Budget to Stay Under Cap

       On Monday night, for the first time, the Springs School Board pinned a specific number on the budget it is considering for the 2014-15 school year —$26.24 million — and discussed how it would impact taxpayers.

       That number represents a $921,221, or 3.62-percent, increase over this year’s $25.4 million budget. The tax rate would increase by just over 4.4 percent, and the tax levy would increase by 3.18 percent.

       The state cap on tax levy increases for the 2014-15 school year is 1.46 percent, but after exemptions are taken into account, the budget discussed Monday would come in under the tax cap, district officials said.

       To stay under the tax cap, the administration recommended applying $777,000 from its projected 2013-14 fund balance, estimated to be $8 million by the end of the fiscal year.

       “The district’s fund balance strategy should be to set aside sufficient assets to realize our longer-range goals and provide insurance against unanticipated expenditures and revenue shortfalls,” said Thomas Primiano, the district treasurer. “We’re fortunate to be in this position. Other districts are bottoming out.”

       For homeowners whose houses are valued at $400,000, the changes next year would result in an additional $163 in taxes. Properties valued at $600,000 would see an increase of $245, while those valued at $800,000 would see an increase of $326.

       Regular education costs at Springs are proposed at just under $7 million for next year, which represents a nearly $250,000 decrease from this year. Special education costs, proposed at $767,876 next year, would decrease $300,00 from this year.

       Expenses related to Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services will prove costly. For next year, Springs has budgeted $2.15 million, an increase of $856,150 over this year. Though 30 percent of BOCES costs are eligible for state-aid reimbursements, special education students account for 82 percent of the cost.

       Employee benefits, meanwhile, are only projected to increase around $40,000, for a total of just over $4.7 million.

       “We’re growing as a district — increasing our staffing and adding more classes. Where do you put them? We’re tapped out of space. It’s difficult to find space now,” said John Finello, the superintendent. “That’s the reason why we’re trying to be prudent in the planning. We’re doing a lot of guessing — it’s not an exact science — doing it as cost effectively as we can and beyond that, not overspending or under-spending.”

       Earlier in the meeting, talk of increased enrollment and limited space led the agenda, with administrators reporting a district-wide 63-student increase over the past two years.

       According to Elizabeth Mendelman, the board president, Springs had 680 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade last June. As of March 6, the enrollment was up to 728 students — or an increase of 48 students in less than a year.

       By 2021, high school enrollment is projected to grow by 117 students, for a total of 378 Springs students. Next year, the projected high school enrollment for Springs is 270 students, and nearly all of them will be at East Hampton High School, with six at Pierson High school and two at the Bridgehampton School. This year, Springs paid tuition for 261 high school students.

       The decrease in projected tuition costs results from negotiating a lowered rate from East Hampton High School. And the special education reduction is because of a decline in high-needs placements. For next year, Springs will pay $24,942 for each student that it sends to East Hampton — an $847 decrease from this year. Overall, the change in tuition rates, plus a slightly lower enrollment number, are projected to save the district $241,000.

       Also at Monday’s meeting, Toby Karoussos, a special education teacher, was granted tenure.

       The next meeting is planned for April 7 at 7 p.m. A budget hearing is planned for May 12, with the final budget vote on May 20.