The second draft of the East Quogue School District’s 2015-16 budget has eliminated or cut back a number of teaching positions at the elementary school to compensate for an under-estimation of tuition rates and to bring the budget under the state cap on tax levy increases.
The revised $23 million spending plan, introduced by Superintendent Les Black last Thursday during a budget workshop and expected to be adopted on Wednesday night by the Board of Education, trims about $960,000 from the first draft, which came in at $24 million. The second draft of the plan reflects a 1-percent increase in spending, from the current year’s $22.8 million to $23 million.
The second draft includes a $360,000 increase in tuition for Westhampton Beach schools; East Quogue sends its middle- and high school-age students to Westhampton Beach schools. Because of this increase, the administration is proposing to cut three full-time teacher’s assistants, one full-time reading teacher, a full-time regular education teacher and a part-time psychologist. A full-time special education teacher and a full-time speech teacher would both be reduced to part-time positions as well.
Meanwhile, the district hopes to hire one additional full-time and one part-time English as a Second Language teacher to meet the needs of its bilingual students, according to the proposed spending plan.
East Quogue Elementary School Principal Robert Long attributed the expected hires to unfunded state mandates. “We are being forced to add additional staff,” Mr. Long said. “We celebrate and welcome all the children in the district and we’ll give them every opportunity to grow.”
Overall, the spending plan introduced by Mr. Black last week reduced the teacher salary lines of the budget by $282,000, or 3.8 percent, from $7.5 million to $7.2 million.
“I think it was shocking to us, to the community and to everybody,” said George Purkis, a sixth-grade teacher who also serves as president of the East Quogue Teachers Association, which is currently negotiating a contract extension with the district. “Those positions have nothing to do with our contract, though.”
Mr. Black, who works only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, did not answer calls or emails this week.
Contract negotiations between the leaders of the Teachers Association, which represents an estimated 45 educators, and district administrators are ongoing. Although neither side will disclose specific details about their demands, both sides said they hope to strike a deal before the current contract expires on June 30.
The current 22-page contract reflects a 1.75-percent base salary increase, which teachers also received in the 2013-14 school year.
In 2012-13, the last time the contract was renegotiated, teachers took no raise after both parties agreed to defer a 3-percent increase until each individual teacher’s retirement year. Teachers collected a 1.75-percent increase for the following two years. As a stipulation of that agreement, a general education position and two teaching assistant positions were eliminated, and two part-time teaching positions were reduced from 60 percent of the work week to 40 percent. Teachers collected a 1.75-percent increase in the following two years.
According to the contract, health and accident, long-term disability and life and dental insurance are available through the district for Teachers Association members. Full-time teachers are allotted 11 sick days, five bereavement days, three personal days and two religious leave days per school year.
Teachers’ salaries and benefits make up about $7.2 million, or 31 percent, of this year’s proposed $23 million budget, which was presented last week. For the current school year, teacher salaries and benefits total $6.7 million, accounting for 29.4 percent of the approved $22.8 million budget.