School board prez: Riverhead will have to cut $4 million in 2012-13

VERA CHINESE FILE PHOTO | School board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse.

The Riverhead School District could have to trim up to $4 million from its 2012-13 budget to stay under the state-mandated two percent increase tax cap, said school board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse.

Ms. Cotten-Degrasse said that figure anticipates increases in health insurance costs, contributions to employee and teacher retirement funds and a rise in fuel costs.

The district did not cut any programs in 2011-12, though it did lay off 38 staff members including 15 teachers. It was not immediately clear if the district has since hired any of those employees back.

Ms. Degrasse said this time around the cuts will likely be made in programs, rather than to staff.

“We have cut staff to the point where we are working on a shoe string,” she said, adding that many classrooms are at full capacity. “Everybody is doing 15 jobs now.”

She said those cuts could come to the art, music and foreign language department, though the school board will ultimately make that decision.

“We’re going to have to look all the things we worked so hard for years to provide,” she said.

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

The big tax levy increase was largely attributed to cuts in state aid.

The school board will also be negotiating teacher’s and administrator’s contracts this school year, and Ms. Cotten-Degrasse, a former Riverhead teachers union head herself, said employees could be asked to kick in extra to cover their health care costs among other negotiations.

“Insurance has gone up nine percent; the school district is not going be able to pick up that kind of increase,” she said. “We’ve made it quite clear it is not going to be business as usual.”

Superintendent Nancy Carney is scheduled to meet with administrators Monday, Oct. 17 to discuss the budget outlook. The preliminary budget will be presented to taxpayers March 27.

The statewide vote for school budgets is set for May 15, 2012.

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