The Bridgehampton School District will face another budget vote in a little less than three weeks’ time, on June 17.
During Wednesday night's school board meeting, Bridgehampton school board members voted unanimously, by a vote of 5-to-0, to put forth the same $12.3 million budget.
Under a state law that went into effect two years ago, the cap on increases in property taxes is either 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index — whichever is lower. This year, districts faced a cap of 1.46 percent. The $12.3 million Bridgehampton spending plan for the coming school year translates to a $10.6 million tax levy, an increase of 8.8 percent. The defeat, on May 20, was by a vote of 134-to-113, a margin of 21 votes. With 247 residents casting ballots, only 54 percent were willing to pierce the cap.
Should the budget go down a second time, Bridgehampton would be forced to adopt a contingency budget based on this year’s figures — with cuts amounting to $770,000, according to Ron White, the board president.
Lois Favre, the district superintendent, said that the board had cut $200,000 from an “already-tight budget,” saying that the “current budget proposal is what we need to move forward.” She also said health insurance increases alone had caused the board to try to pierce the cap.
Four Long Island districts put forth cap-busting budgets, but only East Hampton won the right to do so. A supermajority of at least 60 percent was required, and East Hampton’s $65 million plan was approved by 73 percent of voters. West Babylon and Sayville voters turned down their budgets in addition to Bridgehampton.
The Bridgehampton $1.1 million, or 9.93-percent, spending increase over the current year’s $11.2 million budget was said to be primarily due to contractual increases and unfunded state mandates. Had the board decided not to pierce the cap, the district faced not only layoffs, but cuts to essential programs.
Mr. White, whose son is in the sixth grade at the Bridgehampton School, said complacency — and subsequent low voter turnout — was to blame for the defeat. “I’m hopeful there’s going to be a different scenario this time around,” he said on Tuesday.
Over the past two decades, he said that a half-dozen attempts had arisen to either close or merge the school. “Each time, the community spoke in astounding numbers to shut that notion down,” Mr. White said. “We rally when the going gets tough. We need a unified front from all members of the community. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have a school in our community.”
Going into last night’s meeting, Mr. White was in support of putting the same budget up for a revote. Still, turnout is a worry. “Because we’re a small district, even missing three or four families is a big impact. I personally challenge our community to come out and show themselves,” he said.
He also said that in Bridgehampton, where the average price of a house is reported to be $2 million, homeowners could expect to pay $198 more in taxes for the coming year if the budget is approved. Should it go down a second time, its pre-kindergarten and after-school programs are in jeopardy, along with a number of other programs. Mr. White said he worried that “once you take things off the budget, you can’t put them back on again.”
Despite challenges, Kathleen McCleland, who was elected to a three-year term on the board last week and has two young children in the school, is confident that June’s vote will engender greater participation. “I’m hopeful the budget will pass a second time. There’s not a better example of every vote counts,” she said yesterday. “I think there will be great support from the parents in our community because their children have the most to lose. The things that would be cut would greatly undermine the quality of education our students deserve.”
With an eye toward cost-savings and consolidation of services, Mr. White said Bridgehampton had worked in recent years with the Sag Harbor and East Hampton School Districts on shared busing, sports programs, Advanced Placement courses, and curriculum building.
Nevertheless, per-pupil costs are a particular issue. According to New York State Education Department statistics released last week, districts across the state will spend an average of $22,552 per pupil for the 2014-15 school year. With 166 students, Bridgehampton would top local district per-pupil expenses at $74,253 for the coming year, which makes its costs the third highest in the state. With 168 students, Amagansett spends $62,343 per student, ranking fifth in the state, although unlike Bridgehampton, which includes a high school, Amagansett does not educate students beyond sixth grade.
Montauk, with 361 students who attend through the eighth grade, will spend $51,594 per student, ranking 10th. Sag Harbor, with 1,030 students and a high school, will spend $35,796, for an overall ranking of 29th. East Hampton, with 1,912 students and a high school which serves outlying districts, will spend $34,035 per pupil, for a ranking of 39th. And Springs, which has 1,023 students and sends those of high school age to East Hampton, will spend $26,059 per pupil, for a state ranking of 182nd. Figures for Wainscott and Sagaponack were not available.