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Teacher retirements, state aid to help Riverhead stay under cap

Susan Koukounas

Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney says she’s confident a budget will be presented to voters that won’t pierce a slim 0.5 percent state-mandated cap on next year’s tax levy increase.

During a budget presentation at Tuesday’s school board meeting, Ms. Carney said the district is allowed to raise the tax levy by about $483,930 with a simple majority from voters. The district would need 60 percent voter approval to exceed that amount — a path the superintendent said she and the school board will attempt to avoid.

“The saving grace is a combination of 30 teachers [retiring] and additional state aid,” Ms. Carney said after the meeting.

Since neither of those figures has been finalized, Ms. Carney said she couldn’t specify how much the district expects to save in 2016-17.

In anticipation of coming tighter restrictions, the district has offered teachers a retirement incentive of $25,000 or subsidized health insurance coverage. That offer is in addition to retirement benefits Riverhead teachers are already guaranteed through their union contract, which offers them either $40,000 or subsidized health insurance coverage. With the newest retirement incentive agreement, retirees who opt to forgo the health insurance option could each receive a total of $65,000.

On Tuesday, Ms. Carney estimated the district will save over $2 million through the latest retirement incentive program.

She also said the district anticipates additional aid because the state is expected to restore the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, which was first applied in 2009-10 to help reduce New York’s $10 billion deficit. That formula has worked by reducing the amount of aid school districts are entitled to each year.

Ms. Carney said the Riverhead district is owed $694,000 and believes at least half of that will be restored, adding she’s hopeful the state will ultimately return the full amount this year.

As for expenses, Ms. Carney outlined her predictions for the district’s benefits, debt service and general support Tuesday night. She estimated that total spending in those categories will increase by 5.15 percent, a nearly $1.96 million hike over the current budget.

The district’s state-mandated contributions to the Employees’ Retirement System and Teachers’ Retirement System are expected to drop by 5.86 percent to a total of $8.39 million, Ms. Carney said. The district is required to pay 6.86 percent more for Social Security next year, totaling $5 million.

Since workers’ compensation and unemployment claims are expected to rise next year, Ms. Carney said she’s budgeting a 31.57 percent increase for 2016-17, totaling about $1.28 million.

Debt service, which includes construction bonds, bus purchases and the district’s energy performance contract, is projected to increase to $7.38 million next year, a 19.48 percent hike over the current spending plan, Ms. Carney said.

The general support budget is expected to increase by 0.31 percent, totaling $3.77 million, she added.

Ms. Carney is scheduled to give a presentation about expenses for the regular day school budget, transportation and facilities at the March 8 school board meeting.

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Photo: Riverhead Board of Education president Susan Koukounas at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Through a combination of 30 teachers retiring and additional state aid, the school board is expected to adopt a budget under the tax cap. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)