Riverhead, SWR to host school budget hearings tonight

Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney, left, and Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen.

The Riverhead and Shoreham-Wading River school boards will hold public hearings tonight to discuss their budget proposals for the 2012-13 school year.

The hearings are required by state law, and give residents and taxpayers the opportunity to comment on the spending plans drafted by the districts.

The Riverhead school budget, a nearly $111.8 million proposal keeps the district under the state-mandated tax cap.

The budget ensures the tax levy – the total money collected from taxpayers — will increase by 1.73 percent from last year’s budget.

The state tax cap legislation wasn’t in effect when the 2011-12 budget was adopted.

To bring the budget under the cap, the district said they were forced to make cuts. The largest reduction to the budget was a cut of about $1.9 million after 21 employees, including 12 teachers and nine teaching assistants, were given pink slips in mid-February, effective this June.

Among those cut were two elementary school teachers, two private special education teachers, one middle school English teacher, one middle school guidance counselor, one technology teacher, one high school science teacher, one high school math teacher, one middle school health teacher, and one high school home and careers teacher.

Superintendent Nancy Carney later said an unexpected recent increase in state aid allows the district to retain three of those employees.

No in-school programs will be totally cut, but the budget includes reductions of equipment co- and extra-curricular activities. Some programs will be offered less often and district departments across the board will have to work with smaller budgets.

Several of the teams, such as the JV and varsity golf teams, will be combined into one team playing a varsity schedule.

Adult education classes in the district, currently taught at Riverhead High School, will be eliminated.

The budget also proposes combining the Riverhead Middle School and Pulaski Street School bus runs to save about $300,000.

The Shoreham-Wading River district budget is a $62.35 million plan that leaves district programs intact while keeping the district under the state-mandated tax cap.

The budget, a 3.98 percent increase from this year’s spending plan, allows the district to continue all 43 electives in subjects like business, art, science and music.

The proposal also keeps the tax levy at a 1.75 percent increase from this year.

The district has proposed to pull $3.75 million from its reserve funds as tax relief, more than double the amount used in the 2011-12 school budget.

The reserve funds will be tapped into once the district’s fund balance — money saved from this year’s budget from circumstances such as reduced heating costs in the warm winter – is depleted. The district has about $16 million left between its various reserve funds.

In addition to the budget vote, district residents will also vote on two additional proposals during the May 15 election.

Proposition 2, if approved, would allow the district to use excess funds from a 2009 Health and Safety Proposition to make repairs and improvements to district buildings.

School officials said the district saved nearly $1.14 million from the 2009 proposal, and would use the money to install new playgrounds at Wading River and Miller Avenue schools, make blacktop and curb repairs, build a playground retaining wall at Briarcliff Elementary School and other repairs.

Proposition 3 would give the board the authority to appoint a Shoreham-Wading River High School senior as a non-voting member of the school board.

The student, district officials said, would gain experience in “real government” while giving the Board of Education an insight into the needs and opinions of current students.

The student member of the board would not be able to vote during board meeting and would not be allowed to sit in on executive sessions of the board.

The Riverhead board meeting will be held in the Riverhead High School auditorium at 7 p.m. The Shoreham-Wading River meeting will be held at 8 p.m. in the Shoreham-Wading River High School library.

Both budgets go up for vote during the May 15 election.

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