School budget calls for $12.1 million in spending

Although changes will no doubt be made in the draft budget released by Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., the current draft calls for a 1.76% increase in spending for the 2020-21 school year and stays within the state-imposed tax cap.

Current spending based on what has been paid to date and what is encumbered for the remainder of this school year is at $10.7 million and would rise to $12.1 million next year if no cuts or additions are made. But the Board of Education hasn’t begun to review the draft with an eye to cutting expenses.

There has been a change in the tax cap resulting from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal that would allot $28,001 more in building aid to the district. The result, if it stands, would decrease the permitted tax cap from 2.36% identified in January to 2.13%.

Another change from last month is a drop in the New York State Teachers Retirement System rate that goes down from 10.25% to 9.53%, saving the district about $36,000 in mandatory contribution expenses.

Finally, the administration made several adjustments to remove items from the budget that won’t be needed in the 2020-21 school year, Mr. Doelger said.

One change the Board of Education wants is to establish a “repair reserve fund.” This would put some money away each year so when a need arises — whether it’s in response to an emergency such as asbestos abatement or a planned project — it won’t be necessary to suddenly raise taxes. Many districts establish such specialty accounts to avoid spikes in taxes that result from a lack of planning for extraordinary expenses. A cap would be set on the total amount that could be set aside, Mr. Doelger said.

In some areas of the budget draft, a seeming major hike in percentages is not as high in actual dollars and cents. An example is a 56.45% increase in occupational education expenses. It had been budgeted for the current year at $27,694 but as of Dec. 31, $42,475 had already been spent or encumbered. Hence, the proposal to spend $43,326 next year is little more than what it cost this year.

The cost for occupational education is based on the number of students enrolled in those programs and the tuition Eastern Suffolk BOCES charges for each course. If Shelter Island wants to continue to provide students with opportunities to take courses, such as culinary arts, mechanics and other specialties that can lead to future employment, it must continue to offer students enrollment in these programs.

Because of the schedule this year, summer school will last two to three days longer than last year and that accounts for an expected 15% hike in costs.

With the need to transport students for course work, sports events and field trips, transportation costs that involve both buses and ferry fares are expected to cost 3.22% more next year.

When voters act on the budget in May, they are expected to be asked to consider three additional propositions:

• The establishment of the repair reserve fund

• The issuance of a short-term bond to upgrade the building’s septic system. The building is currently served by three septic systems and is mandated to update one, but most likely will update all, since the other two are aging and will have to be addressed in the near future, if not now. Instead, the Board of Education wants to address the entire project.

• The expenditure of funds from the 2006 capital reserve fund. The establishment of such funds needs to be approved by voters, but before money can be allocated for specific needs, voters get an opportunity to determine specifically how money is to be spent.

Another major decision voters will face is replacing first-term Board of Education member John Klupka Sr. Mr. Klupka was elected to the Board last May, but he’s moving from the district and rules prohibit him from completing his one-year term once he leaves the Island within a month or two. Anyone interested in running for a school board seat can pick up a package of materials from the school office during regular hours.

At the next budget workshop on March 2, these ballot items will be explained in greater detail.

Future workshops are slated for March 16 for an overview and adjustments to the proposal. The Board of Education hopes to adopt the budget proposal on April 20.

On May 11, a hearing will be held to outline the budget proposal, but once it has been adopted in April, it will be too late to make changes to the proposal that will be put up for a vote in the school gymnasium on May 19 between noon and 9 p.m.