Springs Budget $24.8 Million

    There was an audible sigh of relief in the Springs School gym Monday night when the school board unanimously adopted its proposed $24.8 million district budget for the 2011-12 school year.
    The budget hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on May 9 and the budget will go to a public vote on May 17.
    The proposed budget will carry a tax-rate increase of 5.8 percent, or about $289 in additional taxes for a homeowner with a house assessed at $6,000.
    During a budget work session earlier that night, Ken Hamilton, the district’s treasurer, had shown last year’s tax card and explained that in 2010-11, the bud­get had gone on the books as about $22.5 million, when in fact, by the time the school year started, the budget had increased by $862,000 to almost $23.36 million, due to more high school students than anticipated and an extra kindergarten class.
    “However,” Mr. Hamilton said, “the tax card you receive will compare this year’s budget to the first [adopted] budget, not the one that passed. So what in reality is a budget-to-budget increase of 6.39 percent will look like it’s 10.47 percent. It isn’t,” he said.
    If the budget passes as is, then the Springs School will not have to cut any of its programs or staff, and in fact will be able to afford a new gym roof at $150,000 to replace the one that’s leaking, and a new school bus at $103,000.
    However, if the budget is voted down and the school is forced to turn to a contingency budget, there would be a tax increase of 4.3 percent, or about $215 for a house assessed at $6,000. The district would be forced to cut $827,655 out of the budget as it stands now.
    “First thing to go would be the capital improvements and equipment,” said Mr. Hamilton, but it was clear that even with those removed from the budget, there would still need to be almost half a million dollars in additional cuts to achieve the lower figure.
    “Back to the worst-case scenario,” said Thomas Talmage, a school board member. Earlier in the budget process, before the district reached a high school tuition agreement with the East Hampton Hampton School District that brought significant savings as well as reimbursements for past overpayments to Springs and other sending districts, Springs had been considering cutting staff, increasing kindergarten class sizes, and reconfiguring the seventh and eighth-grade day. The tuition agreement allowed the district to avoid those cuts while still putting forward a single-digit tax increase.
    If the budget is voted down and cuts need to be examined again, public input would be sought, the board told the audience on Monday.
    “The difference between the proposed 5.8-percent tax increase and a 4.3-percent contingency budget tax increase is about $74 a year, or $1.42 a week. That’s the price of a cup of coffee a week,” said Mr. Hamilton.
    While parents may be relieved at the budget the board is proposing, some in the district are already organizing in opposition to it. A group called the Springs Homeowners Alliance has mounted an Internet campaign urging people to vote down the 2011-12 budget. “We are questioning why $4 million in potential reductions to the budget were dropped from consideration,” the group wrote on its Web site, springshomeownersalliance.com.
    In other news from Monday’s meeting, the board president, Christopher Kelley, announced that he will leave the board when his term ends on June 30. “It’s time. I’ve served 12 of the last 13 years. I urge any of you who feel an urge to go for it and share your talents with us.” Mr. Kelley received a standing ovation from the crowd, as did Ken Hamilton, who is retiring after serving the district as treasurer for the past 16 years.
    Monday is the last day for possible school board candidates to get their nominating petitions to the district clerk’s office. The deadline is 5 p.m.
    School board elections are the same day as the budget vote. Springs residents who are not yet registered to vote have until May 12 to do so. To be eligible, the Springs district must have been their primary residence for 30 days prior to the election and they may not be registered to vote in any other voting district. Registration may be done in person at at the district clerk’s office on any business day.