South Fork Schools Battling the Worst of Times

Last month local school districts critiqued and revised their 2012-2013 school budgets. Most South Fork districts were able to appease the new 2% tax levy, though some districts proposed budgets that pierce the new cap.
Of the local 16 school districts only three will pierce the cap. Local districts such as Remensburg-Speonk (k-6 school district), Westhampton Beach, and Amagansett are the three South Fork districts whose budget ran over the state’s new tax levy law.
“We seek to preserve what we have,” informs Remensburg-Speonk Superintendent Dr. Ronald Masera in an interview, when asked why the district proposed a budget that was higher than the new tax levy law.
The Remensburg-Speonk School Board has adopted a $12.35 million 2012-13 budget to help offset the marginal amount of state aid the district had previously received, as well as made payment concessions with faculty and administrative personnel, including Dr. Masera. Although the district’s current budget calls for a figure that supersedes the new limit, it also announces several non-program related cuts, such as transportation.
The current budget slashes transportation costs by almost 65%, from $885,297 this year to just $312,780 in 2012-13. Masera informs the savings were achieved by cutting the number of buses that the district uses from four to three. This means the daily school bus will be more crowded next year, in addition to eliminating all late buses from the elementary school; however, there will remain one late bus from Westhampton Beach High School.
Remensburg-Speonk School District receives only 3.5% of its aid from the state and thus relies more heavily on local support. Additional expenses also exist as the school pays tuition for its 7-12 grade students to attend Westhampton Beach or Eastport-South Manor High School. The total high-school tuition increase amounts to $682,000, while under the cap, the district is allowed to increase its overall levy by only $231,000, Masera shared in an interview.
“We need to make up for these dramatic increases,” says Masera, referring to the tuition situation as the school will have to pay tuition for more seventh grade students next year than it paid for outgoing seniors this year.
Amagansett School District is in a similar predicament to Remensburg-Speonk School. The jeopardy of a 0% increase, should the public vote the budget down twice, is of concern to Amagansett’s Superintendent Eleanor Tritt. Tritt informs that proposing a budget over the 2-percent tax levy is a risk that has to be taken due to a sharp increase in East Hampton School District tuition costs.
The district like Remensburg-Speonk, will send more students in next year than are graduating this year. Amagansett will send 17 students to the East Hampton Middle School, while only four high school students are graduating from East Hampton High School.

“Because of our tuition situation, we have no control,” Tritt said in a statement last month. “We must provide for the education of the secondary students.”
Under the current budget, spending would increase from $9,190,546 to $9,669,348 in Amagansett. However, of the $478,802 increase $266,139 of that figure represents a hike in student tuition costs.
Effects on the new cap aren’t just isolated to Remensburg-Speonk or Amagansett School District. The state’s new law is having an immediate effect over all Long Island and South Fork schools as state figures indicate the lowest proposed school district tax hikes in more than 15 years.
The Westhampton Beach School District, the largest of the three districts to pierce the cap, unanimously adopted a $51.8 million budget for the 2012-13 school year, a spending plan that will require the supermajority—60% of the district’s taxpayers approval—since it’s greater than the state’s new tax levy cap.
The adopted budget, still awaiting voters’ final approval, eliminates seven positions throughout the district, including three teacher posts and cuts toward funding for the district’s adult education program as well. Incidentally, the Westhampton Beach Library will now hold the adult education courses.
In addition to an elementary school enrichment program teacher, a middle school reading teacher, and a district speech teacher, the school district will lay off a security guard, two hallway/cafeteria monitors and leave its director of technology position vacant.
“We believe the proposed budget will allow us to maintain the quality programs our community has worked collaboratively with the board to build over many years, while being sensitive to the needs of our taxpayers in these challenging fiscal times,” says Mike Radday, Westhampton Beach Superintendent, in a statement made on the proposed budget.
Last year nearly 65.2% of voters approved the current $50.4 million spending plan, this year the district remains optimistic for a similar positive turnout.
South Fork districts will need to keep following the state’s new tax levy cap in subsequent years as it will be in effect until the 2016-17 school year. This sustainable levy will require East End districts to continue making future cuts that may include teacher or program cuts.

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