SWR school board mulls how to spend ‘extra’ $135K for 2012-13

SAMANTHA BRIX FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River school board president Bill McGrath, vice president Mike Fucito and trustee Jack Costas.

With about $135,000 left to allocate in Shoreham-Wading River’s preliminary 2012-13 school district budget, school board members on
Tuesday made it clear where their priorities lie: increasing elementary school enrichment programs and adding a capital fund line to the budget for roof repairs.

Superintendent Steven Cohen asked the board to consider using the leftover money to offer languages in the elementary school, hire more security guards, fund elementary school clubs or enrichment programs and field trips, make roof repairs under a new budget line, construct a concession stand and/or buy more computers or musical instruments.

The board decided that funding enrichment programs, such as “Arts in Education” assemblies and programs would be most beneficial for elementary school students, because club funding would only reach a limited number of students.

“With the limited resources, you try to reach as many as possible,” said board president Bill McGrath. “I’d say we’d be leaning towards enrichment field trips rather than specific clubs just because it’s a greater benefit to more kids.”

Dr. Cohen said he would ask principals to draft proposals for school programs for the board to review.

The remainder of the money should be placed in a capital fund budget line that would be created for 2012-13, the board advised. Partial repairs to the high school roof, which would cost about $700,000 in total, should begin as soon as possible, insisted board member Richard Pluschau.

State aid could be provided for between 30 and 34 percent of all repair costs.

Board members agreed more research is needed to determine the benefits and costs of foreign language programs in the elementary school, and
they planned to discuss the matter in the summer. The other considerations, such as more security guards and the concession stand, were put aside for another year. Meanwhile, a technology committee will consider how to upgrade school computers.

The money in question, once spent, would bring the proposed spending plan up to the 2 percent tax levy cap, Dr. Cohen said as he spoke Tuesday night about the details of his preliminary $62.4 million budget for the 2012-13 school year.

The tax cap limits the amount of money the district can collect from taxpayers.

Dr. Cohen’s budget, a 3.98 percent spending increase from last year’s budget, includes support for existing programs. Employees’ salaries
and benefits will cost about $46 million for 2012-13, nearly 75 percent of the budget, according to Mr. Cohen’s presentation.

Rather than face cuts to bring the school budget under the cap, the district is pulling about $3.75 million from its reserve fund to make up lost revenue — about double what was taken from the fund last year.

School officials said there are more than $16 million in reserves between the various funds. The reserve funds will be tapped into once
the fund balance ­— the surplus left unspent from the previous years’ budgets, such as reduced heating costs in a warm winer — is depleted.

Without the $135,000 left to allocate, the proposed budget would increase the tax levy by 1.75 percent. When allocated, the $135,000 would up the tax levy by an additional .25 percent, bringing the budget’s proposed tax levy increase right up to the 2 percent cap.

“We are using a combination of savings from different funds to mitigate taxes this year,” Dr. Cohen said.

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