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Budgets

SWR Assistant Superintendent Glen Arcuri talks to the school board about precautions the district has made toward COVID-19. Photo by Kyle Barr

With school district budgets and board elections on the docket for June 9 with an extension from New York State, this year’s crop of district spending and revenue plans have had to contend with many unknowns.

In fact, budgets may change from now until June 1, as the current pandemic holds much in the air. COVID-19, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) estimates, could result in approximately $61 billion less revenue for New York State from 2021 to 2024. The hope rests on the federal government supplying the state with emergency funding.

“It’s very, very hard to plan for the unknown,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations at the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District.

The governor has three look-back periods for revising state aid. The last period is Dec. 31.

Though one certainty is the start of next school year will weigh heavily on officials, as many still do not know when students will again walk through facilities’ doors.

Additionally, complicating this year’s votes is everything must be done outside of polling locations. Suffolk County Board of Elections, based on an executive order, will mail ballots to each residence with a prepaid return envelope.

There are still many unknowns, even as districts craft budgets. Nobody could say whether students will have a fall sports season, whether students would have to wear masks and remain apart in the classroom, or whether there will even be the chance for students to learn in-person, instead of online.

Numbers floated by Cuomo for state aid reductions have not inspired much hope. The governor said without state aid, school districts could see an upward of 50 percent reduction.

“A 50 percent reduction would be very painful for our school district, it would be insurmountable for any other school district,” said Port Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister.

All that comes down to whether the federal government will provide aid to the state for it to maintain current budget figures.

All budget information provided is the latest from the school districts, though if it does change based on any state decisions, an update to this article will appear in the June 4 issue.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai residents will see a marginal increase in budget but only a slight increase in taxes, despite the lingering question whether students will even be in school next September. The district voted to approve its budget at its May 18 board meeting.

The 2020-21 budget sees a $61,769,870 budget, a $760,100 and 1.25 percent increase from last year. The tax levy is set at $41,396,602, an increase of 1 percent and well below the 2.43 percent cap set by New York State.

The largest increases come in the form of operations and maintenance by just over $84,000 because of contractual obligations, as well as oil and electric increases. Employee benefits increased by $272,695, mostly from employee and teacher retirement requirements. 

“Every participant in the retirement system is given percentages based on the market performances from the comptroller’s office,” said board president Robert Sweeney.

Though much of the budget remains the same in presentations from the past 3 months, officials said that this year’s budget has had to account for the fact many, many residents have been hit hard financially by the pandemic. 

“Our community is not in the same financial position five weeks ago,” said Superintendent Gordon Brosdal.

A second proposition the district will ask voters to approve $1.2 million for capital projects from the reserves. This does not increase the tax levy.

Current projects still include continuing the high school roof replacement for $865,000, replacing the middle school water heater for $100,000, among others for a total of $1,200,000. 

The district is currently set to receive $17,653,079 in state aid this upcoming school year, a some $135,000 decrease from last year. Brosdal said it was due to decreased building aid from continuing to pay off loans and bonds from building projects.

Brosdal said the question of whether the governor will cut state aid, that is still up in the air, could mean massive upheaval for the district.

“He has talked about a further 20 percent school aid cut, which would be devastating, devastating,” Brosdal said. “Things are not what they were, this is a brand new game.” 

Should the state budget change mid-year, that would also cause issues for the district, the superintendent said, as they would then have to revise the budget midstream, potentially leading to staffing cuts and program changes.

Brosdal, who in his time working from home has grown a mustache since the start of quarantine, also added, “I need to go back to school because I need to shave.”

Mount Sinai will host its budget hearing June 2 at 8 p.m. A link to the online meeting can be found at mtsinai.k12.ny.us. Votes must be received by June 9 at 8 p.m.

Miller Place

For a budget that was originally meant to be displayed and voted on earlier this month, not much has changed between then and the pandemic which has pushed the vote back to May 9. 

The district adopted its budget at its March 17 emergency meeting, but has reallocated resources in order to better meet the needs of students as they handle distance learning, and potentially when they are allowed back into school buildings.

“We reviewed all of our expenditures reallocated from areas that we can regress,” said Superintendent Marianne Cartisano.

The budget for 2020-21 is set at $75,713,895, a $1,755,288 or 2.37 percent increase from last year. Though the district also cites using about a million dollars in capital project funding, which would mean this year’s increase is $754,612, or just over 1 percent.

The largest increases come from the usual suspects such as a $390,137 or 2.38 percent increase in employee benefits and a $134,659 increase in health insurance budget.

The district’s 2020-21 tax levy, or the amount of money the district raises through area taxes, is set at $47,616,059, which sits directly at the state tax cap limit for this year of 1.46 percent. It’s an increase of $687,471 from last year.

Miller Place’s state aid was set at $23,144,911, but the district also has leftover building aid of $792,666 and will be receiving an additional $208,010 for 2020-21. Cartisano said that million or so dollars came in response to the high school gym floor, which was remedied last September. Now that aid, along with saved funds, will be used to help offset any potential reductions in state aid, should the state revise its budget somewhere down the line. 

“It’s not an advantageous place to be in to have a huge unknown, but we are fortunate that we can plan for it — the school district is very financially solid,” the superintendent said. 

In terms of programming for this upcoming year, the district plans to continue with all current classes and clubs along with adding more time to middle school math labs and new courses of AP Calculus BC and non-regents chemistry. These two new courses are being funded by reallocation of resources and will only run if there are enough students enrolled. 

The budget also adds elementary sections in an effort to lower class sizes in the third, fifth and sixth grades. These sections were seeing an average of 26 students before, but that will be reduced to 22 or 24.

The district is also adding an extra 10 minutes of “specials” time in the elementary school, or the daily activities where one day may be gym and the next day art. These activities are going from 30 to 40 minutes for physical education, art, music or library time.

