Education

Board of Ed slashes $218,500 from budget

The Shelter Island School District has a budget proposal for 2019-20 of $11.9 million, compared with the current budget of $11.7 million.

The proposal approved by the Board of Education (BOE) Monday doesn’t go above the state-mandated tax cap. To keep within the state’s limit, the budget takes $745,409 from the district’s fund balance, less than the $770,000 that came from the fund balance to bring the current year’s budget into line.

What this means for taxes hasn’t been released, but in March, when the BOE was looking at a possible $12.2 million budget, it was estimated that the owner of a $500,000 property would see an increase of $35.70 or 2.4 percent. With budget cuts unanimously approved Monday night, taxpayers are likely to see a slight reduction in that estimate.

Superintendent Christine Finn worked with District Business Leader Linda Haas to identify cuts totalling $218,500 in items that would not affect programs or personnel.

Among the cuts were two salary adjustments totalling $69,000, representing anticipated hiring of staff members to replace two who are retiring — school psychologist James Dibble and art teacher Stephanie Sareyani. Both were at the top of the salary schedule.

Ms. Haas also learned this week that state aid would total $637,215, about $1,000 more than had been expected.

Remaining in the budget are expenses the district anticipates will ultimately be covered by grant money. But even if the grants from the state come through, the district must first spend the money and await reimbursement. These include replacement of some school lockers and window “films” that are part of a safety program. The window films would slow the ability of anyone trying to access the building by breaking a window

Board President Thomas Graffagnino explained that by law, districts are supposed to keep their fund balances — money not allocated, but available in the event of unanticipated expenses — at 4 percent of the overall budget. But for a small district like Shelter Island, to hold reserves at that level could easily result in a crisis with a single unanticipated expense, such as a student with special needs moving into the district.

Accordingly, Shelter Island tends to maintain a fund balance of between 8 and 10 percent. That results in auditors issuing notices to the district of the failure to keep within the 4 percent limit.

The BOE agreed with member Linda Eklund’s suggestion that the district begin five-year planning.

A few years ago, former district Business Leader Tim Laube constructed a five-year plan, but the district abandoned it because it included recommendations to go beyond the mandated tax cap by a small amount each year. It was based on the idea that you could pierce the tax cap by a small amount each year or by a large amount every five years.