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Story - Education

Mar 24, 2010 1:44 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach School Board approves $49 million budget, puts turf proposition on May ballot

Mar 24, 2010 1:44 PM

The Westhampton Beach School Board on Monday night adopted its proposed $49 million budget for the 2010-11 school year, a spending plan that will increase school property taxes by about 1.5 percent next year, according to district officials.

The proposed budget, if adopted by district taxpayers on May 18, calls for an approximate 2.5-percent increase in spending over the current $47.8 
million budget.

Taxpayers whose homes are assessed at $1 million are projected to pay about $5,280 in school property taxes next year, about $80 more than this year. That’s because the district’s tax rate is expected to increase from $5.20 per $1,000 of assessed valuation this year to $5.28 per $1,000 next year, according to school officials.

The spending plan was approved by a 6-0 margin as board member Halsey Stevens was absent from the meeting. Mr. Stevens, however, left a statement with Westhampton Beach School Superintendent Lynn Schwartz 
expressing his support of the $49 million budget.

Also on Monday, School Board members agreed, with identical 6-0 votes, to place a pair of propositions on the May ballot pertaining to a $1.6 million turf and track project that they say will be financed with surplus funds. The project calls for replacing the grass on the high school’s main athletic field with artificial turf, and resurfacing the track that surrounds it. Any remaining funding will be used to install additional parking spaces on school grounds.

The first proposition will allow the district to create a reserve fund in which to transfer $1.6 million from its Employee Benefits Accrued Liability Fund, which now has about $4.5 million in its coffers and covers compensated absences when employees retire. The second proposition will permit the district to actually spend the transferred money on the turf and track project.

“I’m voting for turf by the surf,” said School Board member Clint Greenbaum before the vote was taken to add both propositions on the ballot.

Contractual agreements, such as raises for district employees, and the creation of several new positions account for the bulk of the increase in spending, Mr. Schwartz said.

The school district will hire a full-time science teacher and a part-time math teacher to address increasing class sizes in the high school, and a part-time middle school music teacher. A part-time social worker will also be hired, and a part-time clerk, who now assists the school district’s director of technology and its director of math, science and technology, will be a full-time position next year.

The positions account for $255,000 in new salaries and benefits as part of the 2010-11 budget, Mr. Schwartz said.

“We think this is respectful to the community, while at the same time, providing our kids with everything that they need,” Mr. Schwartz said of the budget. “We were extremely conservative in our expenditures.”

Also helping the board keep the tax increase low was a $1.6 million surplus in the district’s undesignated fund balance, according to Mr. Schwartz. He said that those surplus funds are separate from the $1.6 million that the board wants to transfer from another account to finance the turf and track project.

“It was just a coincidence,” Mr. Schwartz said of the identical $1.6 million figures.

School district voters approved a $47.7 million budget last May, but administrators were forced to raise the tax rate in October to cover the cost of the new Metropolitan Transit Authority’s payroll tax, which went into effect on September 1 with almost no notice. The district had to pay the MTA $78,785 last year, an unexpected cost that had to collected from taxpayers. That tax has been accounted for in this year’s spending plan, though the figure owed increased to nearly $90,000.

After months of discussion, the board on Monday agreed to put the turf and track project on the ballot. If both propositions are approved, school officials say that the work will begin after the current school year ends and should be finished in September.

But if one proposition fails, the project will be delayed indefinitely as the $1.6 million needed to finance it will be stuck in the employee benefits account or the capital reserve account, according to School Board President Aram Terchunian.

“If you favor the turf, the track, the entire project, you need to affirmatively vote,” Mr. Schwartz said.

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This greedy school district fleeced the surrounding districts that have to use its high school facilties by overcharging them the NYS permitted tuition rate and now has to return the money as per a Court decision. Shame on you WHB.
By nellie (451), sag harbor on Apr 3, 10 9:51 PM
The rules governing negotiations with staff are tilted in favor of staff. This creates a structural imbalance in negotiations. Until this is corrected, I urge all citizens to vote no to school budgets.
By ptcliny (1), Westhampton on Apr 15, 10 4:24 PM