Public silent at first Riverhead school budget presentation

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | School board vice president Greg Meyer and superintendent Nancy Carney at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Riverhead school officials presented a $110.3 million budget for the 2011-12 school year at Tuesday night’s monthly school board meeting.

But perhaps surprisingly, given such uncertain times, no one from the public spoke out on the budget plan — or 40 positions being eliminated — during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The spending plan carries a 1.96 percent spending increase over last year’s $108 million budget, though the tax levy — the amount of cash the district collects from taxpayers — is expected to jump 5.97 percent from $82.7 million this year to $87.7 million in 2011-12.

How much that means to the average homeowner is not certain until the tax equalization rates are set.

During the presentation, Ms. Carney noted that the bulk of the spending increase comes from contributions to the state Teachers Retirement System and the Employees Retirement System pension funds. The amount the district must contribute has increased by 39 percent, or $2.1 million.

“Why such a wild fluctuation from year to year?” asked school board member Tim Griffing.

Joseph Singleton, the district’s interim assistant superintendent for business and finance, explained that the amount the school district must contribute to the fund is determined by a five-year average. This year, due to declining stock market revenues over the past three years, districts across the state have had to kick in extra funds to cover pension costs — as pension payouts are guaranteed.

Ms. Carney said she was hopeful the tax levy would be reduced if Governor Andrew Cuomo restores some of the $2.9 million in state school aid cuts he has proposed. The governor’s proposal is part of a plan to eliminate a $10 billion state deficit.

Ms. Carney said the board will hold weekly budget presentations at different district schools through April 12, when it will adopt a final budget proposal to put before voters. The schedule is available on the district’s website.

This first presentation was held at Riverhead Middle School.

Parts of the superintendent’s preliminary $111.8 million budget were outlined at a board meeting last month. Under that plan, district spending would have increased by 3.28 percent, or more than $3 million. Ms. Carney later told the News-Review that she pared the spending increase to 1.96 percent, and informed the newspaper that the plan called for eliminating 40 positions, including 15 teacher positions.

“[We’ve made] $4 million in reductions through a lot of difficult decisions,” Ms. Carney said during Tuesday’s meeting.

Voter registration will be held May 9 between noon and 6 p.m. and May 10 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Those who wish to run for school board can contact district clerk Barbara O’Kula at 369-4724.

A budget hearing is scheduled for May 10 in the Riverhead High School auditorium.

Taxpayers will vote on the budget May 17.

In other news, the school board accepted the resignation of high school principal David Zimbler effective April 10. Associate principal David Wicks will serve as acting principal until a permanent replacement is found.

“We wish him the best of luck,” said board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse.

The board also voted in favor of a resolution to extend Ms. Carney’s contract until June 2014.

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