Good news, bad news on educational finances

JULIE LANE PHOTO Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik
Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik

There’s good and bad fiscal news out of a recent legislative breakfast held in the Longwood School District attended by state legislators and school officials, according to School Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik.

On the positive side, he said legislators are predicting a “record” amount of state aid to schools for the 2017-18 year and a revisit to unfunded mandates that have been a source of frustration for local school boards trying to keep their spending in check.

An increase in state aid would be welcome, Mr. Skuggevik said, but noted that the district receives relatively little from the state, so even with an increase it won’t make a major difference in keeping keep taxes down.

As for the revisit to unfunded mandates, the Shelter Island Board of Education members have complained about what it costs to comply with many mandates handed down by the state with no funding to cover the costs of implementation. A review of the mandates could result in some financial relief

On the negative side, that 2 percent tax limit, or “cap” that school districts and municipalities could add to local property taxes is “not going away,” Mr. Skuggevik said.

What started as a limit of 2 percent has shrunk year by year based on a formula that includes previous years’ spending.

In some cased, the result is an inability to raise taxes at all without piercing the cap, and when a school district puts forth a budget that breaks the cap, it needs a vote of 60 percent to pass a budget.

That happened for the first time to the Island’s district last May when only two votes separated the district from failure to pass its  budget.

Mr. Skuggevik has vowed to avoid piercing the cap with the 2017-18 spending plan.

Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott outlined a project to use hydroponics to expand student involvement in year-round gardening at this week’s Board of Education meeting.

The district has had an outdoor garden for a few years now, but its use has been limited by weather. Hydroponics enables year-round growing of plants in “misting towers” that require less water use and no soil. The idea was brought to the school by Stacy Stanzione, wife of school computer technician Jeremy Stanzione.

The tower gardens produce a 30 percent higher yield than conventional gardens, Ms. Rylott said. She also told the board that plans call for adding a botany class to the curriculum in the fall.

In other business, the Board of Education:
• Heard from 8th grade students about their recent trip to Disney World that gave them new experiences and enabled bonding that board member Mark Kanarvogel told them would result in ties that would last throughout their lives.
• Adopted revised policies on sexual harassment of district personnel and rules pertaining to parliamentary procedure and what constitutes a quorum. Both policies are on the district’s website.
• Offered a first reading of a proposed policy pertaining to education of homeless students. That, too, is on the district’s website.
• Accepted contributions of $500 from the Shelter Island Educational Foundation for supplies for the Empty Bowls fundraiser; $293.46 from the foundation for the October 20, 2016, college trip to help cover transportation costs; and $3,500 from an anonymous source to support the band program or other use at the discretion of the superintendent.
• Accepted donation of an office chair valued at $250 from Our Lady of the Isle
• Appointed Patricia Kreppein as sixth grade advisor
• Accepted the resignation of Maria DiOrio as a teacher aide for special education
• Approved five bereavement days; 15 sick days and two personal days to Lisa Goody and compensated her retroactively for five bereavement days, 15 sick days and one personal day
• Approved a childcare leave of absence for English teacher James Bocca to fun from about March 13 through March 24.