Residents Already Feeling Tax-Cap Pain

    The Springs School Board is considering eliminating a special education teacher in the 2012-13 school year as part of its efforts to bring the district budget in line with the state’s new 2-percent cap on property tax levy increases.
    All public schools in the state were waiting on the final protocol to come from Albany regarding the cap. March 1 was to be the deadline for boards across the state to submit their hard numbers for the property tax levy calculation, based on equations to be sent from the governor’s office, but as of the night before, no one had yet heard a gubernatorial peep.
    Last year’s approved budget was $24.8 million, but Springs has yet to release a hard number for 2012-13.
    At a budget workshop on Feb. 29, Kathee Burke Gonzalez, the school board president, introduced Colleen Card, the school’s business administrator, to discuss the high school tuition rates, and some other salient points.
    “The rules of engagement have changed,” Ms. Burke Gonzalez said. She called the decisions to be made this year “critical.”
    Last year, Springs paid $25,677 per high school student to the East Hampton school district. This year, per the tuition contract signed last year, the price rises to $27,345 per student, more than 6 percent. This year there were 273 Springs students at the high school, but there are 8 fewer expected in the 2012-13 school year. Because of increased tuition costs, however, the tuition amount due to East Hampton will climb from $7.01 million to $7.24 million.
    The tuition for students with disabilities at the high school has jumped from $55,292 per student to $63,114. There are six Springs students with disabilities at the high school this year, and two more are expected to join them next year. The Springs principal, Eric Casale, said that he had reviewed the school’s special education programs and “to not only meet their needs but also be fiscally responsible,” the decision has been made to subtract one special education educator from next year, “either by excessing or through retirement,” he said.
    The “real cost” of a step one teacher was also explored. Although the teacher’s salary would come in at $54,000, the district is also responsible for paying 11.84 percent of that salary into the teachers retirement fund, and an additional 18.5 percent of the salary into the New York State employees retirement system. Health insurance can run from $9,000 to $21,000, depending on whether the teacher is single or has a family, and Social Security and Medicare payments are another 7.65 percent. A teacher hired at a salary of $54,000 costs the district $84,599, Ms. Card explained.
    In a statement, Nancy Olson and Amy Turner, two Springs teachers and co-presidents of the Springs Teachers Association, commended the board on holding the community forum. “We are aware that the recent tax cap legislation and economic crises present you with very difficult choices this budget season,” Ms. Olson read. “As we have stated in a recent press release, the S.T.A. is committed to doing its part to help preserve the valuable programs that benefit kids here at Springs School.”
    The letter suggested that the board reconsider its new administrative model and forgo adding an assistant principal.
    “Although we recognize the advantages of adding an assistant principal, under our financial circumstances, we believe it would be preferable to apply that money to the preservation of programs for students and distribute these administrative duties to existing staff,” Ms. Olson read.
    An earlier letter from the S.T.A. stated, “We are pleased to say that, although there is still much to be worked out, the S.T.A. and the district have a tentative agreement that calls for salary freezes and benefit concessions totaling over half a million dollars in savings to the district.” As of the meeting on Feb. 29, though, the teachers are still receiving their “step” increases annually, according to Michael Hartner, the school superintendent.
    “This community cannot afford the ever-increasing taxes,” Carol Buda, a retired teacher and Springs resident, said during the public comment period. “It is literally forcing some people out of their homes. I don’t want to see the school fall apart,” she added, “but there are 30 teachers here making $100,000-plus. If a teacher is married to another teacher, or a policeman, I think that puts them in Obama’s 1 percent.”
    Others in the audience echoed the sentiment and the school’s motto — “Springs School: Where Children Come First” — and were upset that possible cuts discussed at the budget meetings and the community forum held on Feb. 11 seemed to focus on eliminating school programs.
    “If you slash and burn this year, what are you going to do next year?” Ms. Buda asked.
    Rameshwar Das pointed to the fact that the school tax in Springs is four times that of Amagansett.
    Kristy LaMonda, a Springs teacher and resident, said her father “grew up steps from this school, the youngest of 12 kids who all went here.”
    “I feel like I’m constantly defending this school,” she said. “It’s not that we [the district] are doing anything irresponsible with the money we’re given. We have no oceanfront property, we have no business district.” What Springs does have, as several speakers pointed out, is a 27-percent population jump in the past four years.
    “There’s a sense of entitlement in this community,” said Dawn Flagg, a Springs resident. “Some people have been out of a job for years. Nothing is free. When I wanted my kids to go to preschool, I paid for it.”
    “If you have a job and you have security, that’s something to be grateful for, instead of looking for the next green leaf from a tree that isn’t there.”