The district has also allocated for a 1 to 1 technology initiative with each student receiving a district laptop or otherwise electronic device, which will also go towards distance learning if state mandates remain in place. Going along with this thought, the high school will receive an additional 3:05 p.m. late bus for students who stay after school for extra help. In addition, the district is adding two counselors to expand mental health options and assist with the transition back to classes.

This is alongside an overall enrollment that continues on the gradual declining trend. May 2019 saw a size of 2,581 students. Next year is projected to have 2,531.

Miller Place is hosting its budget hearing May 26 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Residents can go to the district website millerplace.k12.ny.us/District to find the link. All mail in ballots must be received by 5 p.m. June 9.

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point Union Free School District adopted its budget at its May 19 board meeting, though the 2020-21 budget has seen some significant reductions since it was last seen by board members in April.

Things have changed since then, with a reduction in New York State aid resulting in an even larger cut in overall budget by some $2.1 million to the new 2020-21 total of $84,586,600.

The reductions in budget coincides with a loss of state aid funds compared to last year, seeing a reduction of nearly $1.5 million. 

Expenditure decreases are across the board to reach the reduced budget. This is also to reduce the budget thanks to a tax levy cap of just 0.08 percent this year, a figure Christopher Van Cott, assistant superintendent for business, said was due to expiring debt service, which is no longer allowed as an exclusion. The budget sets the tax levy, or the amount the district raises in area taxes, at $52,483,059, setting itself directly at the tax cap, and is a very slight increase from last year’s figure. 

Van Cott said the district is “taking a very conservative approach” toward this year’s budget, adding there will be cuts in several areas while still being able to maintain current instructional programming, along with athletic and cocurricular programs.

“We looked at staffing and enrollment, and made decisions based on that enrollment, looking for different ways to deliver the same service in more economical ways,” Van Cott said. “Despite fiscal challenges, and lack of guidance and the numbers we need from the state, we were able to achieve budget goals.”

There are cuts across the board, though the biggest decreases are from administration and central services, as well as a $250,000 decrease in athletics and PPS. Van Cott said the district plans to reduce the number of sports teams at the middle school level. Though not removing any sports from the roster, multiple sports that have two teams will be reduced to one, Van Cott said. 

The district is also planning to use the capital reserves to repave the front driveway area in front of the high school with a cost not to exceed $350,000. Rocky Point’s current reserve balance is set at $1,590,368. In a separate proposition to the budget, the district will be asking residents to vote to gain access to the funds. The capital reserve does not increase the tax levy. 

The potential the state could further reduce state aid is real, and Van Cott said the district is looking to use its capital reserves, along with the described expenditures reductions, to plug any holes that come up. If state aid does not decrease, he added some of those staff positions expected to make reductions in might not have to be.

Rocky Point is hosting its budget hearing June 2 at 6 p.m., but residents will also be mailed a budget brochure and six-day notice shortly after. That same document will be available at the district website May 26. Ballots are due by 5 p.m. June 9. 

File Photo

Shoreham-Wading River

SWR’s 2020-21 budget boasts it will maintain all current programming despite looming fears state aid will be cut in the near or distant future. The district adopted the revised budget at its May 19 meeting.

The district’s $77,164,774 budget is a 1.6 percent increase from last year’s $75,952,416. The year’s tax levy, or the amount of funds raised from resident taxes, would stand at $55,391,167, a $1,013,510 increase from 2019-20.

This tax levy represents an overall decrease from what the district showed in its March presentations by almost $300,000.

Though the district boasts its maintaining its programming, the overall cuts to the planned budget have left an impact. Recent program initiatives, including several new art, wellness, jazz band and world languages clubs, have been axed. The planned SWR 101 class, which would have been a new kind of basic overview class for incoming freshmen, is no longer on the table for the year’s budget. Replacement equipment for the Wading River school’s gym wall pads and outdoor basketball hoops, as well as middle school smart classroom furniture and high school volleyball standards will not arrive as originally planned. In addition, travel and conference funding will be reduced by 50 percent if the budget is approved.

Assistant superintendent Arcuri said those funds are being redirected to applying additional “structural” support for distance learning due to COVID-19, as well as additional sanitizing equipment and supplies. He added, optimistically, there’s a possibility if funding stabilizes bringing in these proposed clubs mid-year.

The budget relies on a $12,789,308 state aid package, which would be a $112,843 increase from last year. To make room for the very real potential the state could make cuts to state aid midyear in the fall, the district has placed certain items in the budget that would not be purchased before Dec. 31, including multiple infrastructure projects at Miller Avenue elementary and the middle school, as well as work on the districtwide grounds and asphalt repairs.  

“These are not items that are absolutely essential,” Arcuri said. “They are important to get completed, but they are not more important than losing instructional support or any student related program and/or any staff within the district.”

Of course, with so much still unknown, the district does not know if the approximately $5,235,229 of a $24,114,734 five-year contract with bus company First Student will even be used.

The district is planning to host its budget hearing presentation May 26. For mail-in ballots, all must be received in the clerk’s office by 5 p.m., June 9.

Comsewogue and Port Jefferson high schools. File photos

With school district budgets and board elections on the docket for June 9 with an extension from New York State, this year’s crop of district spending and revenue plans have had to contend with many unknowns. 

In fact, budgets may change from now until June 1, as the current pandemic holds much in the air. COVID-19, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) estimates, could result in approximately $61 billion less revenue for New York State from 2021 to 2024. The hope rests on the federal government supplying the state with emergency funding.

“It’s very, very hard to plan for the unknown,” said Glen Arcuri, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations at the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District.

The governor has three look-back periods for revising state aid. The last period is Dec. 31.

Though one certainty is the start of next school year will weigh heavily on officials, as many still do not know when students will again walk through facilities’ doors.

