Budget Talks Begin in Sag Harbor Schools

Incoming school business official Dr. Philip Kenter, left, and superintendent Katy Graves, right, at the December 4 Sag Harbor School Board meeting. Christine Sampson photo

The Sag Harbor School District has begun digging line-by-line into a 2018-19 budget plan, with top officials instructing teachers, department leaders and other staff members to keep increases minimal and offset any jumps with decreases to keep the budget as flat as possible.

Dr. Phillip Kenter, the district’s new business administrator, said Wednesday it is critical that those increases are kept flat because “there are unfunded mandates we are required to pay for throughout the year that are not yet identified during this budgetary process, coupled with certain line items that go up considerably in cost and well over 2 percent such as mandatory retirement contributions and health insurance.”

At Monday’s school board meeting, Scott Fisher, director of technology, broke down a proposal that would fund more interactive touch-screen displays for classrooms, particularly at the elementary school level; a new three-dimensional printer for the high school technology lab; and a new projection screen and microphone system for the high school auditorium.

In the area of subscriptions to programs such as Learning.com and Tynker, a popular coding tool, Mr. Fisher is projecting an increase of $12,000, or about one-third of last year’s subscriptions budget, up to $45,330.

“We’ve gotten a tremendous amount of use out of it, and I’ve gotten additional requests for use next year,” he said.

Mr. Fisher said he also anticipates spending about $2,299 more, up to $117,259, on technology services purchased through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services such as E-school, School Messenger, Finance Manager and others.

“Those are mission-critical platforms for us,” he said.

All in all, the technology budget saw a very slight decrease, of less than .01 percent. The total proposal for this department is $729,639. Last year’s technology budget amounted to 1.84 percent of the total year’s budget.

Board member Chris Tice asked Mr. Fisher if the current budget proposal included technology components for the Stella Maris building project.

“That’s being taken care of through the project itself,” he replied. “We need to make sure we’re prepared on this end to accept what’s taking place over there. Fair warning — we’re going to see all my numbers go up slightly next year.”

Dr. Kenter presented preliminary numbers for the central administration, board of education, legal, auditing and public information budgets. Most are remaining flat, he said, except for staff salaries where contractual increases have been arranged.

The district had budgeted $35,000 for an internal audit — another form of “checks and balances,” Superintendent Katy Graves explained — which, for a district of this size, is not actually mandated by law. Dr. Kenter presented the school board with three options: Leave the budget line alone and proceed with an internal audit at some point next year, take it out altogether or allocate the money for something else.

While it is too early to tell what the overall budget proposal looks like, or what the actual tax levy increase will be, one figure has begun to take shape. The district has the ability to raise its tax levy by at least 3 percent, thanks to the Consumer Price Index of 2 percent and the district’s “allowable tax levy growth factor” of 1.0263 percent. The 3 percent figure differs from the “2 percent tax cap” language that most people are used to hearing because the formula takes into account real estate development within each individual school district.

Another factor that can play into the development of the budget is the how much the district decides to draw upon its unassigned fund balance, or the “savings” it has left over after the previous year’s budget. Dr. Kenter said school districts are able to put money from this area toward next year’s budget to off-set expenses. Sag Harbor currently has $1,596,281 in its unassigned fund balance.