School Board Adopts Tax Cap-Busting $291.4 Million Budget

Proposed budget, representing a 4.2 percent school tax hike, heads to voters next month.

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.

jeffery April 19, 2012 at 11:30 AM
Doug Duncans vote against Mr, Vacarro had nothing to do with services that could have been done by students it is just part of his continuing slash and burn approach of harming people he feels did him wrong or "cropped" him from a picture. Sad how inmature you continue to be.
Tom Calabrese April 19, 2012 at 04:44 PM
I did make a statement in public comment section of the meeting. What you have written I said is a little off. I said that the voter approved budget last year was $284 million. The district on its' website, in the section labeled 2012-2013 Revenue Budget states that this years budget will be $13 million underspent or surplus. That means the the actually spending for the year will end up at $271 million according to the districts' own figures. That means by asking for a $291 million budget the district is actually asking for a spending increase of $20 million or 7.3 % over prior actual spending. That is an absurd increase when you consider that in it's budget presentation the district has stated it is only spending $3 million more than last year. So if the district is only going to spend $274 million according to it's own budget presenation why is it asking for $291 million? And, why are they asking for a 4.2% tax increase which is clearly not needed? And why would a single teacher or program be cut with a zero increase? Mr. Isernia states that "you have to concede that there will be some fund balance". That may be true. However, any fund balance belongs in the designated reserves where taxpayers can see it not buried in a budget where it is invisible. Further, a cost budget is very easy to project. Being 3% off in a school district type budget where all costs and revenues are known is unacceptable. It equals almost all of the allowable reserves!
Tom Calabrese April 19, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Personally, I think it is a conflict of interest for Mr. Vacarro to work in a public relations capacity for the district and to also report on it. I am sure he can use the income but it is a conflict that should not exist if he wants to preserve the integrity of this site. That being said I do understand your comment and others have told me exactly what you are saying, that the vote against him was for purely persoanl reasons. Yes, the behavior by this Board Member has been consistently immature.
Brian April 19, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Did the school district put out a request for new "public relations services for the district"? Or, was the task simply handed to Mr. Vacarro? That is an interesting little tid-bit thrown into the notes from the board meeting considering that, yes, Sachem can tap into its own schools to look for home-grown support. Some of that, would potentially even be free (I for one have offered up my tech services to the district on numerous occasions for free only to either be turned down or not responded to). A revamp of the web site, for example, should be a community effort, not that of a public relations specialist.
Chris R. Vaccaro April 19, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Hi Tom - Just to clarify, I am no longer the editor of Sachem Patch or an employee of AOL/Patch and do not report on Sachem for any media outlet. March 30 was my last day as I've embarked on new opportunities in my career, including this communications/PR role, which presents no conflicts of interest. Thanks!
Tom Calabrese April 19, 2012 at 11:38 PM
Chris, I didn't know you were no longer affliated with the the Patch in any manner so no conflict would apear to exist. I did think you work on the Patch was good and will be missed. I am not all that familiar with your new role with the district, but wish you the best of luck in starting your PR business. Tom
Pat Mo. May 02, 2012 at 08:16 PM
The school district gets 66% of my taxes each year and that is enough. I will not vote for ANY increase in taxes for me or my neighbors. The school district has more than enough money to properly educate all the students, its the administrative boards that have a problem spending it properly. Stop using our tax dollars for non educational things and there would be more than enough to cover everyone, students, teachers, all employees, and we the TAX PAYERS wouldn't have to deep further into pockets we no longer have.
Dianne D. May 12, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Over the years Sachem has been able to brag that their school tax increase is only 2%. Why now when it's required to be 2% they can't abide by it? It is so typical of Sachem (or any school district) to threaten to take away from the kids by. Why did Sachem add onto all the elementary schools to allow full-time kindergarten to now take it away. How much did all that construction cost the taxpayer?
pas May 16, 2012 at 01:49 AM
they will still take away from our children even when they get what they want because they need raises so badly... last yr they cut programs that we paid extra for... so lets face it they dont know how to budget because like the pta they aren't business people ... think of them as welfare scamers that know how to work the system and the people who work hard and don't get salary increases suffer because we pay more and don't get paid anymore... not even cost of living... I bet if the superintendent wasnt paid almost 300k in sal and benefits and his lackies together make up over 1 million of that budget... there should be on super for suffolk county --- it is sad when police and firepeople dont make as much and they work a full yr and risk their lives... but the teachers should also be able to have more say in their class and not be ruled by parents that have kids that are out of control ... because the people who bring up their kids with consquences suffer because there is no reprocution to the kids taking away from the good kids that do what they are supose to..
pas May 16, 2012 at 01:51 AM
its sad how corrupt this BOe is that gets rid of a good pricipal to bring in one of their picks that will do the same and not bring our school to the next level --- this district doesnt think outside the box


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