Additionally, complicating this year’s votes is everything must be done outside of polling locations. Suffolk County Board of Elections, based on an executive order, will mail ballots to each residence with a prepaid return envelope. A household may contact the district clerks for more information about ballots.

There are still many unknowns, even as districts craft budgets. Nobody could say whether students will have a fall sports season, whether students would have to wear masks and remain apart in the classroom, or whether there will even be the chance for students to learn in-person, instead
of online.

Numbers floated by Cuomo for state aid reductions have not inspired much hope. The governor said without state aid, school districts could see an upward of 50 percent reduction.

“A 50 percent reduction would be very painful for our school district, it would be insurmountable for any other school district,” said Port Jefferson Deputy Superintendent Sean Leister.

All that comes down to whether the federal government will provide aid to the state for it to maintain current budget figures. 

All budget information provided is the latest from the school districts, though it is currently subject to change. If it does, an update to this article will appear in the June 4 issue. 

File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson School District

The Port Jeff School District is for the most part staying to the course established by previous budget presentations. 

Next year’s budget is looking at a 1.83 percent increase from last year for a total of $44,739,855. This year’s tax levy, or the amount raised through property taxes, is $37,356,454, a $457,630 or 1.24 percent increase from last year.

The district is expecting to receive $3,863,212 in state aid, a marked increase of 2.54 percent from last year. However, district officials said while the amounts have been set, there is no word on whether the state will reduce those amounts midstream into next school year. 

“We’ll be working under a lot of uncertainty, from month to month to quarter to quarter,” Leister said. 

Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said the district has been watching the “political push and pull” of state aid reductions closely. 

“The swing in what that state aid is, is concerning to us, and the difficult part is it’s an unknown,” she said. “I think that needs to be drawn upon. There is a lot of advocacy happening to make sure there is some federal money to help with this large deficit.”

Leister added that legislation allowing the district to put aside unspent money from this year into next year’s in excess of legal reserve limits would also help.

Leister said this year’s budget increases are mainly due to the standard labor agreement increases, an increase in the retirement contribution rate and a decrease in debt services. Continuing building improvements included in the budget are the second part of the security vestibule capital project, a new replacement retaining wall to the technical education building, a replacement to the middle school heating system. 

This year’s capital reserve will also be used for some of these projects, including $2 million for continuing work on the high school roof replacement project. 

In terms of reserves, the district expects to use $3.4 million, leaving $14.5 million in reserve at the end of next year. This could be used “to help offset a reduction in state aid,” Leister said. “This is our rainy day funds, and I would definitely classify that as a rainy day.”

Because of the ongoing glide path due to the LIPA settlement, the district will experience a 3.5 percent loss. This is compared to last school year, where the loss was 6 percent. As a result of this smaller loss, there will be an extra $48,185 in power plant tax revenue at $1,477,185.  

Enrollment is continuing on a downward path. In 2014, total enrollment sat at 1,197, which became 1,115 in 2018 and turns to 1,052 in 2020. Along those same lines, Port Jefferson is reducing staff by three teachers, and a total equivalent of five full-time employees overall. That is subject to change as scheduling goes on.

The district also provided estimates for tax rates based on a property’s assessed value. A home with a $12,500 assessed value could expect a $20,466 bill at the 3.5 percent tax rate. On the lower end, a home assessed at $1,600 would see a $2,620 bill. The budget hearing will be hosted May 12 at 7 p.m.

Ballots must be returned to the district clerk’s office no later than 5 p.m. June 9.  Should additional ballots be required at a residence, the district clerk can be contacted by either email at [email protected] or by phone at 631-791-4221.

Comsewogue High School

Comsewogue School District

Comsewogue district officials said they are taking their savings from not operating to the same extent the last few months and, instead of putting it into the fund balance, are carrying it over to next year, boasting that doing so results in a 0 percent tax increase.

District residents will be asked to vote on two propositions, one is the budget of $96,635,581 and the other is take $1,500,000 from the capital fund and use it for high school improvements including two synthetic turf fields for baseball and softball, high school boiler room HVAC repairs and otehr classroom renovations. 

Associate Superintendent Susan Casali said the district is allocating an additional fund balance from operational savings from the closure of the buildings to this year’s budget, resulting in the no tax increase. Last year’s $57,279,755 tax levy, or the amount the district raises from area taxes, will then be this year’s as well.

Despite this, the budget largely remains the same from the district’s March presentations. The $96.6 million budget is an increase of 2.8 percent or $2,660,826.

“We still have to plan,” Casali said. “We’re assuming currently we’ll be opening on time in September.” 

Overall, programming is set to remain the same, the associate super said. The biggest budget increases come from instructional costs, with $819,111 extra going to regular school instruction and an additional $803,412 for special education. The district is adding one full-time psychologist/social worker and one other full-time employee to the technology department.

The district is also adding an additional section to the fourth grade at Boyle Road Elementary.

In terms of state aid, the district is seeing a planned reduction of approximately $150,000, or -0.5 percent to $32,550,000. Last year the district received $32,700,000.

The question of whether or not the district will even receive the full amount of this reduced sum still depends on whether or not the state will hold onto its current budget. 

Due to the rampant change in schedules for the actual budget and board of education vote, this year Comsewogue will be hosting its budget hearing June 1, with the actual vote scheduled for a week later, June 9.

Ballots must be given or posted for receipt by the clerk’s office in the state-issued return envelope by 5 p.m. June 9. Casali said it’s best for residents to catch the mail by June 2 to make sure it arrives on time.

This post was amended May 26 to better clarify the mail in ballots.

Superintendent Marianne Higuera discusses the proposed budget at a school board meeting. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Another end to the school year brings another round of budget votes. Local school districts adopted 2018-19 budgets saw increases with attempts to expand programs, repair infrastructure and increase security measures around campus.

