School budget vote this Tuesday needs 60 percent approval to pass

JULIE LANE PHOTO School District Business Manager Tim Laube explained Monday night how an original budget that would have pierced the tax levy cap by 12 percent was reduced during Board of Education workshops to a 5.9 percent increase.
JULIE LANE PHOTO School District Business Manager Tim Laube explained Monday night how an original budget that would have pierced the tax levy cap by 12 percent was reduced during Board of Education workshops to a 5.9 percent increase.

The Shelter Island Board of Education is hoping at least 60 percent of voters Tuesday will approve its proposed $10.96 million budget that calls for a 5.92 percent increase in the tax levy. The budget for expenditures is $24,114 less than what was budgeted for the current school year.

Because the budget pierces the state tax levy cap, that 60 percent figure is what’s needed for the budget to pass.

If voters give the budget thumbs up, they would see an increase of $17.24 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, the district reported. The owner of a house assessed at $850,000, for example, would pay an additional $146.58.

The tax bill could be adjusted slightly up or down as town assessors work out final numbers, school business manager Tim Laube said.

This is the first time since the state imposed a 2 percent tax levy cap in 2011 that the district has gone above, or pierced, the cap.

It avoided doing so in the past by taking money from its fund balance, but after allocating $350,000 to this year’s budget, that fund is largely depleted. To have taken more would have been irresponsible, Mr. Laube said. It would leave the district unable to meet any major emergency spending need without going back to taxpayers for an increased spending plan, he said.

If the budget fails to receive the necessary 60 percent approval, the Board of Education could put the same budget up for a re-vote or make changes and put a new proposal before the voters.

But if it failed a second time, the district would be forced to cut $559,127 from its spending plan and, by state dictate, would have to find those cuts in specific areas — athletics, cafeteria operation, co-curricular activities, the planned prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds, occupational education courses offered by Eastern Suffolk BOCES, field trips, drivers education and/or equipment purchases.

Missing from the revenue line at the moment is a possible grant from Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. Last year, Mr. Thiele announced a $70,000 grant to the district. But when it came to delivery of the money, only $40,000 arrived, Mr. Laube said.

Again, Mr. Thiele is in negotiations with his colleagues, trying to secure $70,000 for Shelter Island, but Mr. Laube said it was unwise to assume the money would be forthcoming at this stage.

Having worked with the Suffolk County Legislature in the past, Mr. Laube said he has “seen legislators fight over $5,000 like two seagulls for a Cheeto.”

Voters understand the increase in building expenses related to long-delayed work, including a $1.6 million bond approved two years ago on which payments start in the next school year, resident Mary Ellen Adipietro said at the May 9 Board of Education meeting. But many have questions about salaries, she added.

Another resident asked about increases to the administration budget, noting that the district is proposing 15.79 percent of its spending be allocated there, while Greenport was spending about 10 percent on administration.

Part of the increase was for Mr. Laube’s full-year salary, he said, explaining that he came on late in the current school year, so his salary had been prorated.

Not all of the administrative budget is for top salaries, board members said. It also includes those who work in the business office, board member Linda Eklund said. Required BOCES costs also are part of the administrative budget, she added.
Board member Elizabeth Melichar also pointed to unfunded state and federal mandates “that have been thrust on us” with no time to prepare. When a mandate is forthcoming, districts don’t get a year or two to adjust, she said. They must respond immediately.

As for the comparison with Greenport, that district shares the costs of a superintendent — David Gamberg — with Southold.

Both districts save money for other positions where personnel is shared.

Through the years she has served on the Board of Education, Ms. Eklund said the district hasn’t reduced programs for students.

Even in the past year the district was able to add new programs, despite fiscal constraints, she said.

Board seats
Two incumbent Board of Education members — Thomas Graffagnino and Mark Kanarvogel — are running unopposed.

Barring an unexpected write-in campaign, Mr. Graffagnino will be starting his fourth term on the Board in July and Mr. Kanarvogel will be starting his ninth year.

Voting takes place in the school gymnasium Tuesday, May 17, between noon and 9 p.m.

Results will be posted on the Reporter website Tuesday night.