Though they are not being challenged in their respective reelection bids, the first for both, Remsenburg-Speonk Board of Education President Kevin Federico and board member Cecilia Spellman-Frey have plenty to be nervous about on Tuesday night.
Both will have their eyes glued on the returns for their district’s proposed $12.35 million 2012-13 budget, a spending plan that will need the support of at least 60 percent of voters—a supermajority—because it pierces Albany’s new tax levy cap. If the budget fails, board members will get another chance to secure taxpayer support; however, two budget rejections means that the board would have to adopt a spending plan with a zero-percent tax levy increase—a devastating proposition for any district.
While both are aware of the importance of next week’s budget vote, both Mr. Federico and Ms. Spellman-Frey said they are confident that taxpayers will agree that they have been responsible with their money over the last three years and support the budget.
“I do believe that the majority of our voters recognize that the BOE has been responsible with the budget, and the only reason we are forced to pierce the tax cap is because Westhampton Beach raised our tuition by $682,774,” Mr. Federico wrote in an email. “We have heard the community and recognize that we need to be more fiscally conservative, and we’re able to reduce our [other] budget … costs by about 6.5 percent.”
He also thanked State Senator Kenneth LaValle and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. for securing an additional $200,000 in state aid in recent weeks, as well as the district’s teachers for taking a “hard freeze” on raises next year.
“I believe that they will recognize that, as a board, together with [Superintendent] Dr. [Ronald] Masera’s efforts and the sacrifices of teachers, administrators and staff, we have pared down the budget to where we believe it needs to be,” Ms. Spellman-Frey said. “If the budget goes down, we will be forced to eliminate almost everything that is not mandated, and this will be a truly unfortunate consequence.”
Even though both agree that an uncontrollable hike in tuition fees is to blame for piercing the cap, neither Mr. Federico or Ms. Spellman-Frey said they would consider limiting the choices of students once they graduate from the sixth grade. After that, students have the option of attending either Westhampton Beach or Eastport South Manor on a tuition basis, and the latter charges about half the nearly $20,000 per student charged by Westhampton Beach.
“We, as a board, are unanimous and feel that giving our community the choice as we have in the past adds value to our property and value to the education of our students,” Mr. Federico wrote.
Ms. Spellman-Frey agreed: “The board has discussed every imaginable option regarding holding the cost on tuition fees, but collectively we do not believe in eliminating the choice currently provided to our students.”
Mr. Federico, 56, has lived in Remsenburg for about a decade and is a financial advisor for UBS Financial Services in Southampton. He and his life partner, Lisa, have three children, Connor, Katy and Cole. Connor, 15, is a freshman at Westhampton Beach High School; Kathy, 12, is a seventh-grader at Westhampton Beach Middle School; and Cole, 9, is a fourth-grader at Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School.
Ms. Spellman-Frey, 53, and her husband, Gerard, have three adult children and seven grandchildren. A retired detective sergeant with the New York Police Department, she has lived in Remsenburg full-time since 2000. Though she has a law license, she rarely practices, and teaches a criminal justice class at the Ammerman Campus of Suffolk County Community College in Selden.
Both Mr. Federico and Ms. Spellman-Frey joined the board in the wake of the 2008 rejection of a $14.9 million bond that would have doubled the size of the elementary school on Mill Road. In 2010, taxpayers narrowly rejected a second, $5.7 million bond that would have paid for a new cafeteria, kitchen, library and one classroom at the school. The bond failed, 203-232.
When asked if another expansion proposal is on the horizon, both incumbents said there have been no discussions since the failed 2010 vote. “Our new BOE needed to win back the confidence of the community after the failed expansion,” Mr. Federico wrote. “To do this, the BOE worked diligently to identify the needs of the district, but also questioned how we could be more cost-efficient.”
Since then, members have cut six staff positions, he noted. Board members were also instrumental in hiring Dr. Masera following the retirement of Dr. Katherine Salomone in December 2010.
If reelected to another three-year term, both Mr. Federico and Ms. Spellman-Frey said they would continue to work to come up with responsible budgets while improving the educational experiences for children.
“This little school remains an exceptional place for our children in the community to be nurtured and taught by a dedicated staff,” Mr. Federico wrote. “The school is an asset to our children and to the community.”
“I believe that we should strive to maintain all of the programs that we can afford, not just what is mandated under law,” Ms. Spellman-Frey added.