School District Airs Financial Plan, Hires Architect

Sag Harbor school business administrator Jennifer Buscemi during a recent presentation on the school budget. Christine Sampson photo
School business administrator Jennifer Buscemi on Monday delivered the Sag Harbor School District’s four-year financial overview. Christine Sampson photo

By Christine Sampson

If the Sag Harbor School District continues to take in revenue and spend money at current rates while managing its reserves the same way it does now, the district could run out of reserve funds by the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

That was the central message of the administration’s four-year financial plan, presented during Monday night’s school board meeting, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion.

“When you are doing projections far out into the future, it is normal to have deficits,” school business administrator Jennifer Buscemi said. “Any changes that are made through negotiations … or the use of surpluses or reserves … are not included. This is not doom-and-gloom.”

At the end of the last fiscal year, the district had $10.93 million in its various reserve funds and unassigned fund balance. Six years ago, that total was just over $550,000.

“The financial health of the district was not good back then,” Ms. Buscemi said. “You want to have enough to use in the future to cover any sort of unexpected expenses. There is a fine line for how much fund balance we should have. We are meeting the statutory requirements right now.”

Ms. Buscemi explained that variables such as the fluctuating tax cap, revenue from out-of-district student tuition, enrollment, insurance costs, and many other factors have an impact on the financial outlook for the district.

Superintendent Katy Graves said those fluctuations aren’t reflected in the financial plan.

“The fiscal plans the state asks you to plan are to give a very conservative view of how things are going,” she said Wednesday. “When a school business administrator and a superintendent provide their feedback, you can’t give any optimistic views. … Yes, we’re working to capture more revenue and perhaps tuition or shared services, but those things can’t be seen in there.”

Stella Maris Architect Named

Also on Monday, the district took a major step toward transforming the former Stella Maris Regional School into a center for early childhood public education. The school board voted 5-0 to appoint the Binghamton-based firm BCK-IBI Group to serve as both architect and construction manager on the project. Board members Susan Lamontagne and Theresa Samot were absent from the meeting.

The district had four architectural firms reply to its recent request for architectural proposals for Stella Maris, including BBS Architects, which has managed bond projects for the district for the last few years.

Board member Chris Tice expressed concerns that because BCK-IBI Group is not a local firm, it would pass along travel expenses to the district.

“They are the only one that offered a built-in savings. … “ responded board member Stephanie Bitis. “There are no hidden costs. My biggest concern was where they are located, and it was taken off the table.”

On Wednesday, Ms. Graves said BCK-IBI Group presented the best financial value among all the architects while also presenting an excellent plan for the building, noting the company would give the district “the most services for the dollars.”

With an architect on board, the district can now move on to the design phase for the building.

“That means we can start pulling together stakeholders, folks that are involved in licensed daycare, parents that have ideas — we’ll start gathering those committees together almost immediately to get their thoughts,” Ms. Graves said.

The school board also unanimously appointed a new district clerk to succeed Mary Adamczyk, who, after nearly 10 years in the position, will become the superintendent’s secretary full-time and relinquish her part-time district clerk role because the responsibilities have grown in recent years.

The board hired Carol Dray, a former municipal clerk who worked in the New Jersey court system for more than a decade, as its new district clerk for 20 hours per week. She starts Friday.

“She’s very highly qualified,” Ms. Graves said of Ms. Dray, who lives in a nearby East End town. “She loved the work and she’s anxious to take a position again in a role that is similar to that.”