Springs Hopes Eternal

District budgets for 50 computers, propane bus

    Among the big-ticket items included in the Springs School District’s preliminary budget for the next school year are 50 new computerized devices, a propane-powered school bus, a school-wide security overhaul, and a wireless infrastructure upgrade.
    Thomas Primiano, the district’s treasurer, went over the numbers on Feb. 13 during the first of three budget workshops. This one dealt with buildings and grounds, transportation, technology, school board expenses, and other contractual items, and the maximum allowable tax levy for the next school year — just over $23.7 million, which would represent a 3 percent increase over this year’s tax levy. Certain items are exempt from the tax cap.
    Last year, in order to stay under the state-mandated 2-percent tax levy cap, $791,969 in cuts were made to various programs — an excruciating fate the district is hoping to avoid this time around.
    Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, New York State will mandate that students in third through eighth grades take computerized assessments. While legally required, the burden to comply will fall on schools, with no additional state money.
    Timothy Frazier, a school board member and principal of Southampton Intermediate School, along with several parents, expressed frustration at yet another unfunded mandate.
    “Number two pencils are a heck of a lot cheaper than tablets,” said Kathee Burke Gonzalez, the School Board’s president. “We don’t have the infrastructure to have a couple of hundred kids taking a test on a tablet,” she said, noting that areas of Springs School still lacked basic Internet connectivity.
    In order to comply with such a requirement, Springs School will need an additional 150 to 250 devices, whether laptops, tablets, desktop computers, or some combination. For now, the school plans to phase in approximately 50 devices each year. Also at issue is increasing availability of building-wide wireless access.
    For the 2013-14 school year, Springs will also see a projected increase of $189,822 in state aid, the bulk of which concerns $87,100 in charter school transition costs that the school overpaid for last year. For every student living in Springs that attends the Child Development Center of the Hamptons, a charter school in East Hampton primarily for children with special needs, the school is required to pay $22,500. Last year, the district budgeted for more students than ultimately enrolled.
    “The 18-percent change in state aid for this year is an unusual year, and we shouldn’t be expecting that in the future,” Mr. Primiano said. “We need to save and maintain our reserves.”
    Besides leasing a new propane-powered school bus, which the district would eventually own, the preliminary budget also includes $55,000 to transport a student with special needs to Westhampton Beach. The trip, provided by an outside company, requires not only a driver, but also two monitors to accompany the student.
    In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, Springs is also planning for a security overhaul by replacing all locks, implementing an intercom system, and installing security cameras. The locks alone are projected to cost $5,000.
    Last week’s meeting was sparsely attended, and included only a handful of parents.
    “We would like to invite the public to come out and participate,” said Ms. Burke Gonzalez.
     Two more workshops are planned in the coming weeks. A second session is scheduled on March 6 to tackle instructional programs, interscholastic sports, and field trips. A third, on March 20, will address tuition to East Hampton High School, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services, employee benefits, administration, and the overall projected budget and tax rate. All convene at 6:30 p.m. in the school’s common room.