Springs Proposals Face Opposition

A public hearing on the 2014-15 Springs School budget Monday night took on a divisive tone as a number of district residents took issue with what some charged was  a top-heavy administrative increase and questioned a new $2 million capital reserve fund, which will be presented to voters in separate balloting on Tuesday.  

The $26.6 million 2014-15 school budget represents a 4.9-percent increase over the current budget of $25.4 million. The tax levy would increase by 3.18 percent, which is under the state-imposed 1.46 percent tax cap after exemptions are taken into account.

As previously reported, owners of houses with a town evaluation of $400,000 would see a tax hike of $163. Properties valued at $600,000 would see an increase of $245; those valued at $800,000 would pay $326 more.

David Buda, a Springs civic activist, took issue with  rising tax rates, arguing that the rate had risen 120 percent since he became a resident 13 years ago. Another of Mr. Buda’s primary objections was that this year’s surplus, or adjusted unrestricted fund balance, will exceed the state limit of 4 percent.

“The district has been very clear to our residents about the fact that surplus has been generated. That’s why the district is asking voters to create the capital reserve fund,” John Finello, the district superintendent, said. “It will help pay for someof the necessary facility upgrades in future years without increasing taxes, while reducing the allowable ‘rainy day’ funds to a level that the board believes will assist it to be compliant with lawful limit.”

Mr. Buda also took issue with what he termed a last-minute decision to create a $2 million capital reserve fund. The board voted on May 1 to establish the fund and ask voters to approve it in a separate proposition. The maximum that can be placed in the capital reserve is $2 million in each of the next five years, for a total of $10 million. The fund would allow improvements like classroom additions and renovations, a cafeteria, and numerous structural upgrades.

Phyllis Italiano, another Springs resident, asked whether voters could support the budget but vote against the capital fund. Elizabeth Mendelman, the board president, confirmed that they could. Calling the administration top heavy, Ms. Italiano questioned the need for a full-time superintendent, noting that Mr. Finello now works part-time. “It’s very hard to vote against the budget, but I’m not in favor of the proposition. And I’m warning you because I think people are going to vote you down on this.”

Chris Tucci expressed concern that a costly proposition for a capital fund might strike some as a “money grabbing technique,” and he warned that as a result “people might not come and vote for the budget.” Mr. Tucci also questioned the need for changing the superintendent’s position from part to full-time.

Mr. Finello, a resident of Cold Spring Harbor, now has an annual salary of $55,000, along with a $3,600 monthly stipend for housing in Springs. Should the budget be approved by voters,  $174,167, which includes $56,139 in benefits, will be allocated for the superintendent in the 2014-15 school year. 

David Wilt, another Springs resident, expressed frustration that the board is “sitting there listening, but no one is answering any questions.”

While a public hearing in name, where the public is welcome to comment and make their views known, the board cannot change the adopted budget. During several budget workshops earlier this year, those in attendance expressed little, if any, opposition.

Earlier in the meeting, Ms. Mendelman announced that Springs had withdrawn its appeal to the New York State education commissioner regarding a lower tuition rate for the students the district sends to East Hampton.

An agreement had been reached earlier this year dictating a new rate of $25,789 — a nearly $850 reduction from the previous year’s tuition. Overall, the agreement will save Springs around $228,000 for the coming year, based on projected enrollment.

Richard Burns, East Hampton’s superintendent, and Robert Tymann, its assistant superintendent, attended Monday night’s meeting, where in addition to forthcoming district voting, an accelerated math curriculum, impacting both Springs and East Hampton students, was discussed. At Springs, the change will affect students in grades 6 to 8, allowing them to reach calculus by the 12th grade. In order to qualify, students must have scored either a 3 or 4 on recent Common Core-aligned state math exams. They also must have a minimum average of 90 for the previous quarters. The curriculum will be condensed so that eighth graders will take algebra, leaving geometry, algebra two, pre-calculus, and calculus for high school. At Springs, administrators estimated that a quarter of sixth graders might qualify.

In other news, the board accepted a donation of $5,000 from the Hamptons Marathon. They also approved the purchase of a 66-passenger propane bus at a cost of $107,746, which will be paid for over four years.

On Tuesday, Springs residents will be able to vote at the school on the annual school budget from 1 to 9 p.m. Ms. Mendelman and Timothy Frazier, incumbent board members, are running unopposed for three-year terms. Today is the last day to register, with Monday the deadline for absentee ballots. The next school board meeting is scheduled for June 9.