All budget and board elections votes will take place May 15.

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Shoreham-Wading River

The Shoreham-Wading River board of education adopted a $74,776,072 budget, an increase of $701,500 from the 2017-18 school year.

“The district’s exceptional programs, and the performance of its students academically, artistically and athletically are a great source of pride to our community,” Superintendent Gerard Poole said in an email. “The 2018-19 proposed budget fully maintains all current student programs and includes additional new student offerings.”

Poole said new offerings include high school electives and clubs in elementary and secondary school. The expanded budget also allocates for hiring a new middle school psychologist. The district plans to contract with an outside agency for any problems that go beyond the work of in-house psychologists.

The tax levy, or the money a district raises through property taxes to fund its budget, has dropped half a percent, a $269,775 total decrease from last school year.

In an April 18 presentation on the proposed budget, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Glen Arcuri said that the tax levy decrease is due to an increase of state aid, specifically building aid for renovations.

“The district spent money, successfully completing them as aggressively as the district was able to,” Aruci said. “This allowed the money to be returned back to the taxpayers because the formula requires the district reduce the tax levy by the return of the building aid.”

The budget also expands elementary enrichment clubs, the middle school’s chromebook program, security measures — including an anonymous reporting app — and includes money for maintenance projects and one-time equipment purchases like two new maintenance-work vans.

A budget hearing will take place May 1 at 7 p.m. at Shoreham-Wading River High School. The budget vote will take place May 15 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Shoreham-Wading River High School auxiliary gym, located at 250A Route 25A in Shoreham.

Rocky Point High School. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Rocky Point

The Rocky Point board of education adopted a $86,128,785 budget, an increase of $2,842,439 from the 2017-18 school year.

The largest increases came from teacher benefits and new general education initiatives, like STEM initiatives, new Advanced Placement courses and special education services.

“The proposed budget is one that was developed with an eye toward our district’s mission – to develop each child’s full potential in a nurturing and supportive, student-centered environment in order to provide a foundation for lifelong learning,” Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said in an email. “Our budget planning process also placed a strong focus on the fiscal health of our district and the commitment we have to taxpayers to operate in the most financially-efficient manner possible.”

The budget includes a 3.1 percent tax levy increase at $1,536,959 from last year. Board officials said that the increase stays within the tax levy increase cap.

“We kept things current,” board Vice President Scott Reh said. “We didn’t cut anything. We kept the programs in place and I think we were very responsible.”

A budget hearing will take place May 1 at 7 p.m. in the High School auditorium. The budget vote will be May 15 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Rocky Point High School gym, located at 82 Rocky Point Yaphank Rd. in Rocky Point.

Miller Place High School. File photo by Kevin Redding

Miller Place

The Miller Place board of education adopted a $72,685,864 budget, an increase of $1,495,189 from the 2017-18 school year.

“The budget increase at 2 percent maintains all current academic programs, clubs and athletics, as well as maintaining our capital project planning, and we’re pleased we’re presenting that within the tax cap,” Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said.

Under the proposed budget the tax levy will see a 2.8 percent increase of $1,261,274 from the previous year. The increase stays within the tax levy increase cap, meaning a cap-piercing vote won’t be necessary.

The proposed budget plan include a $530,000 transfer to capital funds, boasts the inclusion of new initiatives, including new high school courses Chemistry Honors, Virtual Enterprise — a course on learning about global business and enterprise — and Engineering Design using VEX Robotics, which design kits used to design automated devices and robots.

“They’re there to address interest in different programs,” board President Johanna Testa said of the new classes. “Science Technology Engineering and Math is a big interest in our community — robotics falls right into that area. It’s trying to be timely and up-to-date with what’s going on in our world.”

A budget hearing will take place May 8 at 8 p.m. at Miller Place High School. The budget vote will be May 15 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the North Country Road Middle School gym, at 191 North Country Rd. in Miller Place.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai

The Mount Sinai board of education adopted a $60,203,745 budget, an increase of $931,220 from the 2017-18 school year.

Earlier projections put the total budget at $60,469,490, but an increase in state aid, as well as a number of retiring Mount Sinai teachers. have brought the total down.

The largest increases in this year’s budget came from security improvements, including finalizing a bid to hire armed guards. One of the top bids is from the Hauppauge-based security firm Pro Protection Security Inc.

“We just feel that it’s important to have anything that’s a deterrent,” Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “When they’re not just in the building, but they’re actually checking ID’s at the gate, it gives people a second thought.”

The budget vote will also include two propositions to be voted on. One is a $750,000 increase to the capital reserve, and the other is a $5,000,000 capital project, coming from the unassigned fund balance, to pay for partial renovations to the high school roof, as well as improvements to the turf, track, bleachers, press box, sidewalks, nets and concrete plaza, while also enhancing security features like perimeter fencing and gates around the school property.

There is a tax levy increase of 1.95 percent, an increase of $766,589 from the previous year.

“I am hopeful and optimistic that it will pass,” board President Lynn Capobianco said. “I think it’s a fiscally sound budget.”

Capobianco was concerned that residents voting on the two other propositions would misunderstand what they are voting for.

“The capital project funds do not come out of the budget,” she said. “It will not raise the tax levy.”

A budget hearing is scheduled for May 8 at 8 p.m. at the middle school auditorium. The budget vote will be May 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Mount Sinai Elementary School, located at 118 North Country Rd. in Mount Sinai.

This version corrects the time and place of the Mount Sinai School District budget vote.

The administrative building on New York Avenue may soon be the site of a new apartment building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Kings Park

The Kings Park school district has only one seat available this year for a board of education candidate, and three residents vying for the opportunity.

Trustee Joe Bianco is looking to continue his work with a second term.

“I believe my experience on the board over the last three years has affirmed that given my background in accounting and law … I have the technical skills and experience to help the [board] address many of the issues it faces today,” he said in his candidate statement.

