Proposed Bridgehampton School District Budget Would Pierce Tax Levy Cap

Bridgehampton School District business administrator Jennifer Coggin goes over the proposed budget at a hearing Thursday, May 6. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

Facing a tight window due to a New York State tax cap limit of 1.23 percent against increased spending due to the coronavirus pandemic and other unforeseen expenses, the Bridgehampton School Board is asking voters to approve a $20.66 million budget that would pierce the New York State tax levy cap when they go to the polls on May 18.

A hearing on the budget was held Thursday, May 6, in the school’s recently completed gymnasium, which is part of a $29 million expansion project that is nearing completion.

The budget calls for a spending increase of $1,672,490, or 8.8 percent, over the current year. The tax levy would rise by $1,466,190 to $17.89 million, or 8.9 percent. The tax rate is projected to climb to just under $1.98 per $1,000 of assessed valuation from just under $1.84 per $1,000 last year. That would translate to an increase of about $143 for a house valued at $1 million.

Because the budget seeks to pierce the tax cap, district business manager Jennifer Coggin said it must pass by a super majority of 60 percent. If the budget is voted down, the district would get one opportunity for a second vote — on June 15 — on either the same budget or an amended spending plan.

If the budget fails twice, the district would be forced to operate under a contingency budget that would slash about $1.4 million from the proposed budget, she said. That would force the cancellation of athletics and many after-school enrichment programs as well as the district’s prekindergarten program, she said.

Ms. Coggin said most of the district’s spending increase could be found in $650,000 to cover additional staff members, particularly custodians for the expanded building and increased costs of keeping the building clean in the face of the lingering pandemic. The district is anticipating an additional $740,000 in special education costs, with a major portion of that being earmarked for a single student who requires special services provided by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Westhampton.

Even though most of the students attending Bridgehampton come from families considered impoverished — the district receives funding to provide all students with breakfast and lunch each day — the district itself is wealthy, with a total assessed valuation that has risen from about $6.5 billion in 2016 to about $9 billion today. Because of that, the district did not qualify for coronavirus aid provided by the federal government, Ms. Coggin said. She said she had hoped the district would have received about $100,000 in federal funding.

Superintendent Robert Hauser said that Bridgehampton currently has 218 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, a dip from the 232 students the district had before the pandemic.

He added that 32 children who live in the district are sent to various private schools including the Ross School, Hayground School, and Our Lady of the Hamptons Catholic School.

Dwight Singleton, a candidate for school board, asked how much the district was paying to send students to other schools, and was informed that parents are responsible for paying tuition but that the district underwrites some transportation costs.

Noting the high cost of special education services, Mr. Singleton, who is a special education teacher in the Wyandanch School District, suggested that Bridgehampton might be able to generate revenue from other districts by providing in-house special education services. He was informed those services are already provided on a contractual basis by BOCES.