Early Budget Outlook Bright for Bridgehampton School
By Christine Sampson
The Bridgehampton School District’s 2017-18 budget forecast is a sunny one so far, with school officials delivering what they called “good news” during the January 18 school board meeting: The district does not anticipate having to pierce the state-imposed tax levy cap next year, like it did this year.
Robert Hauser, the district’s assistant superintendent for finance and facilities, said the district’s initial projected budget is $14,219,802, which reflects a year-over-year spending increase of 3.2 percent, or $441,363.
“Proposed as needed, this is pretty much the wish-list budget,” Mr. Hauser said. “For the most part, except for one year, from the budget we presented in January, we have come in significantly less” when the final budget is presented to voters.
School districts’ tax levy increases are tied to the consumer price index, which grew at 1.26 percent last year, so state law says school districts start with that figure as its maximum tax levy increase. However, when the growth of Southampton Town tax assessments are taken into consideration, the district will have the ability to raise the tax levy by about 5.5 percent.
“With this budget, we do not have to tap into our reserves at all,” Mr. Hauser added. “In the past we’ve tapped into our workers compensation insurance reserve, we’ve tapped into our compensated absence reserve, and we’ve also tapped into our employee retirement reserve to make the budget work.”
School board member Jeff Mansfield asked if that meant the timing was right next year to replenish some of the reserves that the district had used. Mr. Hauser said that is a possibility, depending on what auditors recommend later this year.
At this point, increases in the school budget will likely come from the anticipated hiring of one new special education co-teacher, along with contractual salary increases for employees. The price of health insurance is expected to rise about 10 percent, and the district will also have to shoulder the cost of increased payroll taxes.
Mr. Mansfield’s question over the cost of educational programs in the Springs School District for students with special needs – which will cost Bridgehampton at least $175,000 next year – led to a discussion of developing a similar, in-house program.
Bridgehampton superintendent Lois Favre said it would make sense to explore that option, but added, “I don’t have a place to put it. I literally don’t have a space.”
That, in turn, led to a discussion of whether an additional temporary building could be added to the campus while plans for the $24.7 million expansion and renovation project get under way.
“Maybe we have some homework to do. … We could certainly use space in the mean time anyway,” Dr. Favre said.
Mr. Hauser said more budget details will be forthcoming in future budget presentations, which will include state aid figures. School officials are expected to continue the conversation at the next regular board meeting, planned for February 15.
In a separate discussion, the board explored purchasing a new, electronic, digitally programmable sign for outside the school building. Similar to the one East Hampton High School has in place, it would cost about $25,000 and would replace the current sign, which requires staff members to change its physical lettering. The school board agreed Mr. Hauser should research the options for presentation at a future board meeting.