Springs School Will Seek Early Input on Budget

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With school taxes in Springs poised to rise as much as 12 percent this year, the Springs School Board plans to take an unorthodox step by allowing its constituents the opportunity to tell board members what new spending they want the board to keep in the district’s proposed 2008-2009 budget before it is finalized.

The 2008-2009 budget proposal, as it currently stands, totals $21,800,353, a nine-percent increase over the current year, driven primarily by rising tuition costs for sending Springs students to East Hampton High School.

The proposed spending plan would push taxes for district residents up an estimated 11.4 percent—an increase of between $306 and $466 for the average Springs homeowner.

Guidance provided directly by residents at a special hearing to be held later this month could curtail the district’s plans to expand the kindergarten and pre-K programs, including the rental of space at Most Holy Trinity school in East Hampton Village and the hiring of an additional teacher and teaching assistant for the kindergarten.

The additional programs would cost the district about $457,000, and could add more than $100 to the average Springs resident’s school tax bill.

The state requires the board finalize its proposed budget by next week but board members say they plan on ?pushing the adoption back to allow them to hold a public hearing on ?the proposed budget on April 21 at ?7 p.m. in the school library.

School boards typically hold public hearings on their budgets only after they have settled on the final amount and just before district voters cast ballots in May to approve or reject the spending plan.

At Monday night’s Springs School Board meeting, board chairman Chris Kelley said that board members wanted to give residents the chance to voice their opinions on some of the newly proposed spending before the budget is finalized.

Mr. Kelley said the district is still checking on the legality of holding off on the budget adoption but he promised the crowd of residents in attendance that the public hearing would be held before the spending plan was finalized, not after.

If residents demand that the additional programming be dropped, spending in Springs for the 2008-2009 school year is still projected to climb by about $1.3 million, or 6.7 percent, and taxes would go up about 9 percent. The district budget for the current school year is $20,006,472.

As it stood at the board’s last budget meeting, on March 19, the budget included approximately $329,000 for expanding the district’s pre-kindergarten program by adding a full-day program in classroom space rented from Most Holy Trinity school. District Superintendent Thomas Quinn, a former pre-K teacher, said that increasing the number of kids who get classroom experience before starting kindergarten results in marked improvements when they begin regular schooling.

The proposed budget also includes the hiring of an additional kindergarten teacher and teaching assistant, which would allow the school to add a fourth kindergarten class and reduce class sizes from 25 students per class to 18—at a cost of $128,769. In the last month, Mr. Kelley said the district has learned that it will incur some $444,000 in additional costs for high school-age special education students who attend classes at BOCES in Riverhead. Bussing students to BOCES costs the district $50,000 per student per year, Mr. Quinn said at Monday’s meeting.

Because of the additional costs, and the 11.4-percent tax increase they would carry, board members are offering to put the expansion of the kindergarten and pre-K programs on the chopping block if residents don’t support the programs.

If the pre-K and first grade expansions remain in the budget, a Springs homeowner whose house is assessed at the equivalent of $400,000 in market value could expect a $306 increase in his tax bill and a homeowner whose house is assessed at $600,000 would see a $466 increase.

Dropping the expansion of just the additional pre-K section would bring the tax increase down to about $255 for a $400,000 assessment and $389 for a $600,000 assessment. Dropping the addition of a kindergarten classroom would chop the respective increases further, to about $236 and $359.

Mr. Kelley said that the board is also looking at some other measures that could cut the budget increase further, including the use of additional fund surpluses. The current budget includes the use of $375,000 in surpluses from previous years. Mr. Kelley said the board is also exploring options that could lower the cost of tuition for the high school-age special education students.

Springs and East Hampton have negotiated a significant discount in the new, higher tuition rate for Springs students attending East Hampton High School; it saved Springs residents about $3,000 for each of the nearly 300 springs students that attend the high school.

As it stands, tuition costs for high school students will climb from $17,000 a year to $21,500 in 2008-2009, a hike that the high school’s administrators say is necessary to cover their actual costs for educating students.

School district elections and budget votes will be held on Tuesday, May 20 across the state.

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