Bianco has worked as a lawyer since 1995 and has volunteered for different athletic activities  in Kings Park including the Kings Park Youth Athletic Association.

“If re-elected, the board’s first priority is to finalize a new contract with our teachers,” he said in an email. “Sustainable, predictable and equitable revenue streams and contracts are critical to our long-term success as a district and to the long-term security and empowerment of our staff.” He also talked about the importance of continuing the bond project and facility upgrades.

“We must continue to challenge ourselves, our administration leadership, our staff and our students to embrace new ideas and developments in a manner that stays true to the goals and values that are important to our community,” Bianco said.

Katy Cardinale is looking to unseat Bianco, a 10-year Kings Park resident herself.

Cardinale has volunteered for several district committees, including the facilities and legislative committees.

“Positive things are happening and the tone is enthusiastic and collaborative [in the district],” Cardinale said in her candidate statement. “I aim to continue the momentum in that direction.”

But Cardinale said she is concerned about state and federal overreach and its effect on the Kings Park district. She said the current board’s decision to not pass a resolution rejecting Secretary of Education Betsy Devos inspired her to run.

The candidate said she also thinks the board needs to protect school funding more vigorously.

“I feel that our school board needs to be very loud when it comes to protecting every last penny,” she said in her candidate statement.

J.P. Andrade is the third candidate looking to represent the Kings Park community.

Andrade is a Kings Park graduate and recently worked as a diversity advisor and surrogate for then candidate Donald Trump. He has been a television contributor for multiple news stations. He said he also volunteers for various Smithtown groups.

Where Kings Park is concerned, Andrade said his diverse background can be an asset to the board.

“My various work in the government, political field, and the community will be beneficial in serving this community,” he said. “I want to be able to bring some youth, diversity and innovation to Kings Park.”

Andrade said he wants to continue to keep a close eye on common core curriculum, calling the implementation a “disaster,” and wants to bridge the gap between the schools and the community.

“[I want to] ensure that the students are equipped with the best possible educational team, and to make sure they get the top-notch education they deserve,” he said.

Smithtown

In Smithtown three seats are up for election this May, with two of the three uncontested.

Long-time incumbent Gladys Waldron is hoping to continue her service, with no challenger looking to unseat her.

“I’d like to continue with the board, providing a financially responsible budget,” Waldron said in a phone interview. She also said she’s in support of many of the programs being expanded at the district now, including AP Capstone seminars and other educational opportunities for students.

“We’ve also replaced study halls with elective programs which has been a great success, and been able to maintain small elementary class sizes, all without piercing the tax levy cap,” she said.

Incumbent Vice President Joanne McEnroy is also looking to move forward with the district.

“Serving on the Smithtown Board of Education gives me a sense of pride,” she said in an email. “I love the place that I have called home for over five decades and in particular, I love our schools.”

McEnroy, who first ran six years ago, said she is proud of what she has accomplished so far.

“I am very proud to have lived up to the campaign promises … which was to balance fiscal responsibility with quality education,” she said. “We have remained within the tax cap while continuing to restore or build on our already outstanding educational program to make it even better.  The expansion this year of our full-time integrated co-teaching program so that it now encompasses kindergarten thru grade 12, is a source of pride and accomplishment for me as it was just one of the many program improvement goals that I hoped to achieve as a board trustee.”

She is also running unopposed.

Incumbent Grace Plourde is the third incumbent running for re-election; however, she does face a challenger. Newcomer Matthew  Gribbin has thrown his hat into the ring.

Plourde said simply why she’s running again.

“The job is not done yet,” she said in a phone interview. “I’ve been on the board six years and we’ve gotten through some tough times.”

Plourde referred to the state-mandated tax levy cap as one of the issues the district has had to work on to create a budget that still benefits the district and the students.

“It’s all about sustainability,” she said. “We have to make sure we go forward and match revenue to expenses to maintain high-quality programs while staying within the cap.”

Gribbin did not return requests for comment.

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The children's section of the Port Jefferson Free Library. File photo by Heidi Sutton

The community sent a resounding message of approval for two different library budgets April 4 — a vast majority of voting residents are happy with the services provided by their local libraries and are willing to pay for more.

The Port Jefferson Free Library’s $4.2 million budget passed with a 143 to 10 margin. The 2017-18 financial plan is about 1.2 percent more than last year’s version and will cost homeowners on average about 49 cents more monthly in property taxes compared to last year.

“We are very flattered and pleased at the support we get,” Library Director Tom Donlon said in an email. “This year we juggled a few budget lines around, and tried to focus on where our community wanted us to go. We increased the book budget as well as the programming budget in order to deliver the materials and services that Port Jeff has come to expect.”

More than 1,000 children participated in summer reading programs offered by the library in 2016, and 270,000 items were checked out during the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to a budget newsletter sent out to the community. Library administration was also proud of a teen garden established in 2016, which allowed children and teens to grow vegetables for local soup kitchens. A new, easy-to-use website was launched by the library last year, and the board also plans to update the community on some possible improvements to the facilities coming in the near future.

Additional books and programs, along with an increase in staff salaries, benefits and retirement payments represent the largest drivers of the budget increase. The gap in those increases is closed in large part by a near $200,000 savings compared to last year in transfers to the capital fund and debt services fund. The library also will offer fewer print and nonprint newspapers and periodicals this year.

The Comsewogue Public Library’s budget was passed with 102 yes to 14 no votes. The total operating budget for 2017-18 will be about $5.6 million, up 2.7 percent from last year. Like its Port Jeff counterpart, Comsewogue Public Library’s budget increases can be attributed for the most part to increases in staff salaries and benefits. Additional money was also factored into the current budget for some furniture and equipment upgrades. The library will see a savings in the coming year in computer equipment and supplies, as well as in debt service payments.

