Use of reserves concerns Riverhead school board member

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Riley Avenue Elementary parent Karen DiGiaimo said she is concerned over the loss of one security guard at the school.

The public has been mostly mum on spending under the Riverhead School District’s proposed 2011-12 $110.3 million budget.

But one school board member is concerned about how much money the district plans to use from the previous year’s fund balance.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting at Riley Avenue Elementary School, board member Tim Griffing said he is worried that using such a large portion — $3.4 million of the approximately $4 million fund balance — to offset a potential tax increase for Riverhead residents might lead to a larger tax spike in the future.

Last year, the district used $2.6 million of a $4 million fund balance, said interim assistant superintendent for operations and finance Joseph Singleton.
The district will likely use about $3.6 million in reserves for the 2012-13 school year, according to Mr. Singleton.
“That $3.4 million might not be available [next year,]” Mr. Griffing said. “You can’t bank on the same amount.”

Mr. Griffing said his concerns largely stemmed from the increase in the amount of money the district must contribute to the pension funds of former district employees. The $2.1 million state mandated increase, 39 percent over the previous year, is due largely to declining stock revenue in the down economy.

School officials said the fund balance would hopefully be replenished through unspent money under the 2011-12 budget. Mr. Singleton said fluctuations, such as changing oil prices and teacher turnover, often lead to a surplus at the end of the year.
Still, the exact 2011-12 fund balance will not be known until the end of that school year.

“We’re doing a lot of praying these days,” Mr. Singleton said during the meeting.

The tax levy — the amount of money the district collects from taxpayers — is still expected to rise 5.97 percent from $82.7 million this year to $87.7 million, even with the reserve fund drained. Without the use of those reserves, the increase would have been about 7.8 percent, according to a previous budget presentation.

That’s because Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed cutting $2.9 million, or 16 percent, in state aid to the Riverhead district, causing administrators to plan for the worst, school officials have said.

The meeting was the third in a serious of budget presentations held at different schools within the district. The school board is scheduled to adopt the budget on April 12 and the public will vote on the spending plan May 17.
Safety worries at Riley

• Several parents commented on safety concerns over Riley Avenue’s dismissal process. Parent and Riley Avenue Parent Association member Karen DiGiaimo said the loss of one of the school’s two security guards — just one of 38 positions being cut districtwide in an effort to keep down spending — could lead to a safety hazard when children are getting on buses at the end of the day. The school will continue to employ the other security guard.

“To decrease security from two to one, I think is going to be a very big problem,” she said during the meeting.

Ms. DiGiaimo said she would like Riverhead Town Police to conduct a safety seminar for children or to place a crossing guard near the intersection with Donna Drive.

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