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School board meeting wrapup: Jan. 10, 2011

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Riverhead’s 2012-2013 school budget will stay within the state’s 2 percent property tax cap, if the Board of Education meets a budget goal adopted by resolution at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The resolution sets forth four goals for the upcoming budget:

  • stay within the 2 percent tax cap
  • preserve educational programs”to the greatest extent possible”
  • maximize staff productivity
  • recognize the current fiscal reality for Riverhead residents

Students, parents and teachers are worried that the $3.1 million the district says it needs to cut from the current budget in order to meet the cap will devastate program and academic offerings.  They turned out for the board meeting — which is usually very sparsely attended — to voice their concerns.

Board president Ann Cotten-DeGrasse told them no decisions have yet been made, and the district was working hard to preserve educational programs.

Carney: Rumor mill is busy

“There’s a new rumor every day,” School Superintendent Nancy Carney said.

Rumors of planned cuts to foreign language, music, theater and art classes have been spreading throughout the school community, as has word that the district will be switching back to an eight-period day at the high school and eliminating electives.

Carney said district staff has discussed an eight/nine-period day as a possible option, but she assured parents at the meeting that high school students who want to have nine periods of classes would not be denied the opportunity. Some students only have classes for eight periods now, and the district is exploring ways to allow those students to have an eight-period day, she said.

NJROTC cadet Harry Hubbard, a junior at Riverhead High School, told the board switching to an eight-period day at the high school would reduce the number of cadets enrolled in the unit and that would threaten its very existence. If the NJROTC unit — which currently stands at 106 members — falls below a membership of 100 cadets, it could be eliminated by the Navy, which is facing its own budget pressures, Hubbard said. In the past, when the Riverhead unit fell below 100 members, it was put on probation. But in today’s budget climate, it would get the axe instead, Hubbard said.

No moves until state aid number known

Carney said the district is focusing first on achieving efficiencies and cost-savings in support areas, such as transportation, to stave off cutting academics and extracurricular programs as much as possible.

However, Carney said, the district can’t make any decisions until it knows how much state aid it will receive for the coming school year. She said the district expects to find out its state aid amount next week. Until that number is known, district officials don’t know what they’ve got to work with.

The property tax levy, which is what the 2 percent cap limits, can’t be figured until the state aid number is plugged in. The difference between what the district plans to spend and state aid is, roughly speaking, the amount usually raised by the property tax levy, unless the district reduces the requisite tax levy by drawing on reserve funds.

The 2011-2012 property tax levy was approximately $86.8 million. With the 2 percent cap in place, the 2012-2013 tax levy can increase by no more than $1.73 million. But that number is less than existing contractual increases, projected health care cost increases and other expenditures over which the district has no control, according to district officials. So even if there are no further state aid reductions — last year the district lost $2.6 million in state and federal aid — district officials have to pare spending just to stay even. (The capital construction project expenditures are exempt from the tax levy limit.)

Taxpayer-approved spending for 2011-2012 is about $109.6 million, a 1.97 percent spending increase over 2010-2011. But after the state and federal aid cuts were factored in, the tax levy increased by 4.93 percent.

With the new cap in effect, that kind of tax levy increase in 2012-2013 can only be improved by a supermajority vote — 60 percent — on the budget in May. By adopting the budget goals resolution Tuesday night, the board has said it doesn’t want to go down that path.

Building bond project update

Representatives of BBS Architects and Engineers gave the Riverhead Board of Education a progress report Tuesday night on the district’s $78 million capital improvement project.

The pre-construction phase of the massive project is right on schedule, Lawrence Salvesen told board members, crediting the work of Carney and her staff in pulling together necessary documents and information and working with the Patchogue-based architecture firm to prepare designs and get the State Education Department application ready.

“The pre-construction is often where projects like this can fall behind schedule,” Salvesen said. “It’s important to be on schedule. To even be a bit ahead of schedule is great.”

Salvesen presented drawings showing more details for construction at Phillips Avenue, Aquebogue and Riley Avenue elementary schools, where construction is scheduled to begin this summer and be substantially completed by the end of summer 2013, for the start of the 2013 school year, he said.

Work at the high school will begin in spring 2013, to be completed in July 2014, he said.

Construction at Pulaski, Roanoke and the middle school will begin in spring of 2014 and be wrapped up by the end of summer in 2015.

The bulk of the work in all buildings will be done during the summer months, as well as during school vacation periods, Salvesen said.

Curriculum report: literacy

Aquebogue Elementary School principal Phil Kent and literacy coach Vanessa Williams gave a presentation on the district’s elementary school literacy program.

It was the first in a series of curriculum presentations school principals and staff will give to the school board during the remainder of the school year, Carney said. The presentations are being made in response to a board request for a status update, in light of mandated core curriculum changes, on what Riverhead’s curriculum currently is and where it’s going, Carney said.