The average homeowner in the district will be required to pay about $4 more in taxes for the 2017-18 fiscal year compared to last year.

“The 2017-18 proposed operating budget is designed to ensure that the library continues to provide a high quality service program at a reasonable cost,” a letter to the community from the library said. “The public library serves everyone in the community, from babies to seniors.”

Port Jefferson Station resident and library trustee Edward Wendol was also elected to remain in the position on the board that he’s held since 1972. Wendol, who ran unopposed, has previously served as the board president and was named a Port Times Record Man of the Year in 2003. Library administration said he “has provided guidance and oversight to the organization,” in a letter sent to residents along with an informational budget newsletter.

“I’m very happy to be on it, and I’m happy to be elected continuously,” Wendol said in a phone interview. He added his primary objective in his next term is to move along a heating and air conditioning plan for the library. “I think we’re a good asset to the community.”

Tuesday night was a good one for school boards across New York State, as residents cast their ballots overwhelmingly in favor of district budgets.

According to the New York State School Boards Association, almost all of the school districts that had adopted budgets within their state-mandated caps on how much they could increase their tax levy had their voters stand behind those budgets. For those who pierced the cap, almost 78 percent of those budgets were approved — still a much larger approval rate than in previous years for such budgets. The approval rate for cap-busting budgets last year was about 61 percent.

“School districts managed to put together spending plans that in some cases restored educational programs and services, thanks to a large infusion of state aid,” NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said in a statement, referring to an increase in aid included in the state’s own budget that legislators recently approved. “The question is, will the state be able to sustain that commitment going forward?”

Here’s how school districts on the North Shore of Suffolk County fared:

Cold Spring Harbor
Residents approved the budget, 527 to 132, and a Proposition 2 regarding a capital reserve fund, 520 to 132. Vice President Amelia Walsh Brogan and Lizabeth Squicciarni, a member of the Citizen Faculty Association, a parent-teacher association at the CSH Junior/Senior High School, were elected to the school board with 469 and 455 votes, respectively. Lloyd Harbor resident George Schwertl fell short with 313 votes.

Commack
Commack voters approved the budget, with 1,837 to 536 votes. Hartman won with 1,703 votes while Verity received 1,167 votes to beat out challenger Hermer, who had 916.

Comsewogue
The Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association reports that the two incumbents who were running unopposed for re-election, Rob DeStefano and Francisca Alabau-Blatter, were returned to the school board with 895 and 785 votes, respectively. The district’s cap-compliant $87.2 million budget passed with more than 80 percent voter approval, with 828 votes in favor to 194 against.

Harborfields
Harborfields voters approved a cap-piercing $82.8 million budget at the polls tonight, the only one on the North Shore, 2,099 to 1,017. Incumbent Hansen Lee and Colleen Wolcott were elected to the board of education with 1,569 and 1,301 votes, respectively. Challengers Chris Kelly (1,001 votes), Marge Acosta (992 votes) and Joseph Savaglio (571 votes) fell short in their own bids.

Hauppauge
The $108 million budget passed, 1,066 to 363. A Proposition 2 regarding a capital reserve fund passed as well, 1,050 to 361. Rob Scarito, Gary Fortmeyer and David Barshay were all elected to the school board with 1,053 votes, 1,050 votes and 1,006 votes, respectively.

Huntington
According to results posted on the school district’s website, the community approved both a $123.1 million budget and a proposition to use almost $2.5 million of the district’s building improvement fund, or capital reserve, to update eight Huntington schools and make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Incumbents Bari Fehrs and Bill Dwyer were re-elected to the school board, while challenger Carmen Kasper fell short in her bid for one of the two seats.
Kasper said, “I am sorry to say I lost, but my desire to be involved with the schools and students has not been lost. There is always next time. I congratulate the two incumbents; I wish them the best.  We all work for the same cause: to improve education for our students.”
Dwyer said he looked forward to “continuing to work with the board and administration to expand our educational programs in a fiscally responsible manner.”
For her part, Fehrs noted the margin of approval: “I believe it shows a trust from the community that they are very supportive of our district and are confident in the way administration and the board of education are managing the education for the students in the district.”

Kings Park
Voters passed the budget, 1,544 to 615, and Prop 2, regarding vehicles, 1,603 to 544. Pam DeFord was re-elected with 1,629 votes, Dan Tew elected with 1,522 votes. Francis Braun and Juan Pablo Andrade fell short of their bids, with 554 and 293 votes, respectively.

Middle Country
Voters approved the budget with 1,924 votes in favor and 337 against. The elected school board trustees were Robert Feeney, Dawn Sharrock and Kristopher Oliva.

Miller Place
The community passed the budget, 1,064 to 236, and a Proposition 2 regarding the library, 1,153 to 141. Two school board trustees were elected, Johanna Testa (876 votes) and Noelle Dunlop (737 votes). Candidates Michael Unger and Michael Manspeizer fell short of board seats with 533 and 198 votes, respectively.

Mount Sinai
Residents approved the budget, 1,150 to 275.  On proposition 2, it passed with 1,266 votes in favor and 159 against. Lynn Jordan was re-elected to the school board with 726 votes, while Kerri Anderson won a seat with 733 votes.
“It shows that people have been satisfied with what I’ve been doing,” Jordan said. “It’s a true honor to serve and I love the work.”
Anderson said: “With my personal background in education and as a teacher, I’m hoping to bring some of my experience to help with Mount Sinai schools and things that we can maybe do differently to make it better.”
But Superintendent Gordon Brosdal was not as enthused: “I’m not so pleased with the turnout since we have 9,500 registered voters and annually we bring around 1,500 and we’re even a little below that. That’s a little disappointing when you have five good people running for the board.”

