Won’t ‘Pierce the Cap’

    The East Hampton School Board slogged through over three hours of a budget workshop on Tuesday night in anticipation of coming up with a hard tax levy number that the state is expecting from all schools in New York by today.
    “We’re not going to pierce the cap,” Laura Anker Grossman, the school board president, said. “We feel that we can stay within the levy and have a curriculum that supports our children.”
    She was referring to exceeding the 2-percent cap on tax levy increases. To exceed that cap requires approval by 60 percent of district voters, an 11th-hour move to which some school districts may have to resort.
    Isabel Madison, the district’s business administrator, took the board and audience through the equations, which added up to a tax levy amount for East Hampton residents of $44.88 million for a proposed 2012-13 budget of $63.22 million. It was still too early to unravel the tax rate per $100.
    The tax levy increase, on paper, shows as 4.431 percent, but this is allowed under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cap, since there are many exemptions to the law, including a district’s debt service and capital construction projects, along with building and bus leases, if they apply.
    East Hampton’s debt service is $6.54 million per year.
    Charles Soriano, the assistant superintendent, presented a line-by-line budget pertaining to his office. It showed overall a decrease from $1.2 million in 2008-9 to $917,781.38 for 2012-13.
    Approximately $90,000 was saved by moving programs traditionally held at the Ross School back to the new art wing of East Hampton High School. Dr. Soriano told the board that the savings would be moved into staff development.
    “The state provides the standards to follow,” he said. “But standards are not curricula. Teachers should write curricula based on their experiences, so it’s personal to this school, to this area, and it means something to the students. That’s the gold standard for how it should be done,” he said.
    The board, and some audience members, said that the additional $90,000 for staff development was a good idea. One audience member said she didn’t think it was enough.
    “You’re right,” Dr. Soriano said. “In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t, but I’ve just increased it by almost $100,000, so I’m elated.”
    With that exception, along with new textbooks that are necessary in the elementary and middle schools, the board looked at ways to cut, including purchasing its celebratory sheet cakes for less that $165, and 1,000 lanyards for identification badges for under $1,000.
    “I know it’s just nickels and dimes,” said Jackie Lowey, a board member. “But there’s a cultural shift that has to happen in this district.”
    Patricia Hope, another board member, agreed. “We want to be able to say to the community that we are cutting everything we can,” she said, adding incredulously, “A thousand dollars for string?”