The Sayville Board of Education unveiled the first draft of the 2011-2012 proposed budget and the community came out in full force, filling up the high school auditorium, to hear first-hand about the impacts of the and the potential tax cap.
The 2011-2012 budget is $82,850.851 million, a 5.29 spending increase and a 10.23 proposed increase on the tax rate.
Assistant superintendent J.J. Belmonte began the budget discussions with the numbers. Salaries and fringe benefits represent 73 percent of the overall budget. Administrators and teachers have taken a half year wage freeze in 2010-2011 and will do the same in 2011-2012. “This resulted is savings of over $2 million,” Belmonte said. “Retirements costs are something we have no control over and they have a big impact on the budget.” For example, costs for Teachers Retirement Services have increased 39 percent this year and will jump another 33 percent next year. Employee Retirement Services costs have spiked 64 percent this year and are slated to go up another 39 percent in 2011-2012.
Looking at debt services and how they impact the budget, the building aid ratio is 68 percent of approved construction costs – the district gets back $0.68 of every dollar it spends. BOCES is another budget item that must be considered. It is a shared service with other districts to achieve cost efficiencies, so essentially Sayville is only paying for a piece of the pie. But reductions in state aid for BOCES will impact the budget moving forward.
“We are at a point where our budgets have been reduced to the bare bones; this is not a spending problem,” Belmonte said. Governor Cuomo recently suggested that school districts have enough money in their reserves to offset any losses of state aid. “These reserves help to offset your tax rate,” Belmonte said. “And our school district has already been using them. Every school year, the district uses reserves to reduce tax rates. Having reserves and using them in a fiscally responsible way actually reduces budgetary costs and stabilizes the tax rate. If we have the $2.5 million cut in aid, our draft one proposal tax rate would have been 5.57 percent, not 10.23. Spending down district’s reserves will significantly impact the tax burden in the future – it’s a short-term fix to a bigger problem.”
Sayville will lose $4.2 million in state aid or 12.85 percent of its total aid. In addition, last year Sayville lost 7 percent of its aid. According to Belmonte, there are three ways to make that money back: try to make up the revenue shortfall; reduce costs by eliminating programs and staff; or shift the revenue shortfall to the tax rate. “The governor’s budget in 2012-2013 is slated to cut another $2.1 billion and implement a 2 percent tax cap,” Belmonte said. “Moving forward, many state aid formulas will change and will be based on wealth factors. 2012-2013 will be even more challenging.”
Looking at the tax rate increases on Long Island over the last six years, the average was 4.90 percent. In Sayville, the average was 3.72 percent.
Superintendent appealed to the community for their input in this budget process. “This is a community that has sacrificed to support the educational opportunities for the children,” he said. “This is a community that realizes that the success of the students is a direct link to their property value.” Schartner also listed a few of the many successes he has witnessed in his 33 years in the district. “These successes did not happen by accident,” he said. “We have excellent dedicated teachers, many of which live in the community. We have supportive administration and a board of education that is focused on what is best for students.”
It’s not about cutting costs, Schartner said, because the district already has. Aside from the pay freezes (Schartner and Belmonte have both taken full year freezes) and use of the fund balance to offset tax rates increases, the district has reduced teachers, clerical and building administration by 8 percent over the last two years. Central Office staff is down 20 percent over the last year. “Let’s note that 8.05 percent of the 10.23 percent proposed increase are costs not under the district’s control but mostly under Albany’s control,” he said.
“Decreased revenue from New York State is the issue,” Schartner said. “The state is shifting the burden to the local taxpayer especially on Long Island.” New York State aid was reduced 7 percent this year and another 12.6 percent decrease is expected next year on Long Island. Long Island schools enroll 17 percent of the students but only receive 12 percent of the state aid. In dollars, Long Island students get $4,246 per pupil whereas the rest of the state gets $6,216.
The governor has introduced a bill that was passed in New York State Senate and is now in the Assembly that will and need a 60 percent vote to override. If the override fails twice, the tax levy will go to zero percent. “If it were this year, we would have 8.05 percent to make up on cuts in aid and increased cost from Albany and only 2 percent available for increased revenue,” Schartner said, urging the community to contact their legislators.
“You have all seen the rollover budget,” he said. “The Board of Education wants direction on where you would like to see the tax levy for next year and what should be cut to get there.” To keep the current level of service, the district needs a levy of about 8 percent. For the average house in Sayville, it would be about $43.33 per month. To get to 4 percent, $2 million would need to be cut from the budget in programs and residents would save $21.66 per month on average.
A has been set up for Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. at the high school auditorium to continue budget discussions. “There shouldn’t be an empty seat in this place next week,” Schartner said. “Because the discussions that will take place will affect this community and your children. Bring your friends and neighbors. We have some very difficult decisions.”