It was death by a thousand cuts during the East Hampton School Board’s Tuesday evening budget workshop, as members of the board pored over items related to English as a second language, East Hampton Middle School, and the John M. Marshall Elementary School during a three-hour dissection of the budget.
“We can’t say we’re doing line-by-line if we’re not doing line-by-line,” Patricia Hope, the board’s president, said on the phone yesterday morning. Armed with data, she said she spent hours analyzing each of the budget documents in advance of the meeting.
Though open to the public, only the press was in attendance.
Although numbers are still being finalized, she estimated that the overall 2014-15 budget would likely involve some $1.2 million in cuts district-wide, given the state-mandated 2-percent cap on property tax increases.
District-wide, board members looked at consolidating graduation ceremonies as a possible avenue for increased cost-savings.
Charles Soriano, the principal of East Hampton Middle School, presented his proposed $167,013 department budget, which does not include salaries and benefits. It marks a 25-percent, or $33,489, increase over last year’s budget of $133,523.
At the middle school, nearly $1,000 was budgeted for a graduation sound system, with another $400 for flowers and $2,150 for white folding chairs. Each of the district’s three schools includes similar line items for individual graduation ceremonies, for kindergarteners, fifth graders, eighth graders, and high school seniors.
Ms. Hope suggested that future ceremonies be condensed, with everyone using the same tent and resources at East Hampton High School. One proposed solution would be for the John M. Marshall Elementary School’s fifth graders to graduate on Thursday morning, with eighth graders graduating that evening. The high school graduation is now scheduled for Friday, June 27.
“We’re buying chairs four times, the sound system four times,” said Ms. Hope.
“It’s costly but there’s something nice about having it on the front lawn,” said Dr. Soriano, who called himself a traditionalist. “It’s important to graduate from the school that you attended. Kids attach memories to those events. Certainly you could go the other route and it would be fine. But there’s something very nice about it.”
“It is nice,” said Ms. Hope.
“We want to hear from the public what they think about it,” said J.P. Foster, a board member.
A $30,707 character-education program in the middle school budget called Why Try, which works to build resiliency, drew criticism from board members.
“I’m not sold on this,” said Jackie Lowey, a board member.
“These little tiny chunks add up to a teacher’s salary,” said Robert Tymann, the assistant superintendent. “We have to get down to the tax cap. Nobody wants to cut anything. We want to keep it all. Those are the decisions that we’re making now. By the time we’re done with this packet, we will have a teacher’s salary.”
During the meeting, requests for materials and supplies were typically cut between 10 and 15 percent. Stickers, bookmarks, and classroom decorations drew the ire of board members. At John Marshall, two requests for Franklin Covey calendar refills (each at a cost of $42.07) and $123.76 for helium and balloons for graduation were summarily axed. Kindergarten class trips to a North Fork pumpkin patch and King Kullen were also questioned, given both the expense and subsequent reduction in instructional time.
Beth Doyle, John Marshall’s principal, presented a proposed department budget of $200,253 — an increase of nearly 6 percent, or $11,022, over last year’s budget of $189,231.
This followed a presentation earlier in the meeting on the district’s English as a second language program by Elizabeth Reveiz, its director. The district now has 244 English language learners in kindergarten through 12th grade. More than 58 percent of them are at John Marshall, with the kindergarten boasting the largest E.S.L. population in the school. There are 28 E.S.L. students in the middle school this year and 76 at the high school.
In total, Ms. Reveiz proposed a budget for the program of $35,216 — an increase of 23.2 percent or $6,630 over last year’s budget of $28,586. Most of the increase is attributable to a $10,000 increase in supplies for a new high school curriculum to meet the growing needs of its diverse learners.
Half of the E.S.L. students at the high school are between the ages of 17 and 21, with many having experienced interrupted schooling in their home countries and hoping to catch up on credits in order to graduate. “New York State law says you have to educate them until they’re 21 or through 12th grade — whichever comes first,” Ms. Hope explained.
The next budget workshop will be on March 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. in the district office on Long Lane. A regular school board meeting will be held there on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.