That the Bridgehampton School District’s proposed budget for the next academic year was defeated last month even though 54 percent of voters approved piercing the state cap on increases in the tax levy doesn’t tell the whole story — the numbers do. The district supports a relatively small school, with only 166 students enrolled this year, from prekindergarten through high school, and would have a $12.3 million spending plan for next year if approved in Tuesday’s revote. It seems that if the budget is approved, the cost of educating a child at the Bridgehampton School would be the third highest in the state next year, at $74,253, while the average per-pupil cost is $22,552.
Bridgehampton was the only South Fork district besides East Hampton to ask voters for permission to increase the tax levy more than the 1.46 percent allowed by the state. To do so, 60 percent of voters had to approve the increase. East Hampton, which proposed a 2.43-percent increase, won approval by an astounding 73 percent. Bridgehampton sought an 8.8-percent increase and didn’t make it. Two hundred forty-seven people cast ballots in Bridgehampton, and the defeat was by a margin of 21 votes. The school board is asking voters to reverse the defeat. We hope they do so, but the community’s generosity should be seen as a one-time thing by the board and administrators.
Something must be done to lower costs beyond 2014-15, but a second defeat would hurt students without even beginning to address the reasons why expenses are so high. If the budget fails this time, some $800,000 in cuts would be required, with vital and extracurricular programs eliminated while not making much of a dent in Bridgehampton’s bottom line.
Shared programs and services with other schools, while perhaps helpful, will not reduce spending enough, leaving consolidation among one or more districts the apparent answer. Two new board members were elected in May; they and the veterans will have to analyze the effects of a district continuing to operate on its own with some very small classes and costly administration.
The challenge will be to guarantee that students receive the educations they deserve while not excessively asking taxpayers to indefinitely approve large increases.