Equal Time: Guest column told half the story on school budget

Last week’s News-Review Guest Spot column (“Why a school bond is so hard to swallow” by Janet Bidwell) contained statements that require additional information for the residents of the Riverhead Central School District.

The rate of contribution is set by the New York State Employees’ Retirement System and the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System through existing state laws. Local districts have no control over the rates. The percentage increase for retirement contributions from this school year to the 2011-12 year will be the same for every district in the state.

When comparing Riverhead’s taxes to taxes in Water Mill, Quogue or even Southold, one must look at Combined Wealth Ratio (CWR), the property wealth and income wealth supporting each student in the schools. According to the New York State Education Department’s latest available data, Southampton schools have 6 1/2 times the wealth behind each student, Quogue almost 10 times and Southold almost 2 times the wealth behind each student, resulting in lower taxes in those districts, per household.

New York State has reduced state aid by $2.3 million dollars for the residents of Riverhead schools for 2011-12. This represents the major reason for the property tax increase.

Riverhead’s Board of Education has cut over $4 million from next year’s budget and at the same time maintained all programs for 2011-12. The budget increase of 1.26 percent for 2011-12 is below accepted cost of living increases.

The buildings do not need “repairs,” as the column asserted, they need total renovations and upgrading. The average age of the schools exceeds 60 years. They have outlived their expected life spans. Riverhead has a fine custodial and maintenance staff, but you can only patch a roof so many times.

The reason the operations and maintenance budget is relatively flat is because the residents of the district approved a $10 million capital program in 2005 to make limited improvements in the buildings.

A separate proposition for a $5 million dollar repair fund is on the ballot to provide for repairs, pending approval of permanent financing of improvements later this year.

By separate funding in a capital program or in a repair fund, the district is able to maximize state building aid.

Ms. Carney is the Riverhead Central School District superintendent. She lives in Aquebogue.