Riverhead budget calls for 3 percent increase in school spending

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The Riverhead School Board has unanimously approved a $102.5 million budget for the 2008-2009 school year, a plan that increases overall spending by almost 3 percent next year, though school officials said they do not yet know how much taxes will increase under the plan.

“I absolutely cannot say what the tax rate in the district will be until October,” School Superintendent Diane Scricca said this week.

She explained that the figure is still subject to change due to a number of factors, including projected state aid, updated town assessments, and payments in lieu of taxes revenues, all of which have not yet been finalized.

However, district officials noted that the amount of money that needs to be raised through school property taxes will climb by about 2.4 percent, from about $75.7 million this year to $78.6 million next year. At this point it is unclear if school taxes will also climb by 2.4 percent, according to school officials.

“They’re talking about giving out less state aid for school districts,” said School Board member Chrissy Prete, explaining why the district has been unable to offer a projected tax rate for the 2008-2009 school year.

Ms. Scricca stressed that budget-to-budget spending will increase by about 3 percent next year under the proposed spending plan that must still be approved by taxpayers on Tuesday, May 20. By comparison, spending jumped by about 6.9 percent last year.

As a result, Ms. Scricca said taxpayers should be pleased with their tax bills this coming year.

“It’s a very fiscally responsible budget with a focus on student achievement, while knowing full well we have to be responsible to taxpayers,” said Ms. Scricca, who joined the district last July. “We have good initiatives in the 
budget, with strong professional 
development initiatives, and we 
are pleased to bring forth a good budget to the community.”

The largest expenditure on next year’s spending plan falls under teacher 
salaries, which will jump by almost 5 percent, or nearly $1.7 million, to almost $38.9 million, according to a copy of the spending plan. The bulk of the increase has been attributed to contractual agreements, according to Ms. Scricca.

The district is planning to lay off about seven teachers due to decreasing enrollment, Ms. Scricca said. She said enrollment figures have declined by about 200 students over the past few years, though this year’s budget states that 4,652 students will be attending the district next year, five fewer than this year.

“We’re not eliminating positions to save money,” Ms. Scricca said. “We’re eliminating positions because we don’t have the need for them. It wouldn’t be fiscally responsible to keep them.”

The cost of employee benefits will climb by less than 1 percent, or just under $150,000, to nearly $15.8 million under the budget adopted by the School Board.

School officials have earmarked almost $1.7 million for computer assisted instruction costs, nearly 13 percent more than the current school year. The increase will cover the cost of buying replacement computers and new Smartboards, Ms. Scricca said.

Overall, the district has allocated almost $79.6 million to cover program costs at the district, accounting for 78 percent of total expenditures. Just over $13.9 million, or 4.3 percent more than last year, will cover capital costs, such as bond anticipation notes and plant maintenance expenses.

Meanwhile, administrative costs 
are scheduled to increase by 7.1 
percent next year, from $8.4 million to about $9 million in 2008-2009. 
School Board members have allocated $42,600, or almost 46 percent more than the current year, to cover expenses incurred by them. The increase is needed to cover rising costs for membership dues to the Suffolk County and New York State school boards, as 
well as mandatory training for board members.

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