Riverhead school board vows not to pierce 2% tax cap

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Lawrence Salvesen of BBS Architects and Engineers presents preliminary blueprints for upgrades at Aquebogue Elementary, Phillips Avenue Elementary and Riley Avenue Elementary.

The Riverhead school board does not expect to ask district taxpayers to pierce the 2-percent tax cap in 2012-13, but the district might offer high school students the option of an eight period day as a cost-savings measure next year, school officials announced at Tuesday’s board meeting.

The board adopted a mission statement Tuesday for the creation of the 2012-13 school district budget with goals including refusing to pierce the 2-percent tax cap, preserving student programs as best as possible and “recognizing the current fiscal reality,” according to the statement.

Under the recently enacted tax cap law, a government body can pierce the mandated 2-percent tax levy cap with 60 percent voter approval.

What it will take to come under the 2-percent cap remains unseen, but district officials have said Riverhead will have to cut about $3.1 million from the current budget in order to comply. Last year’s budget carried only a 1.96 percent spending increase yet raised the tax levy by about 5.97 percent from $82.7 million in 2010-11 to $87.7 million in 2011-12. That increase was due largely to a reduction in state aid, officials have said.

The school board has so far been publicly mum on what specific programs could be eliminated, though in October school board president Ann Cotten-Degrasse said those cuts could come to art, music and foreign languages.

“There absolutely has not been any decisions made yet,” she told the audience Tuesday night.

Two district parents and a high school junior approached the board during the meeting to express reservations over offering students the option of an eight period day, something students have been told to prepare for while making next year’s schedules. Students now have a nine period day.

Suprintendent Nancy Carney said that about half of the district’s high school students utilize eight periods a day, using the remaining period as a study hall. The new measure would give them the option of going home a period early, instead of taking a study hall.

“We have a number of different scenarios on the table,” she said.

National Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) cadet and Riverhead junior Harry Hubbard approached the board to express his concern over what an eight period day could do for his club’s enrollment. He said students taking eight periods a day would be less likely to fit NJROTC into their schedules, which could bring its membership below the Navy’s 100-member minimum requirement.

He said the Navy has been known to cut funding to flailing programs in recent years due to its own budget constraints.

“We’re only six cadets above the limit,” he said.

Board members said they would take those comments into consideration.

In other news, representatives with the Patchogue-based BBS architects gave an update on the district’s voter-approved $78.3 million plan for infrastructure repairs and upgrades. Lawrence Salvesen of BBS showed blueprints that called for nearly doubling the size of the library at Phillips Avenue, adding a 634-square-foot kitchen and additional parking spaces at Aquebogue Elementary and expanding the cafeteria and adding a classroom at Riley Avenue Elementary.

He said the district is right on schedule and expects to break ground at the first school, Riley Avenue, in June.

The board also voted to terminate a nearly $500,000 agreement with M.H. Kane Construction for door upgrades in the schools, Citing failure to pay subcontractors, comply with its contract and other reasons. The district awarded the Bohemia-based company a $484,000 contract in June 2010 for the upgrades to help the district comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

The contract was insured, which will allow another contractor to finish the job without costing taxpayers any additional money, Ms. Carney said.

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