Budget season has Smithtown school board optimistic

Budget season has Smithtown school board optimistic

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The Smithtown Central School District is gearing up for another budget season, but officials say this year might not be as financially difficult as administrators had anticipated. File photo

Budget season has arrived in Smithtown, and district administrators said they anticipated a bigger budget to be matched by more state funding.

The Smithtown Central School District held a business affairs committee meeting recently with district administrators and board of education representatives to mull over potential budgetary options facing them. Board member Grace Plourde presented the discussions from that meeting to the public Feb. 9 along with a first draft of the pending $233,476,414 school district budget.

The projected budget for the 2016-17 school year is about $4 million higher than the budget for the current school year, she said. That increase, however, would be covered in large part by a projected 0.8 percent increase in the tax levy and an increase in state aid from a partial restoration of money lost to the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a policy enacted for the 2010-11 fiscal year which cut into state aid for New York State school districts in an effort to close a large budget deficit.

An increase in funding from the state would mean a smaller increase in taxes for Smithtown residents.

“We may find that we’re not in the kind of trouble that we have been in in prior years,” Plourde said. “Our preliminary budget is looking pretty stable. We’re anticipating that at this point we’re not going to have to make the kinds of painful cuts that we’ve had to make in prior years, but again it’s not because we’re getting the kinds of revenue we need to get.”

A rise in salaries for district employees accounts for the majority of the $4 million increase from the 2015-16 budget, according to Andrew Tobin, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations.

The district is currently in the midst of a heated debate over potential cost-saving measures while grappling with declining enrollment and a potential deficit in the near future, Tobin added.

Plourde said that stability in the projected 2016-17 budget could be attributed to a low number of required retirement payouts, which is not to be expected every year.

“We’re continuing to hope to hang on to the kind of quality programing that we’re used to around here, but we need to be smart,” Plourde said. “We need to always be looking ahead.”

Superintendent James Grossane has recommended closing at least one of the district’s eight elementary schools, an option that would save the district about $725,000 annually, he said. Parents in the district, however, have said they would prefer that the district sold or repurposed their administration headquarters located on New York Avenue, Smithtown instead. The building hasn’t been used for instruction in several years.

The next budget workshop will be held on Tuesday, March 1, at 7 p.m. at the New York Avenue headquarters. A decision on the fate of the district’s elementary schools is expected in the coming weeks.