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Shoreham-Wading River proposes 4.75 percent tax levy hike, won’t pierce cap

03/16/2016 12:00 PM |

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Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen has pitched a nearly $72 million school budget for the 2016-17 school year, representing a 4.75 percent increase in the tax levy.

But that budget will still remain under the district’s allowable tax levy limit, Dr. Cohen said. That’s because the majority of the tax levy increase relates to the district’s construction bond approved by voters last year as well as other improvement projects around the district.

Of the $3.4 million total increase to the budget, more than $2.3 million is tied up in those projects, Dr. Cohen said.

“This is the heart of the budget,” he said. Those projects are exceptions to the state tax levy cap law, affording the district up to a 5.24 percent increase, the highest permitted levy on Long Island. Dr. Cohen said the district would instead stay under the cap.

That cap is a markedly different one than other districts across Long Island, including nearby Riverhead, where the tax levy increase was set at about .6 percent.

The two biggest chunks of the capital improvements are payments related to the school bond, totaling $852,500, and a related electric plan payment of more than $716,000. Another $758,000 was split between capital improvement projects for new toilets at the high school and upgrades to several district sports fields, as well as purchases for the Wading River Elementary School cafeteria and its free and reduced lunch meal programs.

Excluding the building projects and bond payments, the current budget would represent a 1.56 percent increase in expenditures.

The district will still pull about $4.8 million from its general fund reserves, but will get a boost in both state aid and other local revenues, Dr. Cohen said.

Nothing in the district’s curriculum will be cut, though the elementary schools will lose about three full-time staff to match declining enrollment; Dr. Cohen said class sizes wouldn’t be affected by the change. The district will also pay more to support new initiatives like the recently added AP Capstone program. English classes at the high school will also decrease in size “in an effort to improve writing,” Dr. Cohen added, and the district is required by the state to offer more English as a New Language services for students.

The largest portion of the budget remains teacher salaries and benefits, which will rise due to contractual obligations by about 2.61 and .47 percent, respectively. Together, they count for more than 70 percent of the total budget.

The benefits increase is driven by an estimated 15 percent jump in health care premiums, Dr. Cohen said. But those costs are being offset by drops in the district’s contributions to its employees retirement. Dr. Cohen said a surging stock market has made it less necessary for districts to pitch in.

The board will conclude Dr. Cohen’s presentation on the remainder of the budget at its next meeting on March 22.

Photo Caption: Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen speaks at Tuesday night’s meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

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Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly conflated the district’s total expenditures increase as the proposed tax levy increase. The correct tax levy increase is 4.75 percent, not 4.96 percent. 

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