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Shelter Island School District budget ready for a public vote on Tuesday

In less than 20 minutes, a public hearing on the proposed $13.1 million budget for the 2024-25 school term was concluded Monday night, with an appeal from Superintendent Brian Doelger, Ed.D., to voters to support the spending plan.

Mr. Doelger noted that  the school administration and Board of Education met every goal set from the time they began holding work sessions on the document.

Although individual tax bills will vary based on property assessments, the overall increase in property taxes is 2.32%.

The proposal comes in under the state-imposed cap on budget increases,  while providing “the best education possible at the most efficient cost as possible,” according to the written summary of expenses and revenues.

Mr. Doelger has been clear from the outset that achieving that aim wouldn’t be easy this year, and could be more difficult when budgeting for the 2025-26 school year begins.

Jim Heushe, the only resident who has expressed any spoken interest in the spending plan, asked not just what the numbers were but for an explanation with some color about the challenges the administration and Board of Ed faced.

Those challenges included:

• Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) state budget released in late January called for massive cuts in state aid to school districts. For Shelter Island, that could have been a 39% loss of state aid for the next school year.

In the past, school district officials had assurance they would receive at least as much state aid for the next school year as they had for the current school year.

As Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) had predicted, the district did get a little more for next year than it had received to help fund the current school year.

But in giving in on school aid this year, Ms. Hochul has warned she will be looking closely next year at the amount districts have in their fund balances, assuming more money for subsequent school years could come from funds left at the end of the current school year.

“It gets harder and harder for us,” Mr. Doelger said, noting there are a number of school districts that have had to project mass layoffs for the 2024-2025 school year.

• Last minute added costs to transport a student whose family moved to within the 15-mile limit requiring transportation be provided for that student to attend a private school. In cooperation with the East Hampton School District, that was negotiated at a lower cost than originally anticipated.

• Increased costs for health insurance, utilities and charges for services rendered by Eastern Suffolk BOCES.

• Contractual agreements with unions and vendors for services that increase annually.

Through it all, Shelter Island School remains on US News & World Report’s list of the best high schools in the nation. It has also been able to implement new elementary level English Language Arts and Exploring Math curricula.

The district also implemented a new strategic plan  to be executed over a five-year period that includes:

• An academic focus on “scaffolding,” a process in which teachers model or demonstrate how to solve a problem and then step back to offer advice as needed. The educational theory is that students learn best when supported using their knowledge with some independence.

• Greater parental outreach and involvement, which has stressed a move to better serve Spanish-speaking parents, involving them with their children’s education and other parents in the community.

• Implementing a popular Employee of the Month program to recognize the contributions of outstanding staff members.

• Involving classes in creating their own rules.

• Expanding intramural programs and clubs for elementary students.

• Introducing new classes.

Using reserve funds previously set aside for major projects, the district has had a new septic  system installed to reduce nitrate levels in water and created a new softball field.

Thanks to the efforts of District Treasurer Deborah Vecchio, the school has been able to increase revenues by finding an interest-bearing account that will result in $107,750 in revenue.

Voting on the budget takes place at the school gymnasium Tuesday, May 21, from noon to 9 p.m.

Two incumbent Board of Education members — Margaret Colligan and Karina Montalvo — are running unopposed and hoping they will receive a vote of confidence next week.