High school principal resigns in Westhampton Beach

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Westhampton Beach High School Principal Lois Etzel, who joined the district last August, will be leaving at the end of the school year to accept a position with the Riverhead School District.

The pending departure of Ms. Etzel, who will be Riverhead’s next director of science, was announced during Monday night’s School Board meeting by Michael Radday, the district’s assistant superintendent for personnel and instruction. The announcement followed a public hearing on the district’s proposed $46.5 million budget for the 2008-09 school year.

Ms. Etzel, who joined the Westhampton Beach administration last summer after leaving her assistant principal position at Bellport High School, replaced former principal Edward Casswell after he accepted a principal position at Mount Sinai High School.

“On occasion, there’s movement administratively,” Superintendent Lynn Schwartz said in response to whether or not he was surprised about Ms. Etzel’s decision to leave the district. “Ms. Etzel now has the opportunity to assume a new position, and we wish her well.”

The district has already started advertising for the position and will be conducting interviews shortly, Mr. Schwartz said.

Ms. Etzel could not be reached for comment.

Also on Monday, the School Board held a hearing on the proposed $46.5 million budget, which will be voted on this Tuesday, May 20. The budget increases spending by about 8 percent over the current year, and will result in an estimated 2.4-percent increase in taxes.

If the budget is approved, the district tax rate is expected to increase from $4.67 to $4.78 per $1,000 of assessed value. Therefore, a home assessed at $700,000, what the district says is the average home price in the district, will absorb a $77 increase in taxes next year, according to Mr. Schwartz.

The superintendent emphasized on Monday night that a large portion of the spending increase—or 48 percent of the proposed $3.4 million bump in expenditures—can be attributed to financing ongoing renovations at the middle school, a project that voters approved in 2005. The district intends to make a $1,632,623 payment on the $16.5 million bond financing the middle school reconstruction, the first payment on the bond, in next year’s budget.

Overall, the capital budget is set to increase by 25.7 percent next year, from $6.87 million to $8.64 million.

The budget presentation also noted that reduced state aid, combined with the rising costs of employee benefits and fuel, posed challenges as the budget was prepared.

“We allotted about 40 percent more for gas next year,” Mr. Schwartz said, referring to the rising cost of oil and gasoline.

The total allotment for utilities in next year’s budget has grown nearly 8 percent, from about $880,000 this year to almost $948,000 next year. Meanwhile, employee benefits have gone up about 12 percent, from nearly $593,000 to almost $665,000 next year.

Westhampton Beach will receive only about $2 million in state aid next year, an amount that Mr. Schwartz described as a low figure. “Other districts, 10, 15, or 20 miles from ours, receive anywhere from 30, 40, or 50 percent of their budget in state aid,” he said.

After the presentation, John Moedas, a resident of Westhampton Beach for the past 35 years, told School Board members that it’s their job to lobby the state for more aid, and that they should do so more often. Kathy O’Hara, a business official with the district, responded that it is also the job of state legislators to petition Albany for additional funds.

Meanwhile, Charles Palmer, a resident of Westhampton Beach for about 10 years, asked about how the tuition rates for feeder districts have changed. Mr. Schwartz said the tuition rates will increase from $18,043 per student this year to $18,196 per student next year. District officials noted that these rates are only estimates, as the state determines the final rate.

Also on Monday night, Matt Bollerman, the director of the Westhampton Free Library, presented his budget, which will also be voted on by the public on Tuesday, May 20.

The Westhampton Free Library’s budget is increasing by 43 percent next year, from about $1.47 million to $2.08 million, mainly due to debt service on its $7.8 million expansion project that was approved by voters last fall. If the debt service is taken away, the library’s operating expenditures are increasing by only about 2 percent, or $80,000, next year, according to Mr. Bollerman.

School Board member Bryan Dean inquired about the status of the library, which will have to be relocated during the demolition and reconstruction project. Mr. Bollerman responded that the library is still attempting to find a temporary home; it is expected to be closed for about 18 months once construction commences. The library’s preferred choice for its trailer is 28 Library Avenue, though that property is now being investigated after contamination was uncovered earlier this month.

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