SWR supe projects $3 million shortfall for next school year

10/05/2011 11:16 AM |

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River superintendent Steven Cohen presents fiscal projections for the coming school years at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting.

After last school year’s difficult budget cycle and reduced state aid, Shoreham-Wading River school officials have already begun talking numbers and projections for the next school year.

Superintendent Steven Cohen said at Tuesday night’s school board meeting that the district will face a $3 million shortfall if school officials adopt what he called a “rollover budget” to maintain in 2012-13 the programs and operations that are in place this year.

That rollover budget would be $63.4 million, a $3.4 million increase over this year’s, with the bulk of the increase coming from contractual rises in employee salaries and benefits. Dr. Cohen predicts tax revenues will be about $60.4 million, assuming the school secures the same amount of state aid it received this year.

“We’re projecting a gap of about $3 million,” Dr. Cohen said. “That’s a difficult gap to fill.”

And the picture over the next five school years doesn’t get any prettier, according to his presentation.

The cost of maintaining services increases steadily through the 2016-17 school year, for which an $8.6 million shortfall is projected.

“That’s just to keep doing what we’re doing,” Dr. Cohen said.

He said revenue will be limited in coming years thanks to state property tax cap legislation, approved this past summer, that prevents a school district’s tax levy from rising more than 2 percent. Dr. Cohen estimates that in both Riverhead and Brookhaven towns, school taxes on a home valued at $400,000 would increase by $138.92 under a 2 percent tax levy increase.

The district has to generate more money or cut costs in order to maintain operations and programs for the next school year, Dr. Cohen said. One way to generate more revenue is to override the property tax cap, which can be done with the approval of 60 percent of the community.

School officials could also review contractual obligations to find cost reductions, apply more money from the district’s reserves, try to secure more state aid or eliminate staffing positions and student programs, Dr. Cohen said.

Shoreham resident Tom Sheridan suggested the district hire a grant writer in an effort to bring in more money.

“We probably do need a resource to help write the grants,” he said. “We’re not too proud to ask.”

After Dr. Cohen’s presentation, the board approved the formation of a committee to explore sharing functions and services with other districts, a move recommended by board member John Zukowski.

“If it could save us some money, we owe it to the community to explore that,” Mr. Zukowski said.

The new committee was approved by a 4-0 vote, with board members Richard Pluschau, Marie Lindell and Leo Greeley absent from the meeting. Board president Bill McGrath said community residents can sit on any committee by turning in applications, which are available on the district’s website at swrschools.org/.

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