After close to two hours of checking numbers and posing questions Monday night, Shelter Island Board of Education members managed to slice only a tiny bit — just a few thousand dollars — from an $11.08 million proposed budget for the 2016-17 school year.
But Board President Thomas Graffagnino predicted that what had started out weeks ago as a 12.5 percent tax levy increase would likely be substantially reduced by the end of next Monday’s budget workshop.
The 12.5 percent increase was based on a “wish list” of requests prior to review by the administration and the Board of Education, Business Manager Tim Laube said.
By last week, the board was looking at a possible 8 percent tax levy increase with Mr. Graffagnino predicting it could end up at less than 7 percent.
Still, the district will be asking voters to pierce the state-imposed 0.12 percent tax levy cap. A super majority of 60 percent of voters is required to do so.
Information released by the New York State Education Department shows Shelter Island receiving $583,028 in state aid, including $4,884 in “Gap Elimination Adjustment Restoration” or money added back to the aid package to recover funds retained by the state since 2009-10 to help fill state revenue shortfalls.
If the state aid listed remains in the school district budget, it would represent a 7.3 percent increase over last year, but Mr. Laube said the aid number is “disingenuous.”
Some of the aid is tied to specific projects, he said, and if those projects aren’t carried out, that aid won’t be forthcoming.
Of the $580,486 state aid anticipated at this time last year for the current budget, the district expects to receive about $543,000. That’s because there were items — for example, textbooks — where the district spent less than was earmarked.
While the state has allocated to Shelter Island $583,028 for 2016-17, about $40,000 less is what the state calls expense-driven aid — money allocated for specific line items. If the district spends less on those items, it will be reimbursed on what it spends, not what the state originally allocated.
“It’s actually a bad budget model by the state,” Mr. Laube said, explaining that it encourages more spending than might be necessary.
As for the few thousand dollars in cuts the board endorsed Monday night, they are primarily connected to attending the New York State School Boards Association an annual conference, which usually holds the event in New York City. But in the year ahead, the conference is set for Buffalo and costs of attending would be higher.
While the board agreed the conference is worthwhile, and especially important for new members, the cost exceeded the value.
Much of the information is available online.
Questions about allocations for field trips caused some confusion for board members, unsure what trips were covered by the budget line and what might be outstanding that could be approved.
In advance of next Monday’s meeting, board members have asked for a list of field trips; courses to be offered in the 2016-17 school year; and more detailed information on what costs for membership and services in Eastern Suffolk BOCES entail.
“I hate to say that we’re micromanaging” spending, Board Vice President Linda Eklund said. “It’s very hard to do a budget if we don’t know what we’re being asked to approve,” she added. “We need to be more informed partners in this process.”