Education

Reserve funding tightening for Shelter Island School budgets

The appropriated fund balance is that money left from previous years by managing to under-spend the planned budget.

For the current school year, the district applied $746,008 from the fund balance to cover its spending, with the rest coming from $10.6 million in property taxes and $637,216 in state aid.

For the 2020-21 school year, the draft calls for using $713,978 from its fund balance to add to $10.8 million it expects to collect in property taxes, and $657,085 in state aid.

“It becomes harder and harder each year to under-spend the budget” in order to replenish the fund balance, Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., said at a Monday night budget workshop.

Despite efforts by many East End state legislators to change the state’s aid formula, which they’ve described as unfair, nothing has changed to indicate there’s more state aid coming any time soon.

The only other place to get money is from the taxpayers, the superintendent said.

To create financial stability, the district needs to institute a multi-year gradual reduction to its fund balance, necessitating less money taken to offset what taxpayers have to pay.

The numbers for next year are all still subject to change. While the state aid has been announced, it’s not expected to be finalized until Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators resolve their differences and adopt a budget, expected on or about April 1.

The district is currently funded by an $11.9 million budget and looking at $12.15 million for next year. That could change as administrators and Board of Education members continue to hunt for cuts they can make without affecting educational programs.

When voters go the polls on May 19, they will be asked to act on two other propositions:

• Giving the district permission to establish a repair reserve fund so money is gradually put aside that would, through the years, not exceed $3.5 million, to be used for unanticipated but needed repairs. Many districts have such special funds for expenses such as building repairs, bus purchases and other large expenses to avoid sudden spikes in their budgets.

In the case of capital reserve funds, before money could be spent, it would have to be approved by voters. In the case of the proposed repair reserve, that would be used for building restoration where there has been decay, deterioration, weather-related damage or for broken, torn or inoperable items vital to the district. That money could be spent with a Board of Education vote, but would come only after a public hearing.

• The second proposition involves expenditures from the 2006 capital reserve fund and requires voter approval. That fund currently has $161,000 remaining and district officials would like to expend the entire amount to purchase new storage cabinets for the high school science lab. If the proposition passes, the aim would be to get the work done during the summer.

There will also be an election for three Board of Education seats. Incumbent Tracey McCarthy plans to run for a second three-year term. Incumbent Linda Eklund has said she has not made a decision yet. She was first elected to the Board in 2008.

John Klupka Sr., who was elected last May to fill the single year remaining in the term of Elizabeth Melichar, has left the Board of Education because he is moving off-Island and Board of Education members are required to live here.

That means winners of the three seats would get full, three-year terms.

Those interested in running for Board seats can pick up a package of materials at the school office as of March 19 and petitions are due back by 5 p.m. on April 20.

As for the septic system expenses, the Board is still examining information and doesn’t expect to put a proposition before the voters on spending until some time in the fall.

The work would be funded through a bond or bond anticipation note. It’s too soon to speculate the cost of that project, but the district is mandated by the Suffolk Country Department of Health Services to replace one of its three septic systems. Board members have indicated they plan a project that will cover all three since the other two are also aged and would need replacements in the future.

The Board will continue to work on the budget at a workshop on March 16 and formally adopt a budget proposal on April 20. After that, there will be a budget hearing on May 11, but by then it would be too late to change the budget that will be put before voters on May 19.