East Hampton School Board Adopts 2014-15 Budget Proposal That Would Pierce The Tax Cap

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The East Hampton School Board adopted its 2014-15 budget proposal on Tuesday night, officially asking voters to support piercing the state cap on tax levy increases.

The proposed budget is approximately $65.1 million and would represent a 2.43-percent increase in the tax levy—almost a full percentage point higher than this year’s cap of 1.46 percent, which is tied to the Consumer Price Index.

Budgets that would pierce the cap on tax levy increases require at least 60 percent voter approval among ballots cast in May.

The district is proposing increasing its spending above the 2013-14 budget by $837,247 or 1.3 percent. If East Hampton were to stay below this year’s tax cap, it could add only $255,000 to its current budget of $64.2 million. The $255,000 would have to cover payroll step increases and other state-mandated costs.

The district’s business administrator, Isabel Madison, said during the meeting that a homeowner with a property value assessed at $6,000, which is roughly average, could expect to see an increase of roughly $56 in their taxes if the budget passes.

If the budget does not pass with 60-percent approval, the board will have an opportunity to present the same budget, or a modified one, to voters for essentially a second try. If the budget does not pass a second time, the district must resort to a contingency budget, which would require another $400,000 worth of cuts, said Superintendent Richard Burns during the meeting.

“It will involve personnel,” Mr. Burns said, “and $400,000 is quite a swing.”

If the district successfully pierces the cap, homeowners in East Hampton will not receive a tax rebate check from the government. The rebate checks are part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “tax freeze” legislation, which takes effect this year. Used as an incentive for school districts to stay under the 1.46-percent cap, the rebate check reimburses homeowners for the increase between last year’s property taxes and this year’s, essentially “freezing” the tax rate for districts that stay under the cap.

According to Ms. Madison, while the rebate checks are dependent upon the assessed property value of a home, property assessed at $6,000 would otherwise be eligible to receive a rebate check of roughly $27.46.

Despite proposing a budget over the 1.46-percent cap, the district still cut nearly $1 million from its first draft of the 2014-15 budget, including seven paraprofessionals who voiced their disappointment during the meeting.

“Please don’t underestimate the work these people do,” said Pat Hand, president of the district’s non-teaching association. “What should be highlighted is that these ‘positions’ are people,” she said.

Ms. Hand said that collectively the seven people being laid off had been with the district for 35 years and earned an average salary under $30,000.

Regina Astor, a paraprofessional at the John Marshall Elementary School, read a poem about her experience working in the elementary school with a child who can’t verbalize his emotions.

“We make a difference,” she said loudly, concluding her poem and vigorously making a circular motion with her hand while gesturing toward the group of audience members, many of whom were other paraprofessionals whose jobs were eliminated.

“No school went unscathed … no class went unscathed,” said School Board President Patricia Hope, who is running for a second term on the board this May. “Everyone got hurt and it was painful for us to do that.”

The 2014-15 budget vote will take place on May 20.

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