East Hampton School District Easily Pierces Tax Cap

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Voters approved East Hampton School District’s 2014-15 budget, 492-184, on May 20.

“Everyone was mostly chipper, and it was an overall great feeling,” said District Clerk Kerri Stevens of the energy at the polls that night.

The budget represented a 2.43-percent increase in the tax levy, piercing the New York State 1.46-percent cap on tax levy increases from year to year. The budget passed with 73 percent of votes in favor—well above the necessary 60 percent that was needed for a budget that pierced the cap.

“I was pretty surprised by the 73 percent. It’s such untested waters,” said Superintendent Richard Burns of presenting to voters a budget that exceeded the state cap.

“I’d just say I’m happy and proud of our community, but not tremendously surprised,” said School Board President Patricia Hope, who earned another term on the board on May 20. She ran uncontested and received 531 votes.

Incumbent board member Jacqueline Lowey will serve will another term on the board. Ms. Lowey, who has served two terms, ran uncontested and received 535 votes. “This is a community that puts education and its kids first. It makes us all proud to live here and be part of it,” said Ms. Lowey.

Over the course of nearly six months of budget workshops, the board cut more than $1 million from a first draft presented in January, in part by eliminating seven paraprofessional positions and making elementary guidance positions part-time, according to district officials. The School Board also trimmed spending on materials and supplies, conferences and field trips.

The cuts to paraprofessionals and guidance were made “with much regret,” Ms. Lowey said during a School Board meeting on May 20.

The state tax cap, which was enacted in 2011, will remain in effect until 2016. The fact that East Hampton successfully pierced the cap for 2014-15 does not mean the district will attempt to do so in the future, it was pointed out.

“It certainly, by no means, does it mean we’re going to override the cap again,” said Mr. Burns. “Each budget season, we look very clearly at the numbers that are presented to us, and we’ll make a decision. We have a long, lengthy season for budget development.”

Mr. Burns said factors like state aid, the Consumer Price Index—to which the cap is tied: the cap is set at the 2 percent or the CPI, whichever number is lower—and teacher retirement contributions would influence the district’s decision to pierce or not pierce the tax levy cap in the future.

“I think in terms of making any more cuts, I think we’re pretty close as far as we can go with material, supplies and equipment,” Mr. Burns said. “We’re at the level now where … it would have to go into personnel. I’m not sure what way the board would go. The real wild card is if we have some retirements that would help adjust the budget where we wouldn’t have to go for piercing the cap.”

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