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Riverhead to send $136.3 million budget to voters next month

The Riverhead Board of Education formally voted Wednesday night to send a $136.3 million budget to voters. The budget calls for a 3.77 percent increase in the tax levy and a 4.38 percent increase in district spending.

The budget complies with the state’s 1.26 percent cost-of-living tax levy cap because of permitted exemptions such as capital costs that put the cap for Riverhead at 3.77 percent, according to Superintendent Nancy Carney.

The proposed budget reduces the amount of unspent surplus funds from prior years that it appropriates for spending in 2017-18 by 28 percent from $3.29 million to $2.3 million.

“Last year [2016-17[, we did have to tap into our reserves significantly in order to come in within the tax levy cap, so we want to make sure we keep our reserves at an appropriate level going forward,” Ms. Carney said.

The board approved the budget 5-0. Members Ann Cotten-DeGrasse and Chris Dorr were absent.

“The board is considering this revenue plan with an eye toward future years,” said deputy superintendent Sam Schneider, who said that as budgets become together, the ability to accumulate unspent funds becomes more difficult.

An unexpected boost in state aid also helped the district meet the tax cap, Ms. Carney said.

The district will receive an additional 10.28 percent in state aid of $2.7 million to bring the total to $29.4 million.

“We were actually working very hard right before the spring break looking at what we’d do had we not gotten some of this additional state aid, but fortunately it did come through,” Mr. Carney said. “We received notice early last week. The change is quite significant at 10.28 percent, and that has really enabled us to be able to move forward in a very positive direction.”

The district’s enrollment has increased by 604 students from the 2009-10 school year to a total of 5,481 students, Ms. Carney said. During that same period, the number of “English Language Learners” in the district jumped from 538 to 1,550, and the number of special education students jumped from 775 to 1,056.

“You can see the significant increase we’ve had in enrollment, plus the increase we’ve had in students that need additional support, whether they’re English Language Learners or students with disabilities,” Ms. Carney said.

The enrollment from the 2015-16 school year to this year increased by 146 students.

The proposed budget calls for a new assistant principal position at Aquebogue Elementary School, due to the enrollment increase in that school, Ms. Carney said. It also includes money to create a new districtwide director of fine arts position.

“We have a wonderful fine arts program, but with our increasing enrollment and the increasing needs of the district, we really feel we needed leadership in that position,” she said.

One of the  biggest areas of increase is benefits and debt service, which increased by 8.79 percent to $39.45 million, Ms. Carney said.

“These increases are due to increases in our health insurance costs and in our capital projects coming to fruition,” she said.

The budget vote will be held on May 16, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.,  and a public hearing will be held May.

As previously reported, the May 16 ballot also will have a special proposition asking voters to create a $7.5 million repair reserve, whereby unspent funds at the end of each school year could be added to the reserve for use in recurring maintenance on district facilities.

Photo caption: Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney, left, presents a budget overview at Wednesday’s meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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