Three Village BOE approves budget, tables restructuring decision

Three Village BOE approves budget, tables restructuring decision

Supervisor Ed Romaine, center, left, and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich, center, right, visited the North Country Administration Center in Stony Brook to announce the winners of the 2023 T-Shirt Design Competition for Sidewalks for Safety. Photo from the Town of Brookhaven

By Mallie Kim

Three Village Central School District Board of Education unanimously approved a $230.9 million budget for the 2023-24 school year, paving the way for a community vote on May 16. 

The board gave its approval of the budget — a 3.07% increase — at a meeting Wednesday, April 12. 

The proposed budget stays within the district’s state-mandated maximum 2.65% tax levy increase cap, and therefore requires only a simple majority for community approval.

Assistant Superintendent Jeff Carlson, who leads the budget process, said due to increasing costs, the administration needed to cut $4.7 million to stay within the tax cap. 

The district’s transportation costs will jump by nearly $600,000 for next year, and salaries and benefits at current staffing levels would have increased by more than $9 million. 

A plan to cut 30 full-time staff positions accounts for the majority of the cuts, and the rest came from belt-tightening.

“We went through all of the budget codes, all of the supplies, equipment and contracted services … and we came up with $1.6 million in reductions,” Carlson said. “And I can tell you not everybody’s happy about that, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Shari Fontana, a representative from the Budget Advisory Committee — a group of parents, students, community members, board members and district employees — spoke in support of the budget.

“The BAC has seen that during these very difficult economic times, our district has always kept the goal of filling the educational, social and emotional needs of our children as their main priority,” Fontana said, noting that the many presentations the committee heard from the district made clear that Three Village is working toward increasing fiscal stability. 

“We realize that no budget will ever be perfect, but our district is truly doing the very best it can under the circumstances,” she added.

Fontana said the committee recommended that the district convenes next year’s Budget Advisory Committee earlier in the year and provide more specific information, down to the line items and dollar amounts, of each topic presented. 

She reported the committee urged prioritizing later secondary school start times, with the board also taking a more forward-looking approach when hiring in light of the decreasing enrollment projections.

“We know that hiring is easy, but reducing staff is not,” Fontana said.

Restructuring tabled, for now

The Board of Education also decided to table a vote to adopt a district restructuring plan, over lack of data on what it would cost, and because it does not address concerns that secondary school start times are too early. 

The plan, which was the clear preference among options presented in a recent community survey, would move sixth graders and ninth graders up to middle school and high school, respectively. 

Currently the junior high schools start at 7:40 a.m. and Ward Melville High School begins at 7:05 a.m., and without a change to those start times, sixth graders and ninth graders would begin school even earlier than their current schedules require. 

District elementary schools, where sixth grade classes are currently housed, begin at 8:43 a.m. or 9:25 a.m.

None of the survey options included cost impact information, and this uncertainty gave some board members pause. 

“I would also like the administration to move forward to give the board and give the community information on: Can this work? If it can work, how much would it cost?” said board vice president Vincent Vizzo. 

“At the same time, give us the figures also for the delayed start time, because right now that’s a health issue.”

Superintendent of Schools Kevin Scanlon agreed changing start times needs to be prioritized, but added that any delay in adopting a restructuring plan could make it harder to enact any changes by the original target school year of 2024-25. 

Restructuring “is not a matter where it’s dire, where we need to get it done immediately,” Scanlon said. “I do think the start time is dire and that does need to be addressed as soon as possible.”

Scanlon estimated the administration could figure out by September the information the board is requesting on cost and plausibility of the restructuring plan with start time changes dovetailed in.

Sidewalks For Safety prizewinners

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) made cameo appearances at the meeting to present awards to Ward Melville students who won a T-shirt design contest for Sidewalks For Safety. 

This is a local advocacy group working to get more sidewalks installed in critical places around the community, primarily for pedestrian safety — especially for Three Village students walking to schools and bus stops — but also to promote healthier lifestyles and increase foot traffic for local businesses. 

Romaine and Kornreich, the competition judges, awarded first place to Melina Montgomery, second to Julie Yang and third to Zoe Xiao; Lila Dabrowski and Rebecca Fazio each received an honorable mention for their art. Sidewalks For Safety printed the designs by Montgomery and Yang on bright, “safety green” T-shirts for use in an upcoming 5K walk/run on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 14.

“Sidewalks are extremely important but they cost money, and we have to balance the budget,” Romaine said, adding that not everyone is a fan of sidewalks in more rural areas of Brookhaven. “But here in a busy community where a lot of children ride their bikes or walk to school, it is something that we want to do.”

Romaine also praised the winners for using artwork to engage in lobbying to “make sure the government does the right thing,” adding that his neighborhood does not have sidewalks.

 “I have to walk my two little dogs, and I could tell you I wish I had sidewalks, particularly when people go speeding by,” he said.