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CORRECTION: School budget proposal would limit hike to 1.5%

It’s not written in stone, but the initial draft of a 2022-23 Shelter Island School District budget would increase spending from $12.38 million this year to that amount, plus up to a 1.5% addition to cover expenses.

While projecting some spending increase, Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., said he expects the final budget increase will be less than the currently projected 1.5%.

The theme for budget planning is “continuous progress — fiscal responsibility,” Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., told the Board of Education Tuesday night, predicting that when a budget is finalized, it will won’t go above the State-imposed tax cap set at 2%, or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. Exempt from that calculation are capital costs and some pension costs.

Taxpayers will be looking at a $185,000 addition in spending and probably lower, Mr. Doelger said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), in her budget message Tuesday, proposed more aid to school districts than in the past.

Governors typically put forth budgets recommending lower levels of spending on education; state legislators increase that amount, passing budgets with more aid.

The district’s budget process started in September, with a request to staff members to submit their proposals for spending. Since then, the superintendent and business staff have reviewed the suggestions line by line to identify which allocations will make the cut and which will have to be rejected.

The draft currently includes a 0.58% hike in salaries; a 1.64% decline in central administration and support costs; a 9.11% increase in payments to staff members who don’t take the district’s health insurance; a 1.87% cut in medical insurance cost for employees; and a decline by 22.37% in the cost of medical insurance for retirees.

It has projected the costs of pensions, Social Security, health insurance and other benefits would decline by 2.08%.

It will now fall to the superintendent at upcoming budget workshops to outline spending in each of four major categories — education, facilities, transportation and capital spending — and hear from Board of Education members on what they want to see funded and places where they believe further cuts can be made.

In presenting the initial draft, Mr. Doelger outlined accomplishments:

• Being listed in US News & World Report among the best high schools

• Being named a New York State Public High School Athletic Association School of Distinction for six successive years

• Achieving significant improvements in state exams in English language arts and mathematics

• Maintaining in-school learning throughout the pandemic, with fewer days off than most other districts in the nation

• Focusing on social and emotional needs to help students work through the pandemic

• Professional development for faculty members

• Signing contracts with teachers and staff members to provide financial predictability for the next five years

• Helping to coordinate COVID testing and vaccinations for the community in the school

The draft budget overview outlines some specific areas of cuts in projected spending along with some increases. But a closer look will be available at future workshops.

On Jan. 31, the Board will concentrate on the educational budget and on Feb. 15 will review the other three areas of spending. On March 14, the Board of Education will take an overview look at the spending plan before adopting the budget on April 11 and reviewing it at a formal hearing May 9. The budget will be submitted to voters on May 17.

Rejection would give the superintendent and Board another chance to either try to sell the same spending plan a second time, or to make changes before submitting it to another vote. A second rejection would result in a State-mandated budget, taking the decision about what to fund and what to reject out of the hands of the local community.

The presentation was taped Tuesday evening and will be available through Google Chrome.