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Riverhead School District unveils part of its 2019-20 budget

03/17/2019 5:27 AM |

Riverhead residents will vote on two propositions in the May budget vote, according to a presentation made at Tuesday’s school board meeting. 

Superintendent Dr. Aurelia Henriquez and deputy superintendent Sam Schneider unveiled a portion of the anticipated budget for the 2019-20 academic year Tuesday. The two propositions would be voted on separately from the regular budget. 

Dr. Henriquez said the first presentation was meant to occur at the Feb. 12 board meeting, which was postponed to Feb. 15 due to inclement weather. Tuesday’s presentations did not account for the total amount of the budget, but provided estimates for key elements within the district that require funding. 

“The board aims to develop a budget that maintains district programs, adequate resources and the support of the community,” Dr. Henriquez said.

Mr. Schneider noted that the numbers in the propositions and budget proposal are subject to change.

The final presentation on the complete budget proposal — including special education, guidance, other instructional items, revenues and an updated projected tax levy — will be presented at the March 26 board meeting. The board will then vote to adopt the proposed budget at its April 16 meeting.

NEW BALLOT ITEMS

The first ballot proposition will seek voter permission to spend $3.9 million on a five-year plan to purchase about 44 new school buses.

In 2007 and 2014, voters authorized a program to purchase school buses and retire old vehicles. The funds allocated under those authorizations have been spent, Dr. Henriquez said.

The district has negotiated with five bus manufacturers and determined that vehicle prices will hold steady for all five years, Mr. Schneider said, but the prices are subject to change if state mandates are modified.

The second ballot proposition would seek approval from voters to spend $275,000 from the Cafeteria Capital Reserve for several specific projects. Those include fixing the walk-in refrigerator, replacing doors and improving the loading dock at the high school, converting a dry goods storage area at the middle school into a walk-in freezer and improving the kitchen entryway at the middle school.

The Cafeteria Capital Reserve was approved by voters last May. The superintendent said the reserve, which currently has $400,000, is funded solely through the cafeteria program itself and does not rely on taxpayer money. Voters must approve specific expenditures from the reserve fund.

BUDGET PRESENTATION

Tuesday’s first presentation provided an overview of the district’s major funding areas for 2019-20 and estimated costs for general support, employee benefits and debt service. It also included information about how the tax increase cap is calculated.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Consumer Price Index program produces monthly data on changes in prices paid by urban consumers for a specific array of goods and services.

This year, the CPI is 2 percent, which means the district’s property tax cap will be 2.51 percent.

Payments in lieu of taxes, which are deducted in the final calculation of the property tax cap limit, increased by 46 percent in three years, Dr. Henriquez said. 

An estimated $1.15 million will go into PILOTs from Riverhead IDA this year. Last year, the district paid just under $1 million for PILOTs. 

Dr. Henriquez said the district is exempt from property taxes but is still subject to sewer rent charges, based on water usage. Last year, the district requested that the town grant it the same status as the former Bishop McGann-Mercy High School, whereby the sewer charges wouldn’t be calculated based on assumed water usage of four times the winter quarter usage. 

The request was denied, Mr. Schneider said, so the district installed a well on school property. An appropriation of $150,899 is recommended for the 2019-20 budget year. 

A section of the budget is put into general support, which includes funding to the board central administration, mandated audits, property and liability insurance and mandated BOCES administration. The district expects to use $4 million in general support areas.

Another area of the budget presentation addressed employee benefits, which include Social Security, workers’ compensation and unemployment, health insurance and the Teachers Retirement System. 

Due to expected contribution rates for the retirement system, Mr. Schneider said, none of the pension costs are excluded from the tax cap calculation.

The last category, debt service, is expected to cost the district $8.3 million, an increase of less than 1 percent compared to last year. 

The second presentation outlines anticipated expenditures for facilities, security, transportation, the two additional ballot propositions and curriculum and instruction, which encompasses administration and state mandated testing, the Riverhead Charter School and general classroom needs.

A proposed $7.9 million will be allocated for maintenance costs, a reduction of 2.18 percent from last year. Dr. Henriquez said the district is cutting these expenditures to offset the increased cost instructional needs. 

The district expects to spend $1.6 million on security, a 15.07 percent jump from last year. Mr. Schneider said the increase reflects the hiring of 10 additional security guards for the district.

District transportation costs are estimated at $7,209,580, a 4.37 percent increase from last year. The superintendent said the homeless population in the district has risen in recent years, resulting in the need for separate BOCES transportation services

District administrators oversee about 5,500 students and more than 420 instructional staff members, and are funded through the curriculum, instructional administration and state-mandated testing category. An estimated $5.24 million will be spent in the 2019-20 academic year, an increase of 6.9 percent.

Funding for general classroom, teaching, instruction and support is expected to account for $47.2 million of the overall budget. This includes costs associated with the Riverhead Charter School, instructional salaries, BOCES services other than transportation and other supplies.

Photo caption: Riverhead Superintendent Aurelia Henriquez presents parts of the 2019-20 proposed budget at Tuesday’s school board meeting. (Kate Nalepinski photo)

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