Northport-East Northport
Voters approved a $161 million budget (2,568 to 687 votes), a proposition on $2 million in capital improvements (2,848 to 390 votes), and a proposition reducing the amount of board members from nine to seven (1,881 to 1,294 votes). Allison Noonan (2,039 votes), Andrew Rapiejko (1,984 votes) and Lori McCue (1,560 votes) were elected to the school board while Julia Binger and Shawne Albero fell short of seats with 1,543 and 1,410 votes, respectively.

Port Jefferson
Incumbents Kathleen Brennan and Ellen Boehm ran unopposed for their third terms and were re-elected with 348 and 347 votes, respectively. Residents also approved a cap-compliant $41.4 million budget with 353 votes in favor and just 55 vote against.

Rocky Point
The school district proposed a $80.6 million budget that residents approved, 720-322, and a proposition on capital projects that was approved, 654-387. Susan Y. Sullivan was elected to the board of education with 823 votes.

Shoreham-Wading River
The school budget passed 855-545, according to results posted on the district website. Kimberly Roff and Michael Lewis were elected to the board of education with 957 and 792 votes, respectively. Richard Pluschau fell short, with 621 votes.

Smithtown
The $236 million budget passed 2,665 to 921.
Challenger Daniel Lynch defeated incumbent Theresa Knox with 2,171 votes to her 1,197, while Michael Saidens won the second available seat with 1,870 votes, compared to challengers Robert Foster (734 votes) and Robert Montana (657 votes).

Three Village
Voters approved a $198.8 million budget (2,603 to 997) and a Proposition 2 on transportation (2,154 to 1,404). Incumbent Jonathan Kornreich and Angelique Ragolia were elected with 2,401 votes and 2,379 votes, respectively. Andrea Fusco-Winslow missed her target, with just 1,314 votes.

By Elana Glowatz

Desperate times call for desperate budget measures.

For the first time in four years, a northern Suffolk County school district is taking aim at its tax levy cap, looking to bust through that state budget ceiling as more districts around New York do the same in tight times.

The New York State School Boards Association said the number of school districts seeking a supermajority of voter approval — 60 percent — to override their caps has doubled since last year. The group blames that trend on inflation.

tax-cap-graphicwThe state cap limits the amount a school district or municipality can increase its tax levy, which is the total amount collected in taxes, from budget to budget. While commonly referred to as a “2 percent tax cap,” it actually limits levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation — whichever is lower — before certain excluded spending, like on capital projects and pension payments.

This year, the rate of inflation was calculated at just 0.12 percent and, after other calculations, the statewide average for an allowed tax levy increase will be 0.7 percent, according to NYSSBA.

“The quirks and vagaries of the cap formula mean it can fluctuate widely from year to year and district to district,” Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer said in a statement.

More school districts are feeling the pressure — a NYSSBA poll showed that 36 districts will ask voters to pass budgets that pop through their caps, double the number last year.

It may be easier said than done: Since the cap was enacted, typically almost half of proposed school district budgets that have tried to bust through it have failed at the polls. That’s compared to budgets that only needed a simple majority of support, which have passed 99 percent of the time since the cap started.

In 2012, the first year for the cap in schools, five districts on Suffolk’s North Shore sought to override it, including Mount Sinai, Comsewogue, Three Village, Rocky Point and Middle Country. Only the latter two were approved, forcing the others to craft new budget proposals and hold a second vote.

Middle Country barely squeaked by, with 60.8 percent of the community approving that budget, and Comsewogue just missed its target, falling shy by only 33 votes.

Numbers from the school boards’ association that year showed that more Long Island school districts had tried to exceed their caps and more budgets had failed than in any other region in the state.

But four years later, Harborfields school district is taking a shot.

Officials there adopted a budget that would increase its tax levy 1.52 percent next year, adding full-day kindergarten, a new high school music elective and a BOCES cultural arts program, among others. Harborfields board member Hansen Lee was “optimistic” that at least 60 percent of the Harborfields community would approve the budget.

“We’re Harborfields; we always come together for the success of our kids and the greater good,” Lee said.

The school boards’ association speculated that more school districts than just Harborfields would have tried to pierce their levy caps if not for a statewide boost in aid — New York State’s own budget increased school aid almost $25 billion, with $3 billion of that going specifically to Long Island.

Now that New York school districts have settled into the cap, Long Islanders’ eyes are on Harborfields, to see whether it becomes an example of changing tides.

Next Tuesday, Harborfields will see if it has enough public support to go where few Long Island districts have ever gone before, above and beyond the tax levy cap.

Huntington High School. File photo.

Huntington is investing in their students with a $123.1 million budget that the school board adopted at its meeting on Monday night.

The 2016-17 budget total is 2.25 percent higher than the current year’s budget, with the most significant cost increases coming from instruction and curriculum-related programs.

Superintendent Jim Polansky said the district is dedicated to offering the most effective tools it can for students.

“[Members of the board and community] don’t get a chance to compare what we have here and what is available in other districts, but I’ve had the privilege of working in, [for] over 26 years, more than one school district and I can tell you, what we do here is we pay for student interests and needs,” Polansky added. “We try to put something in place that will appeal to every student that goes to school in Huntington.”

Some of the expenses being added for 2016-17 include improvements to computer-assisted instruction, through equipment upgrades and repairs; programs for students with disabilities; additional funding for the district’s robotics program; and a new Advanced Placement research course.

“This works more like a process-oriented course,” Polansky said of the program. “We feel that this … program is going to add a dimension that we have not touched upon until now.”

Some of the budget increase can also be attributed to contracted salary raises and additional social security and health care costs.

However, even with those cost increases, the district will stay within the state-imposed cap on tax levy increases — the schools will only collect 1.61 percent more in taxes next year.

Polansky said throughout the budget process that the administration’s goal was to adopt a budget below that cap, and as a result residents will again receive a rebate check from New York State — if voters approve the adopted budget — under a state incentive program that encourages municipalities to comply with the cap in exchange for the tax rebates.

