Focusing on Details in Budget

    From now until April, the East Hampton School Board will convene work sessions to go over drafts of the 2013-14 district budget in exacting, line-by-line detail.
    The purpose of the meetings is to provide transparency and openness to a process that for many outsiders can be difficult, if not impossible, to follow. While the public has been invited to attend, they are not allowed to comment. On Tuesday night, the board kicked off its inaugural work session for the upcoming budget season.
    Besides two members of the press, no one who was not an employee of the district was present. Copies of the draft budget, which right now calls for $65 million in spending, and of the documents being discussed by speakers were unavailable to those attending Tuesday night’s meeting. A reporter’s request for the documents was denied.
    “When the document is a little more solid, we will give it to the public,” Isabel Madison, assistant superintendent for business, said to the board, referring to the preliminary budget.
    During the meeting, Ms. Madison walked members of the board through budget items related to the superintendent’s office, the district’s projected legal costs, support services related to the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, and items pertaining to custodial costs and plant management at each of the district’s three schools.
    Richard J. Burns, the district superintendent, further clarified a more than $55,000 increase in projected legal costs for the upcoming school year.
    “It’s not for Sandpebble,” he said, referring to the ongoing lawsuit between the district and Sandpebble Builders over a multimillion-dollar school construction contract that dates back to April of 2002, “it’s for special education.”
    Ms. Madison later said: “Special education is costing us more than we want. It’s all being spent on one case, almost all on one case.”
    While the district had budgeted $30,000 for legal services related to special education in the 2012-13 budget, the first draft of the 2013-14 budget proposes adding another $60,000 for special education — bringing the final figure to $90,000.
    Later in the evening, custodians at the John M. Marshall Elementary, East Hampton Middle School, and East Hampton High School all made presentations to the board regarding their budget items for next year.
    Budget numbers will be honed and finalized over the next three months. Additional budget work sessions are planned for Feb. 12 and 26, March 21, and April 9. The meetings begin 6 p.m. in the district office at the high school.