The initial assessment of the Bayport-Blue Point School District budget process is one of caution as school leaders balance less-than-expected state aid against rising costs in healthcare and retirement.
“We’re looking not to cut programs but we may have to,” B-BP Superintendent Dr. Vincent Butera stated during the first budget meeting held last week.
“We have no plans to impact what this district values [in terms of educational programming],” he told the board of education during the hour-long financial presentation.
Butera acknowledged some reductions may be needed to close the gap between revenue and expenditures as the district will adhere to the state mandated 2 percent tax cap levy requirement.
School leaders will be discussing possible reductions, identifying the costs that are significantly impacting the budget and assessing educational priorities in upcoming weeks.
“There will be some reductions but we’re working to make sure they are not significant,” Butera emphasized during the presentation.
The budget creation involves several variables, explained Michael Cipriani, assistant superintendent for finance and operations, including the need to develop a sustainable financial plan for the next three to five years. The planning requires decisions regarding fund balance reserves, projecting state aid and dealing with unexpected increases in costs such as special education and transportation. Those two budget lines, he noted during the presentation, increased unexpectedly by nearly $700,000 this year.
The initial budget proposal is $66,611,921 which reflects a 2.9 percent increase over the current school budget of $64,733,505.
Nearly 90 percent of that increase is due to compensation costs including salaries, benefits and retirement. It also reflects a $335,236 decline in state aid, according to district officials. Last year the district received $15,753,223 in basic state aid. This year the projection is for $15,417,987. The proposed budget retains the same fund balance from last year, $2.3 million.
Cipriani said the fund balance strategy is conservative due to unknowns such as the impact of the federal healthcare act as well as increasing contributions to the state retirement system.
The initial proposed tax cap levy would be 3.5 percent as it includes increased pension costs that are four to five percent higher than last year, said Cirpriani. State law exempts such costs when calculating the 2 percent tax cap figure.
During the budget presentation school officials urged taxpayers to begin lobbying state lawmakers to boost the state's initial proposed aid packages, specifically restoring the $400,000 the district is losing in high tax aid.
“This is having a significant effect on us and all Long Island districts and we hope a portion is restored,” said Cipriani.
There are three more budget hearings scheduled and taxpayers are urged to attend, said Butera. The meetings will be held at the high school cafeteria, from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., on January 30, February 12 and February 28.