Shelter Island Reporter Editorial: A promising beginning

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It’s still early in the process, but in less than two months, the Shelter Island  Board of Education will be adopting a budget proposal for the 2019-20 school year.

At that point, voters will have about a month more to contemplate how they will vote on that proposal in May. But it will be too late to change the proposal.

What’s been revealed so far is a wish list submitted by administrators, teachers and staff members, coupled with contractual obligations. This year, as in all years, those contractual obligations — salaries, benefits, bond payments, special education costs, equipment leases and, of course, unfunded state and federal mandates — account for at least 85 percent of all spending.

That means the most conservative fiscal watchdogs have only about 15 percent of overall spending on which they can make changes.

The board takes seriously the 15 percent it can control, reviewing each line to determine if there are ways to achieve their aims by less expensive means.

Members listen and take to heart public comments and suggestions. They’re open to making reasonable changes. What we have observed through the years is that board members exercise great responsibility in recommending how to spend taxpayer money.

They look for grant funding and say no to some requests they would like to include, but recognize taxpayers can’t afford.

Based on what has been released so far, it will be another challenging year to stay within the state-imposed tax cap, but the board has managed to do so every year but one since the cap was introduced. That’s better than many school districts and municipalities and there’s currently no reason to expect the cap will be pierced with the 2019-20 budget plan.

But the vote to allow piercing of the cap traditionally has to be taken well before the board knows for sure whether it will be necessary. Therefore, a vote to allow the district to go beyond the cap shouldn’t be viewed as an indication that the board plans a budget that would exceed state mandates.

Now is the time with budget workshops scheduled on March 4 and 11 — and possibly March 25 if needed — to let the board hear any ideas for cutting spending. If you missed previous workshops, they are available on the town website along with the upcoming schedule of future meetings.

This is the time when your views can affect the final budget proposal. Don’t wait until it’s too late and then complain. Stay informed about how your money will be spent.

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