Sag Harbor School Board Digs Into Budget

Dr. Philip Kenter, the school business administrator, gives a budget presentation. Christine Sampson photo

Spending on the operation of the Sag Harbor School District’s buildings is projected to increase about 9 percent in the 2019-2020 school year while maintenance costs for the buildings and grounds is expected to decrease slightly, according to budget estimates released Monday. Spending on technology across the campus is also expected to drop slightly.

According to Dr. Philip Kenter, school business administrator, factors contributing to the increase in the operations budget are expenses for the former Stella Maris building, now known as the Sag Harbor Learning Center (see story on page 1), and a 2-percent increase in insurance costs.

“We’ve made every possible effort to anticipate expenses, talk with our vendors and try to keep everything within the ‘2-percent tax cap’ and not have significant increases in costs,” Dr. Kenter told the Sag Harbor School Board at a bidget workshop on Monday.

Throughout the workshop, board members questioned Dr. Kenter as well as Paul Wilken, assistant plant facilities manager, over major expenses. One target was a 32-foot scissor lift to be purchased for $21,000, which Mr. Wilken said would replace the district’s old and non-working 20-foot scissor lift. When some board members questioned the new lift, Mr. Wilken justified it by saying “there’s plenty of uses,” such as replacing high-up lights, adjusting security cameras and painting tall walls.

The board also questioned a $300,000 budget line for undefined “security initiatives.” Superintendent Katy Graves said it was also in the current year’s budget, and that she could not fully list what it covers, as certain security expenses have not been disclosed due to their sensitive nature. She also said it would cover some unexpected costs that sometimes pop up, such as the recent purchase of new police-certified radios for the district.

“I can’t anticipate those things,” Ms. Graves said. “We’ll segregate it out and tell you where we spent it all. There is no doubt in my mind that these things are going to keep coming. We’ve got to have a fund where it comes out of — it’s great to have a confidential line. … We may see that every year for years to come because that’s where the world is.”

Scott Fisher, the district’s director of technology, said he balanced his department’s budget by staggering the replacement of student computers over a number of years. He also said he has proposed spending $60,000 less on technology at Pierson Middle-High School, even as he proposes more interactive classroom technology and new audio systems for the gymnasiums there, while increasing spending by $25,500 at Sag Harbor Elementary, where he said more laptops are needed for teachers and the same interactive classroom technology is needed.

Overall the technology budget is expected to decrease by about $3,000, or .42 percent, down to $726,559.

Ms. Graves said Wednesday the district is again following a “zero-based budgeting” model in which spending is determined from the bottom-up versus doing a “roll-over” approach.