Apart from taxes, the district is funding its additional expenditures through additional state aid.

After years of deducting aid funds from school districts around New York through a cut called the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which was designed to balance the state budget, legislators this year restored the aid dollars — giving Long Island school districts a $3 billion boost, when added to other increases in state aid. Huntington received nearly $2 million in additional state funding for the upcoming school year thanks to that restoration.

Residents will vote on the budget on May 17, as well as a second proposition that would release money from the district’s capital reserves to fund upgrades across the district to make buildings compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

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Superintendent James Grossane file photo

District administration fears financial “doom and gloom” might be on the horizon for the Smithtown school district.

The Smithtown board of education voted unanimously to adopt Superintendent James Grossane’s proposed $236,027,619 budget for the 2016-17 school year at a meeting Tuesday.

Thanks to a full restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which was enacted six years ago in an effort to close a state budget deficit by deducting funds from each school district’s state aid allotment, the budget includes some additional expenditures for 2016-17, despite what could be a perfect storm of financial stress for the district.

That decision added approximately $3.2 million in revenue to Smithtown’s budget for the upcoming school year. However, both Grossane and Andrew Tobin, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations, said they are concerned that will be the final increase in state aid they will receive for the foreseeable future.

“The reality is, where is the future aid going to come from?” Tobin said during the board of education meeting Tuesday. “We know foundation aid historically has been directed to high-need districts, not to districts such as Smithtown. So we’re concerned, just like we were with the [Gap Elimination Adjustment] that we’ll be last in line to get future foundation aid increases. That’s the general concern going forward, that we might be solely reliant on tax levy revenue to help out our budgets going forward.”

In addition, the district benefitted during this budget season from a relatively low pension payment requirement, a perk that can’t be counted on every year. Grossane said he’s bracing for the possibility of a negative tax levy increase cap at some point in the coming years, because the district has a $2 million bond from the early 2000s coming off the books. That will result in an equal reduction to both expenses and revenue, though it will impact the tax levy increase cap. The district will look to rebuild their depleted capital reserve funds to address building repairs at multiple schools that have been neglected.

“These are all realities, and when they’re going to happen, we’re not sure,” Grossane said. “Hopefully never, but they are happening [to other districts in the state]. We can’t say that they’re not. It is very important, as we plan for the future, that we keep those things in mind.”

School board trustee Grace Plourde spoke Tuesday about the years leading up to the enactment of the state-mandated cap on tax levy increases in 2011.

“In the years running up to the tax cap, we had members of the board of education, who are no longer here, whose view was basically that anytime a school district put a little money in the bank, that was akin to theft,” Plourde said. “So they turned the district’s piggy bank upside down and shook it.”

Plourde also spoke about state laws that incentivize school district residents to vote against budgets that pierce the tax levy increase cap as well as limits on unassigned fund balance.

“It’s a little frustrating that every place we try to look to head off a problem, to prevent the day where we are going to have to make deep and painful cuts in program — like we’ve had to do in the past when we’ve had budget crises — every time we try to put a little money away or to do something to head off a crisis like that, we are thwarted by the state of New York,” she said.

The adopted budget will distribute money received from the restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment to one-time expenditures for 2016-17, rather than using it on programs that require yearly funding. Those expenditures include elementary and secondary staff development for teachers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum and investment in materials to help that development.

The board of education voted to close one of the district’s eight elementary schools for the 2017-18 school year as a cost-saving method in February. Parents against the closure spoke during the meeting in the hopes of convincing the board of education to reverse that decision in light of the unexpected spike in state aid for 2016-17. District administration and members of the board of education gave no indication that they would reconsider the closure.

The vote to approve the 2016-17 adopted budget is on May 17.

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The Port Jefferson power plant sits along the edge of Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A provision in the new state budget sets aside $30 million that could support communities where a power plant has closed and stopped paying property taxes.

According to the budget bill that state lawmakers agreed upon last week, that sum would be available for a local government, school district or special district — such as a library or fire district — where an electric generating facility has stopped operating, causing a reduction of at least 20 percent of the money it owed through property taxes or payments in lieu of taxes, commonly known as PILOTs.

There are limits to the provision, however: The bill says the New York State Urban Development Corporation will distribute the relief funds on a first-come, first-served basis and will not offer the support to a specific group for more than five years. Additionally, in the first of the five years, the corporation will not award funding equal to more than 80 percent of the local entity’s lost revenue.

Port Jefferson Village could possibly be on the receiving end of some of the $30 million in the pot, dubbed the “electric generation facility cessation mitigation fund.” That community’s power plant — which company National Grid owns and operates, and sells the power generated to utility PSEG Long Island for distribution — is old and runs on antiquated technology. For the past several years, village residents have waited to learn the fate of the plant, whether it will be reconstructed to keep serving Long Island or dismantled.

A lot hangs in the balance for the plant’s neighbors: Property taxes from the site fund more than 40 percent of the local school district’s budget and a significant portion of the Port Jefferson Village budget.

“We’d soak up a lot of it,” village Trustee Larry LaPointe said about the relief fund, noting that his government’s budget gets about $1 million in property taxes from the local power plant in addition to the school district’s hefty share. “But we certainly appreciate any efforts” to help mitigate the impact on the community.

The state budget provision specifies that local entities seeking assistance, once a power plant’s owner serves official notice it plans to retire the facility, will be helped in the order they apply for relief, but only after the facilities go offline. The urban development corporation will decide the amount of the annual assistance payments based upon how much revenue is lost.

Port Jefferson schools currently get more than $18 million from the plant, between taxes and PILOTs. Superintendent Ken Bossert said, “We are hoping that a resolution can be found that will not place an unfair burden on the home and business owners … in order to maintain the excellence of the school district.”