Plan for the worst, hope for the best is the approach the Shelter Island Board of Education is taking toward budgeting for the 2018-19 school year, according to district Business Leader Idowu Ogundipe.
At the same time, Superintendent Christine Finn said at Monday night’s meeting she expects the district will end up “definitely holding the line” on spending next year.
“It’s a constant work in progress,” Board President Thomas Graffagnino said about the process of arriving at a proposal that will be put to voters in May. But every effort will be made to stay within the state-imposed tax cap, which is still not known, according to Mr. Ogundipe.
Two years ago, the district pierced the cap and needed approval of the budget by a 60 percent margin of residents. It got that approval by only two votes.
If the Board stays within the cap, it takes a 50 percent plus one vote margin to pass the spending plan for next year.
The third part of the budget, education, was on the agenda Monday night, covering mainstream and special education and athletics.
Many of those costs are contractual and special education expenses are mandated based on students’ individual needs. That’s a part of the budget that can send costs rising, especially in a small district. It takes one student with major needs to raise a budget considerably. It’s why Academic Administrator Jennifer Rylott is looking ahead to project as accurately as possible what those needs might be.
In September, when the district typically enrolls one additional special education preschool student, Ms. Rylott is anticipating four. At the same time, she noted that if a student needs services the local district can’t provide, she doesn’t always know at the outset what the costs will be for tuition and services in another district.
Bills for such services can come in at any point during the year and Shelter Island would have no choice but to pay them, Ms. Rylott said.
She is looking at a budget for the next school year of $1.13 million for special education services, up 6.8 percent from the current budget of $1.05 million.
MAINSTREAM EDUCATIONAL BUDGET
Looking at the mainstream education budget, many costs are contractual, including staff salaries and benefits.
If all projected expenses were approved — an unlikely scenario for a Board of Education looking to keep spending in check — the total would go from $8.7 million to $9.3 million next year in that category.
What traditionally hits the Island’s budget hard is transportation, with ferry fees to take students off-Island to attend private schools or participate in occupational education, special education, field trips, athletic events and a host of other activities.
Expenses related to teachers, aides and substitutes are currently projected to rise next year from $4.5 million this year to $4.7 million. Benefits are projected to increase from $1.8 million this year to $2 million next year. The highest increases are reflected in expected costs for medical waivers — money paid to those who don’t take coverage through the district — and payments to the Teachers’ Retirement System.
The cost to cover medical waivers is expected to grow from $109,554 to $136,061, a 24.2 percent increase, and payment for the Teachers’ Retirement is anticipated to go from $417,085 to $508,869, representing a 22 percent hike.
There are non-personnel expenses for such items as equipment, materials and supplies, transportation, travel and conferences, tuition to other districts and Eastern Suffolk BOCES costs.
Educational support services that include guidance, social work, psychology, library and computer needs and health services could rise from $711,893 to $755,394.
Director of Athletics, Physical Education and Health Todd Gulluscio presented a budget projecting a hike from $153,050 to $163,816.
“We’ve been knocking it out of the park,” Mr. Gulluscio said, noting that participation in sports is showing an increase, while athletes continue to show positive numbers in their scholarship abilities, sportsmanship, citizenship and championships.
He’s speaking with Pearson in Sag Harbor about the possibility of a combined Pearson-Shelter Island team in some sports, saying that while the district would pay its share to support those programs, parents would have to take responsibility for transportation.
Mr. Gulluscio also plans to provide in-house training for coaches and team chaperones. That will cut costs for that budget line from $1,300 to $1,000 in travel and conferences.
What concerned board members initially was whether Mr. Gulluscio was cutting costs too much so that budgets would have to rise dramatically in the future.
“I don’t like spiking budgets,” Mr. Gulluscio said, assuring the board that he is looking three years ahead in his planning.
The next budget session, at which facilities spending will be on the agenda, is set for Monday, February 12, at 6 p.m.
Following that session, the Board of Education will begin a line-by-line review of the draft budget.