June 07, 2006

Second Time's The Charm

Riverhead School District officials aren't messing around.

They plan to ensure the passage of the 2006-2007 school budget the second time around. To accomplish that goal, the district has set up a number of community informational sessions that seek to educate parents and voters about the budget, which will be subject to a district-wide revote on June 20.

Also up for approval on that day is a separate proposition that seeks backing from voters to create a $10 million capital reserve fund. The money in the fund, however, can't be spent without another vote.

According to Joe Singleton, assistant superintendent for business for Riverhead schools, a number of informational sessions have already been held, successfully.

"I think this time the budget will pass," said Singleton.

Not only does Singleton think the informational sessions will help, but so will a new tax rate, which was reduced after the first budget failed on May 16 by 91 votes. Some 1667 voters cast ballots against the budget while 1576 voted in favor of it.

"I think there were a number of reasons why the budget failed," said Singleton.

Among them, said the school official, was the lack of information voters had about the budget. Another reason, he said, was Southampton Town's recent reassessment, which has many Flanders homeowners whose property lies in the Riverhead School District paying new tax rates.

Now adjusted, the new tax rate increase for the average school district taxpayer, said Singleton, will be about one percent.

The rate was lowered by a percent after $200,000 was shaved from the $93,152,740 budget.Items cut include bus driver positions and building and grounds salaries, and a reduction in interest payments from borrowed monies also helped to lower the budget.

Aside from cutting from the budget, Singleton said money was also added. For example, $700,000 in additional funds became available from uncalculated STAR payments.

But, despite the district's renewed effort, some residents anticipate and hope the budget is voted down. "I hope the next one fails. There should be no tax increase," said Calverton resident Rex Farr.

The reason for no new taxes, said Farr, is a lack of accountability in the district. He also feels that the administration and other school district staff members are paid too much.

If the budget fails, Singleton said, the district would be forced onto austerity, which means the state will mandate the district's budget.

"We would have to cut out $2 million from the budget," said Singleton.

And the first items to be cut from the budget would be sports programs, co-curricular activities, equipment, and student supplies. Next, teaching staff levels would be reduced, resulting in increased class sizes.

While some believe the school budget is unreasonable, others argue that the budget is sensible considering that Riverhead's proposed tax increase is the lowest on the East End.

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