Riverhead school budget workshops kick off Tuesday

02/06/2012 12:05 PM |

NEWS-REVEW FILE PHOTO | The Riverhead school board's budget workshop meeting is Tuesday in the Riverhead High School auditorium.

The Riverhead school board will hold its first budget workshop Tuesday to discuss a preliminary look at the 2012-13 budget and debt service, according to the meeting agenda.

Board members will hear a presentation on the budget, which is capped at a 2 percent overall tax levy increase due to state law. The meeting is open to the public.

In December, Superintendent Nancy Carney said the Riverhead School District would likely have to cut an estimated $3.1 million from its budget to come under this year’s cap. Before the state-mandated tax cap was approved, next year’s budget was planned to grow by about $5,015,000, Ms. Carney said, a number that would increase the tax levy — the amount of cash the district collects from taxpayers — by 5.78 percent.

The district will also have to cut about $13.5 million from the tax levy between now and the 2015-16 school year to stay under the cap in the future, Ms. Carney said, adding the figures she is using are all contingent on the district receiving the same amount of state aid as it did the previous year. The cuts also factor in contractually obligated health care increases, salary increases and contributions to employee and teacher retirement funds.

At recent school board meetings, parents and students have urged the board not to cut specific programs, such as art education, Latin classes, or the crew team. Ms. Carney and school board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse said the district was still too early in the process of analyzing school programs to know which would be cut, though the two said they would try to make cuts across the board instead of eliminating whole programs while sparing others.

“We’re analyzing everything,” Ms. Cotten-Degrasse said in December. “If we can save $1,000 here, $3,000 there … we’re analyzing everything down to the penny. And the answer isn’t going to be pretty.”

The two percent tax cap, made law in New York State in 2011, can be exceeded with approval from 60 percent of voters and through certain contractual increases, though Ms. Carney has stated the district will not go that route. Capital improvements, such as the voter-approved $78.3 million school bond for infrastructure upgrades, are exempt from the tax-levy cap.

Ms. Carney and school officials have criticized the law as creating “an unsustainable fiscal structure for our schools to work under.”

The meeting will also include time for the public to speak about next year’s budget. The special budget meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Riverhead High School auditorium.

psquire@timesreview.com

Editor’s note: Due to an apparent error in reading the district’s calendar on its website, an earlier version of this story reported school officials held a budget meeting last week behind closed doors. It was not a budget meeting, but a special personnel meeting, officials later said.