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Superintendent James Grossane

Smithtown Superintendent James Grossane. File photo from Smithtown Central School District

By Kevin Redding

Smithtown school administrators have unveiled their first draft of the 2018-19 budget, which calls for a larger increase than prior years.

Smithtown Central School District presented its preliminary 2018-19 budget of $244,526,399 at their Feb. 6 board of education meeting. The district’s projected budget is about 2.16 percent higher than the current school year, which was adopted at $239,567,205. Administrators anticipate asking taxpayers for  $5.52 million more this May.

The increase in preliminary 2018-19 budget comes mostly  a $3.4 million increase in district employee salaries due to state-mandated  contractual obligations to contribute to the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System and Education Resource Strategies, and a 3 percent increase in health premiums, anticipated to cost $700,000.

School officials also propose to cut five elementary classes due to declining enrollment across the district. Superintendent James Grossane said the district currently has 661 fifth-grade students but has seen a decrease in the number of incoming students in recent years. While Grossane said he
anticipates kindergarten enrollment to be close to 500 again this year, similar to last.

Budget highlights

Preliminary 2018-19 budget debuts at $245M,  a 2.16 percent increase

Officials suggest cutting 5 elementary classes, decreasing max class size

March 13, 7 p.m.: Presentation on district’s proposed instructional budget

The district’s declining enrollment allows school administrators to contemplate shrinking maximum number of students in each class. Last year, in the 2016-17 school year, the limits were set at: 25 students per kindergarten class, 26 students per class in grades 1 to 3, and 28 students per class in grades 4 to 5, according to Grossane. Under the proposed 2018-19 budget, school administrators are suggesting reducing the number to 25 students per class through fifth grade.

“This is the second year in a row of reducing class sizes in our elementary schools,” the superintendent said.

Unfortunately, the district expects to receive approximately $45.7 million total in state aid, roughly $1.5 million less than last year as the plans of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)  call for increased funding to “high-need” districts.

The district plans to reduce its assigned fund balance, which has been increased by $1.5 million in order to balance the 2018-19 budget and increase its year end fund balance to “build up reserves.”

“The district is currently in the preliminary stages of budget development for the 2018-19 school year, with an anticipated adoption date of April 10,” Grossane said in an emailed statement. “As we do every year, the board and administration are working collaboratively to develop and present a budget to the community that is clear, transparent and fiscally efficient while preserving or increasing opportunities for our students.”

The school district’s next budget workshop will be held March 13, at 7 p.m.  to discuss the instructional budget for the elementary and secondary schools. The superintendent’s final proposed budget will be presented March 20 for adoption by the board of education.

The district’s preliminary 2018-19 budget of a 2.16 percent increase falls within the state tax cap and, as such, will only require approval by the simple majority of voters.

“The district will likely go to the voters right at or slightly below the cap,” Grossane said.

The budget vote will be held May15.

File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Victoria Espinoza

Smithtown school district’s headquarters on New York Avenue, which currently houses administrative offices, could soon become an apartment building.

The Smithtown school board voted at the Oct. 25 meeting to approve entering a contract with Southern Land Company, for the sale of the property and the surrounding land.

Smithtown Superintendent Jim Grossane said in a letter to residents he believes this is a positive decision for the community.

“The board of education and administration believe that the proposed use of the property is one that would benefit our school community,” he said. “If finalized, the sale will potentially expand our tax base, lowering the burden on our residents, and provide additional resources to enhance our educational programs.”

According to Grossane, Southern Land Company is planning on building one- and two-bedroom apartments that will be “in keeping with the architectural style of Smithtown.”

“Though still in the early stages of the contract, if finalized, the district would receive the greater of $71,000 per approved unit or $14,768,000 for the sale of the building,” Grossane said. The superintendent added that the contract has a 75-day due-diligence period, where the company has the right to back out of the purchase.

Jena Armistead, vice president of marketing for Southern Land Company, said the organization is very excited to start working with the community.

“We are proud to be selected by Smithtown school board to be the developer for a new residential community in the neighborhood,” she said in an email. “Having been selected in the competitive process, we will now turn to working with the community to develop an overall plan. In the coming weeks we look forward to engaging neighbors and town leaders in an open dialogue that will make an important contribution to the vision, design program and schedule for this project.”

Armistead said the plan is tentatively for the building to have about 250 apartments, although the company does not want to finalize a plan until after they have had discussions with the Smithtown community.

“We want to create something that will benefit the community,” she said in a phone interview.

The New York Avenue property is the site of the Arthur House, a historic home once owned by John Arthur, a prominent member of Smithtown in the mid-1700s.

But Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio said the plan requires zoning changes and the school board should not get ahead of themselves.

“If finalized, the sale will potentially expand our tax base, lowering the burden on our residents, and provide additional resources to enhance our educational programs.”

— James Grossane

“The Southern Land Company must apply for zone change to the town board,” he said in an email. “The school board is being presumptuous in assuming the town board will change the zone. There must be a public hearing and the people will be heard for or against such a change.”

Agnes Vion, an administrative assistant on the Smithtown Board of Zoning Appeals, said the property absolutely needs a zoning change, but they cannot be sure of the particular zone change because Southern Land Company has not submitted an application to the board yet.

According to Vion, the New York Avenue property is currently in a central business zone and an R-10 zone, meaning the property is only allowed to have single-family homes with lot sizes of 10,000 square feet minimum. Multifamily-style housing is not permitted in the current zone.

The zoning board employee said the property would need to be changed to garden apartment zoning, or R-6 zoning which allows for town houses.

In order for Southern Land Company to be granted a zone change, it would need to schedule meetings with the planning board, the town board and the board of appeals, but the exact route the company would have to take is not clear because it has not yet submitted an application.

In any event, they will have to change their zone, unless they want to create only single-family homes,” Vion said in a phone interview.

In February, the school board made the controversial decision to close Branch Brook Elementary School due to a lack of enrollment and shrinking district revenue, and some residents pleaded then that the district should work on selling the administrative building on New York Avenue instead of closing a building used for instruction.

Trustee Gladys Waldron was the lone “no” vote on the decision and her reasoning was the same as many community members.

“I think our energies and effort of administration and board should be placed right now on the selling of this building,” Waldron said at that meeting.