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Shelter Island School District budget proposal adopted: Assemblyman says state aid given green light

The Board of Education approved a $13.099 million budget proposal Monday night representing a 3.44% increase over the current school year’s spending plan of $12.66 million.

The action came a week after the target date the district originally set for adoption of its 2024-25 school-year budget. The delay was suggested by Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., with the possibility looming that cuts in state aid might affect the final proposal.

At the same time, the superintendent remained optimistic and by Monday, his hopes had been realized that the district would receive $170,000 in aid that Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) had originally threatened to cut.

That good news for the school administration was delivered by Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) who said he thought in addition to restoring the $170,000, there could be a bit more added.

“We’re ahead of the game,” Mr. Doelger said at Monday’s School Board meeting, if there is something more forthcoming.

Ms. Hochul, in a statement Monday, said she agreed to add $1.3 billion for school aid and abandon her earlier call to eliminate the so-called “hold harmless” policy that for years has guaranteed school districts they would receive at least as much in state aid for the next school year as they had for the current school year.

An earlier indication that a new school aid formula had to be worked out before an agreement could be reached on that part of the budget was tabled.

The governor said after the budget is concluded, work on a new formula — something favored by school officials and legislators from around the state — would be back for discussion.

The state hasn’t yet concluded its overall budget talks yet, but the governor expressed optimism that a new spending plan would be in place soon. 

Locally, Mr. Doelger had pledged from the outset the district’s budget would not pierce the state imposed 2 percent tax cap while enabling the district to “provide the best education possible at the most efficient cost” to taxpayers.

Since 2012, municipalities and school districts in New York state have been limited to raising tax levies by the lesser of the rate of inflation or 2%, with the provision that local governments can vote to override the cap.

In the course of the Shelter Island School District’s budget workshops, there never was any proposal to cut teachers or staff members, the superintendent said.

Monday night, Mr. Doelger  credited District Treasurer Deborah Vecchio with identifying an interest bearing account resulting in $107,750 in added revenue.

With Board of Education member Margaret Colligan absent, the vote to endorse the budget proposal was 6-0.

On May 13, the Board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. The proposal can’t be changed now, but it will enable those who may not have been following the workshops to find out what’s in the spending plan and to pose questions in advance of the May 21 election on the budget.

On that day, voting is at the school gymnasium between noon and 9 p.m.