The Sachem Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday night to adopt a $291.36 million budget for the 2012/13 school year.
The budget carries a 4.2 percent hike in the school tax rate. That pierces the state's new tax cap so the budget will need a super majority of 60 percent of the resident vote in order to pass next month.
The current budget received 62 percent of the on a proposed 4.49 percent hike in the tax levy last year.
Board members have to the adopted budget, a 1.1 percent spending increase over the current year, as a rollover budget minus five teachers. The budget includes funding to replace 25 of the 30 positions left open by retirees.
"With rolling over this budget, we are keeping Sachem Sachem," board member Douglas Duncan said at a meeting earlier this month. "We are keeping Sachem on track."
The state tax cap is officially 2 percent, but with exemptions factored in, Sachem could raise the tax levy by 2.8 percent and remain in compliance, according to Bruce Singer, the district's assistant superintendent of business.
To get the tax hike down to 2.8 percent, which the board may consider if the budget fails next month and heads to a re-vote, $2.1 million would need to be cut. Two failed votes would mean a contingency budget and cuts of $6.4 million from the board-adopted budget.
Among the possible cuts if the budget goes down next month: full-day kindergarten (down to half-day at a savings of $1.5 million) and raising classes sizes at the elementary level by two students (saving $1.5 million).
There was some discussion among board as to which of those cuts should be made if only $2.1 million needs to be cut--both would likely be cut under a contingency budget--but the board decided not to place a "hierarchy" on either at this point.
"The public will know things we have on table," board member Teri Ahearn said. "We are not saying we are leaning toward one or the other."
During the public comment section of the meeting, resident Tom Calabrese said he couldn't understand a 4.4 percent tax hike when the district was on pace to spend only $280 million of the $288 million budgeted for this year.
"Clearly this budget is over-funded," said Calabrese, later adding, "most of this community would give you the 2 percent; you are getting a little too greedy in asking for 4.4 percent."
Board member Michael Isernia argued that the district was doing pretty well in its budget projections with the district set to spend 97.2 percent of this year's approved budget.
"You have to concede there will be some fund balance," Isernia said, making the case that it would be dangerous to cut things too close.
The school budget vote/board is May 15.
In other school board news:
The board, by a vote of 7-1, approved a one-year contract for Chris Vaccaro to provide public relations services for the district.
Vaccaro, a former Sachem Patch editor and author of several books on Long Island high school sports, will receive $35,000 a year under the contract. Vaccaro said he would "do a lot to inform the community like with Sachem Patch, but with the district’s voice."
The district has in the past contracted with a public relations firm at a cost of $100,000 a year, officials said.
"There is a void we can fill and I think Chris will do a great job filling that void," board member Michael Timo. "For $35,000, I think this is a bargain and I fully support it."
Duncan was the sole vote against hiring Vaccaro, a 2004 Sachem North grad.
"We've cut anything that resembles fat from our budget and this is exactly that," Duncan said, arguing that Sachem students could help create a new district website.