Hampton Bays School District Expected To Adopt $48.2 Million Budget

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Though they were expected to adopt their proposed budget for the 2014-15 school year Wednesday night, Hampton Bays Board of Education members still have not come to terms on a contract extension agreement with the district’s teachers’ union.

School administrators, however, have said that the proposed $48.2 million spending plan, which does not pierce the state’s tax cap though it still must be approved by taxpayers on May 20, includes an undisclosed allotment that will cover at least minimal raises for the district’s 173 educators. Their current three-year contract expires on June 30 and negotiations have been ongoing for weeks; officials on both sides have declined to discuss the status of negotiations.

Prior to voting on the spending plan Wednesday night, school officials went before the Hampton Bays Civic Association on Monday evening to pitch their proposed budget. Most of the dozen people in attendance applauded the proposal, which will increase overall spending by about $1.1 million, or 2.3 percent, over this year’s $47.1 million budget.

The budget will be supported by a tax levy of a little more than $43 million, an increase of $541,998, or almost 1.3 percent over this year’s $42.5 million budget, according to Larry Luce, the district’s business administrator. This levy would result in a tax rate of about $13.06 per $1,000 of taxable value, a 2.1-percent bump from this year’s rate of $12.79.

The tax rate is subject to change based on the town’s assessment of property values in the district, Mr. Luce said, but as of now officials are banking on an overall assessment depreciation of $18.4 million. If the estimated tax rate holds true, the average homeowner in Hampton Bays with a home assessed at $450,000 would pay approximately $5,877 in school taxes next year, an increase of about $121.50.

“Part of what drives your tax rates is school taxes, but the other part is when the assessed value decreases as a whole, then there’s less to divide up the budget by, so your rate goes up,” Mr. Luce said during Monday’s meeting. “Hopefully, this is the end of assessment decreases. I’m wishful that we will see property values start to rise and rates going the opposite direction, which is what they do.”

The current contract between the Board of Education and the Hampton Bays Teachers’ Association, which went into effect on July 1, 2011, expires on June 30. This is the first time the district has had to negotiate a teacher union contract under the confines of the state mandated tax cap, which calculates to about 1.3 percent for the district this year.

Although he declined to specify how much the district has set aside for teacher salaries and benefits in the 2014-15 budget, explaining that he does not want to tip his hand during ongoing negotiations, Mr. Luce said Tuesday that the district is planning on at least a modest increase in pay for teachers.

“We’ve budgeted what we’re legally required to,” Mr. Luce said. “We’re a service industry, so the salaries are probably the largest portion of our budget, if not the largest.”

If representatives of the Hampton Bays Teachers’ Association are able to negotiate a higher pay increase than anticipated, the difference will be taken from other parts of the budget, Mr. Luce said. A budget cannot be increased once it is approved by district taxpayers.

Hampton Bays Teachers’ Association President Andy Fotopoulos did not return multiple calls this week seeking comment regarding the status of negotiations.

Under the current contract, the district agreed to teacher salary raises of 3.2 percent for the first two years of the deal with a freeze on routine pay grade increases, and a 2-percent increase in the current year—which is on top of routine pay grade awards based on tenure and degree level achieved that went back into effect this year.

Even if the union and district are still at an impasse when the contract expires, negotiations will continue until an agreement is reached, possibly into the next school year if necessary, Mr. Luce said. “There is no prescribed way that it has to be resolved,” he said.

During Monday’s meeting, Hampton Bays Schools Superintendent Lars Clemensen touted the fact that despite having to make small cuts, the district still plans on adding new courses next year, including an Advanced Placement chemistry class at the high school.

However, Mr. Clemensen said the spending plan is primarily a “maintenance budget,” meaning the focus was to maintain as much as possible while remaining below the tax cap for the third consecutive year—albeit by just $344.

At previous budget meetings, administrators have noted that in addition to teacher salaries, other areas of the budget that will see increases next year include the transportation and security lines.

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