SWR outlines $81.7M preliminary budget for 2021-22 that keeps COVID protocols in place

With uncertainty still remaining about when schools can return to some pre-pandemic normal, the Shoreham-Wading River School District plans to roll over its current COVID-19 compliant program to keep students in classrooms full-time as part of its preliminary 2021-22 budget.

That includes keeping the Briarcliff School in Shoreham open next year. The building was reopened last fall for the first time since 2014 to allow the district to have adequate space to bring back all students and maintain social distancing.

District officials outlined a proposed $81.7 million budget during a Board of Education meeting Tuesday night as well as two additional propositions that voters will decide on in May. The budget represents a 5.97% increase from the current budget, but officials noted that the larger than normal increase is due to pandemic-related changes such as increases in staff, costs of personal protective equipment and additional technology equipment.

“It’s very, very important to not forget that the 2021 budget that was presented to the voters for approval wasn’t the budget that we’re operating under today,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations. “It did not contain all the specific funding related to our Covid plan that we’re currently working under today.”

The budget includes a 1.37% increase to the tax levy, which is the amount of money raised through taxes. The increase is just over $756,000 and that percent increase is in line with the prior four-year average of 1.33%, according to the budget presentation.

“It was really not a normal year for the development of a budget,” said Superintendent Gerard Poole. “Nothing was really normal this year. As usual, there’s always a lot of unknowns generally related to what the tax cap will be and what we can expect as state aid.”

Mr. Poole said the unknown centers around the passage of a federal stimulus package that New York State is relying on for the state budget that then trickles down to aid for local school districts.

The budget presentation showed about $12.8 million planned for state aid, which is a 5.34% increase from the current budget. Mr. Arcuri said that figure includes $1.9 million dependency on the federal stimulus.

“From what we heard yesterday, we’re very confident according to what the state is telling us that we’re going to be made whole on the 2021-22 state aid,” Mr. Arcuri said.

He said the district is hopeful there won’t be a repeat of last year when Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened a 20% reduction in state aid if New York did not receive federal assistance as the pandemic was first unfolding.

The budget also includes the use of just under $5.9 million from the appropriated fund balance, which would be a 40% increase.

“We are developing a budget based on what we know today works for our community,” Mr. Arcuri said.

The district unveiled two additional propositions, one of which will be to spend $7.5 million of a capital reserve on various projects such as ventilator replacements, roof repairs, the purchase of a generator to provide backup power at the high school, reconstruction of bathrooms in the middle school and a districtwide plan for heating, ventilation and air conditioning repairs.

“Not a glamorous list,” Mr. Poole said of the projects planned with the reserve funds.

Voters approved the creation of the capital reserve in 2017 and any use of the funds must be approved by voters as well. Spending from the fund does not affect the tax levy.

With those funds potentially going to be spent if the proposition is approved, the district outlined a third proposition for the creation of a new 2021 capital reserve fund. No money would go into that fund until the next school year. The maximum amount of the reserve is $7.5 million.

“We want to continue as a district to stay proactive and stay on top of our capital needs,” Mr. Arcuri said. “In order to do that we need to continue to squirrel away, save and store funding so that when we need to do work we have available funding.”

Mr. Arcuri praised the district’s handling of the current pandemic and noted that the district has averaged fewer than 1.5 COVID cases per day among the student and staff population of over 2,500. He said the positivity rate has been .06%.

More specific breakdowns of the budget are planned starting March 9 when employee salaries and benefits are discussed. Additional presentations are planned March 16 and 23. The budget is scheduled to be adopted April 20.