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Mar 20, 2012 6:43 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Will Be Forced To Cut School Positions To Get Under Tax Cap

Mar 21, 2012 1:00 PM

For the Westhampton Beach School District, maintaining academic excellence most likely will mean piercing the state’s new tax cap.

At Monday night’s meeting, Board of Education member Halsey Stevens said it is unrealistic for board members to stay below the new cap on the district’s tax levy—the amount it can raise in property taxes each year—while attempting to piece together their 2012-13 budget. His sentiments were echoed by Board President Jim Hulme and Schools Superintendent Michael Radday.

On Monday, Mr. Radday briefly discussed an alternative budget plan that would pierce the cap, though not as much as simply rolling over the current year’s $50.4 million spending plan. Under his proposal—which he will discuss in depth at the board’s next meeting on Monday, March 26, at 7 p.m., in the high school library—Mr. Radday said the budget-to-budget increase would come in at around 2.9 percent, an estimated $1.5 million increase in spending. As a result, the corresponding tax cap hit would also come in at around 2.9 percent. He did not offer specific dollar amounts during his presentation.

If the district simply rolled over its current budget, a plan that would keep funding for all current programming and cover contractual increases, overall spending would go up by nearly $2 million.

Under the superintendent’s alternative plan, the district would lay off one full-time elementary school teacher, replace a full-time middle school reading teacher who is retiring this year with a part-time employee, and cut one part-time speech teacher position and two part-time school monitor positions. Additionally, the district will explore ways to make the Summer Recreation Program self-supporting and require that driver’s education students pay the full cost of that program. The district’s Adult Education Program would be eliminated, and a security position that is now vacant would be removed from the budget.

If they instead opt to adopt a budget that stays under the tax cap, board members will be forced to cut eight full-time teaching positions and four part-time support positions at all three schools, according to Mr. Radday. Middle school athletics would also be hit hard, with the elimination of the second teams in boys and girls basketball, baseball, softball and girls volleyball. That downsizing, the superintendent estimated, would result in more than 100 student-athletes being cut from the middle school teams. The varsity bowling team would also be cut under the plan.

Under both scenarios, the board will eliminate its director of technology position and have to tap its reserve funds in order to trim costs. The district also aims to save an additional $100,000 in out-of-district special education tuition costs by creating a class at the elementary school that can accommodate eight students. A teacher and teacher’s aide would oversee that class.

“These suggested cuts start to touch programs rather than paper clips,” Mr. Hulme said. “To get to the cap is to begin to destroy what we have created here.”

He pointed out that the alternative plan, though it still exceeds the tax cap, is a compromise because it takes into account the needs of both the students and taxpayers.

According to a chart provided by Mr. Radday at last week’s budget presentation, at least 60 percent of taxpayers—a supermajority under the new tax cap rules—approved the district’s spending plans 10 times between 1998 and 2011. Sixty percent of taxpayers will have to approve next year’s spending plan if the district opts to pierce the cap; a simple majority is needed if they stay under the cap.

The Board of Education expects to adopt its 2012-13 spending plan at their meeting on Monday, April 2. Taxpayers will go to the polls on May 15.

“What we do this year is a starting point for next year,” said board member Beecher Halsey. “At some point, it really does start to have a negative impact on students.”

Earlier in the budget process, Mr. Radday had explained that, in order to stay below the 2 percent tax cap, overall spending cannot go up by more than $448,241 next year, meaning that the budget-to-budget increase would be less than 1 percent. Under that plan, he said, the district’s tax levy increase would come in at 1.75 percent. If the district simply rolled over the current budget, overall spending would go up by nearly $2 million, putting the district over the cap. That spending plan, if adopted, would total around $52.3 million.

“In the end, I think we need to adopt a budget that maintains the quality programs our students deserve, while being sensitive to the needs of our taxpayers who are paying the bills for those programs,” Mr. Radday added.

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How about all employees making over 100k take a 5 percent haircut in pay like most of the private sector has had to do. You'll still have your great benefits and outragous retirement.
By maxwell (169), speonk on Mar 21, 12 3:18 PM
I wonder why Halsey Stevens wants to piece the tax cap? Maybe it has something to do with him being a retired school teacher from the East Quogue Elementary School. SeethroughNY will tell anyone who wants to know the salaries of current and retired educators. Retired teacher are also able to work part time at the school they retired from. I believe that they call it double dipping.
By crusader (391), East Quogue on Mar 21, 12 3:34 PM
They should have saved the reserve accounts for a rainy day. During the worst recession in decades they choose to blow it on luxuries. Now we pay the price for the past. So much for our districts representing academics. Here they push sports at the price of academics. Let's see where the sending districts decide to send their kids in the future. Our tax increases are only beginning to come to fruition.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Mar 22, 12 7:10 PM