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Dec 14, 2011 12:30 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Spike In Student Tuition Fees Could Force Remsenburg-Speonk To Bypass Tax Cap

Dec 14, 2011 1:16 PM

A projected increase in enrollment next year, combined with the state’s new 2 percent tax cap, is forcing Remsenburg-Speonk School Superintendent Dr. Ronald Masera to seek solutions that could remove limitations on how much the district spends on tuition.

The state tax cap, which was signed into law in June and takes effect in January, limits tax levy increases each year at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The cap applies to every form of local government, including school districts.

At Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, Dr. Masera announced that he has been working with State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. on a possible exemption to the new law that would allow his school district to pierce the cap if the money is being used to fund tuition fees.

Currently, there are 188 students enrolled at the Remsenburg-Speonk Elementary School, and the district also is sending 179 students to the middle and high schools in Westhampton Beach and Eastport South Manor this year on a tuition basis. That costs the district about $19,000 a year per student, though the figure can rise to $60,000 for each special education student.

Dr. Masera explained that the district expects to spend more than $4.8 million on tuition fees next year, or approximately $600,000 more than this school year, as it expects its tuition students to increase to 195 in the 2012-13 school year. He said that spike alone will translate into a 5.5-percent increase in the district’s tax levy.

He explained that 22 high school students from Speonk and Remsenburg are expected to graduate from Westhampton Beach High School in June, but at the same time, 36 of his students are expected to enroll with either the Westhampton Beach Middle School or Eastport South Manor Junior-Senior High School in September. And of those students, 13 or 14 will require special education services.

The Westhampton Beach and Eastport South Manor school districts accept students from “feeder districts,” which include the Remsenburg-Speonk, East Quogue, Quogue, East Moriches and Tuckahoe school districts. Feeder districts pay tuition each year for each student.

Dr. Masera added that the cap hurts smaller districts that must send a large number of students to other districts on a tuition basis. “We’re hoping we can get some kind of exemption for those situations,” he said. “It really only impacts us little guys.”

He added that the spike in tuition costs does not account for other fixed or mandated expenses, such as health insurance premiums and pension contributions. As a result, Dr. Masera said the district could be forced to slash programs or staffing.

“The impact could be devastating,” he said. “We don’t want the children of the Remsenburg School District to suffer any loss in programming due to something that is completely beyond our control.”

Mr. Thiele said he understood the superintendent’s position, adding that the tax cap has the largest impact on those districts with fluctuating enrollments. “It’s a small school, so changes in enrollment numbers can have a big impact,” he said.

Mr. Thiele said that while he has not drafted any legislation yet, he intends to do so soon so it can be considered by his fellow lawmakers in January. He also pointed out that the district already has another option and that is proposing a budget that receives approval from at least 60 percent of taxpayers. If a “super majority” approves the spending plan, the district is allowed to pierce the 2 percent cap.

“A district such as Remsenburg-Speonk would really have to appeal to residents and explain that the increase is a result of enrollment fluctuation, not excessive or high spending,” Mr. Thiele said.

In other news, the Board of Education on Monday night voted unanimously to create a “sick bank” for fourth grade special education teacher Susan Metz, who has requested a sick leave due to an emergency. The creation of the sick bank allows other district employees to donate their sick time to help their colleague.

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I think R-S school district should look at how much they spend on special end services. For a district with only 180 kids why do we spend approximately 1.8 million on special end, is it because we want every kid to get a 100 on all the standardized tests so we can win a blue ribbon. This expense cannot possible be justified for such a small school system that has little or none of the educational or social problems that affect other areas.
By maxwell (169), speonk on Dec 14, 11 1:41 PM
I can let "special end" go once but when I see it for a second time its time to stop reading and wait for the next post.
By ba (50), speonk on Dec 14, 11 2:18 PM
Special ed and you know what I'm talking about. Care to respond
By maxwell (169), speonk on Dec 15, 11 1:02 PM
Is this stat stated correctly in the article: 13-14 out of 36 total in one class require special education services? That's 36-39%, astronomically high. The same figure for the New York Public Schools is 13.8%.
By rburger (82), Remsenburg on Dec 20, 11 3:24 PM