Board to put forth $12.38M school budget; Doelger disputes critics’ claims

The Board of Education Monday night unanimously approved a 2021-22 budget totaling $12.38 million with $11.016 million to be raised from taxes if voters endorse the spending plan at the polls on May 18.

To stay within the state-imposed cap, the district had to cut $24,579 in expenditures after learning that despite an increase in state aid over what it received in the current school year, it would not quite close the gap.

Business office personnel worked through the numbers and were able to cut back on planned expenditures for legal fees, fuel oil, chaperones and other student supervision, classroom supplies, special education and athletic competition fees, said Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D.

The district is to receive $668,379 in state aid, up from $655,371 that had been slotted for the next school year based on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget draft. 

What the final budget will mean to taxpayers if voters give approval is:

• An anticipated $41.52 increase for those whose property is assessed at $655,000

• An anticipated $63.42 for those whose property is assessed at $1 million

• An anticipated $95.13 for those whose property is assessed at $1.5 million

That breaks down to a monthly additional cost of $3.46 at the lower end, $6.29 a month at the middle level and $7.93 per month for those at the high end. While $29,113 was used from the district’s unallocated fund balance for the current year, there are no plans to use any reserve funds to cover spending in the year ahead, Mr. Doelger said.

The tax figures haven’t yet been calculated in line with the full town budget, so numbers might vary a little, Mr. Doelger said.

Later in the meeting, the superintendent took to the podium to push back at information contained in a letter to the editor and advertisement in last week’s Reporter that was placed from a group calling itself Committee for Honest School Budgets. Those who created the ad were later identified as Bob Fredericks, Fred Buonocore and Dave Ruby.

“Facts are important; truth is important,” Mr. Doelger said. He refuted several statements contained in the advertisement that appeared in last week’s Reporter and a letter to the editor from Mr. Fredericks printed in the April 1 issue.

To a charge that, for several years, the district had added $1.7 million to its fund balance, Mr. Doelger said the average was $600,000 to $700,000 and never did it approach $1.7 million. Thanks to holding that money that has now been moved into a reserve fund for repairs, the new septic system being installed this summer won’t spike taxes because the funds are already in hand to pay for the project. That reserve accounts were already fully funded, the superintendent said, was untrue.

A charge that the district employs 98 teachers for 203 students, Mr. Doelger said there are 67 employees in the district and 220 students.

Mr. Frederick’s charge that the district is top-heavy with administrators is also not the case, he said. There are three administrators — Mr. Doelger; Jennifer Rylott, Director of Pupil Personnel, Data & Instruction; and Todd Gulluscio, Director of Athletics, Physical Education, Health, Wellness & Personnel. No district in the state has fewer than three administrators and because of the various unfunded mandates that affect reporting of so much information to the state, the work load for all is extensive, Mr. Doelger said.

He also noted he is one of the lowest paid superintendents in the state and also functions as school principal.

The superintendent finished his response by noting the achievements of graduates who have gone on to study at major universities including Columbia, Cornell, SUNY schools and many others. Many have appeared on college deans’ lists and accomplished other achievements on their campuses.

The education students receive on Shelter Island is “top notch,” Mr. Doelger said. At the same time, he said he would always look to improve.