traders, Mr. Skuggevik said. That results in a different method of budgeting for the cost of the notes, he added.

Director of Physical Education and District Operations Todd Gulluscio introduced the athletics budget, explaining there’s still a question whether Shelter Island will field a junior varsity or varsity softball team next year.

A number of area districts are dropping JV softball and if that trend persists, the Island will have no choice but to go the varsity route, Mr. Skuggevik said.

Mr. Gulluscio projected an increase in student participation in sports, growing from 155 this year to an anticipated 180 next year. The figures are based on students who have said they intend to participate in various sports.

Currently, Mr. Skuggevik said the athletic budget is expected to increase from $115,493 in the current year to $142,358. But again, the superintendent said costs may be less, citing a budget item for chaperones and timekeepers currently at $10,710 but projected to increase to $12,500. He’s hoping to cut that number and others before submitting a final budget proposal.

One part of school operations that always turns up as loss is the school cafeteria.

“We’re never going to see a profit in there,” Mr. Skuggevik said, explaining that schools generally operate cafeterias in the red to ensure that those students who may not get a hot, nutritious meal at home will get one at school.

He’s hoping to cut the amount the district traditionally loses, but that’s an area that needs to be looked at more carefully, he said. At the same time as he’s working to cut the losses, Mr. Skuggevik wants to add a worker for two hours a day. That was a request from the cafeteria staff last year, but had to be scrapped in the final budget.

On Monday, March 30, at 7 p.m. another budget hearing is slated to try to fill in some of the questionable numbers and provide an overview. But as of this week, the BOE expected to schedule another hearing in April prior to its April 22 deadline to accept the budget proposal.

Voters will make the final call at the polls on May 19.