‘Conservative’ Budgeting

New budget proposal would mean an increase to residents of the Montauk School District

    Residents of the Montauk School District would see a 2.1-percent increase in their school taxes if the final budget proposal of $18.5 million presented this week is approved at the next school board meeting on April 17 and okayed by voters on May 15. Jack Perna, the district superintendent, gave out the figures at a board meeting on Tuesday.
    What that means is that an average household would pay an estimated $15 per $1,000 of assessed value of the property, for an estimated $75 increase in school taxes next year. But that number could be lower, Mr. Perna said, depending on the assessed value of the many new buildings in the hamlet.
    It’s been a relatively simple budget process this year. The board has been meeting weekly with Mr. Perna and Maura Mirras, the school treasurer, to comb through it and explain various line items to board members. The budget was tweaked here and there but didn’t change much since the initial proposal was handed out earlier this month.
    There were no big cuts or services slashed, and no new staff members were added. Mr. Perna said from the beginning that for this year, at least, the school will be able to come in under the state’s new 2-percent cap on tax levy increases. “Our core program has remained the same,” he said after the meeting.
    Mr. Perna said that although the tax bill will increase by 2.1 percent, he could have increased it up to 2.4 percent and still remained under the cap, because of various exemptions to the law.
    “As your administrator I was tempted to go to the 2.4 but we didn’t. We have a history here of being very conservative,” he said.
    Robert Lamparter, a retired art teacher who has been following the budget process, asked the board during the public comment period if teacher contracts were still being negotiated, and if so, how will that figure into the budget. He also said the regional cost to educate a student is about $19,000 and wondered why the Montauk School’s cost per pupil is about $34,000, a figure that Mr. Perna said later was fairly accurate.
    “It just seems like a lot of money per student,” Mr. Lamparter said. “I’m not looking to attack,” he added later. “People ask me what’s going on, and I want to be able to explain it to them.”
    Diane Hausman, the board president, said that most of the expenses are out of the board’s control.
    Traditionally, smaller schools incur higher costs, Mr. Perna said.
    When it comes to teacher contract negotiations, which are ongoing, the superintendent said by phone yesterday that an estimated portion of the expected salary increase is already added to the budget. If the costs go over what’s budgeted, he would try to cover it from other areas that have come in under budget. But if the salaries did go over, and the budget needed to be changed, a special referendum would have to be held, with the public voting on whether to approve the additional costs.
    A hearing on the budget proposal will be held on May 2 at 6 p.m. in the school. The budget vote will take place on May 15 from 2 to 8 p.m. in the school gym.