By Alessia Grunberger
East Williston school district officials on Wednesday unveiled a $58,290,375 budget proposal for the 2017-18 school year that prioritizes maintaining and expanding academic programs while operating within the state cap on property tax increases.
The plan reflects an increase of 1.41 percent, or $811,680, over the current budget, and increase the tax levy by 0.98 percent.
These hikes are less than the district’s allowable increase of 1.87 percent for the overall budget and 1.48 percent for the tax levy.
The two largest spending increases were salary and salary-related taxes, which grew 2.67 percent, adding $896,105 to the budget; and health insurance, which grew 5.64 percent, adding $374,336 to the budget, said Jacquline Pirro, the assistant superintendent for business.
“We’re a people business,” Pirro said. “There’s a cost to that.”
The two biggest factors responsible for reductions in spending were the district’s contributions to the state’s pension system for teachers, which are projected to decrease by 14.79 percent, or $471,643; and repayment of a bond, which cut debt service payments by 17.09 percent, or $383,077.
“The good news, the pension system … went down this year,” Pirro said. “That, for East Williston, is almost a $500,000 savings. Huge. That is a big, big deal. Very helpful for us to be able to present the 1.41 budget that we have.”
The proposed budget would maintain present class sizes; continue to implement the four-year curriculum sequence for science, technology, engineering and math; add new student programs and interdisciplinary opportunities; maintain facilities; support continued security upgrades and initiatives; and cover the cost of other new and existing curriculum, programs and resources, district Superintendent Elaine Kanas said.
Wednesday’s meeting was the first of four budget workshops. Administrators will hold the remaining budget presentations on March 8, 15 and 22 before the school board votes on the finalized spending plan on March 29.
The approved budget will then be presented to district voters. Last year, 81.4 percent of district residents voted to approve the 2016-17 budget.
Residents will also decide this year whether to spend $1 million from a capital reserve fund established last year.
Capital reserves allow the district to set aside money that will then be used to fund future building projects.
The $1 million would pay for security vestibule improvements, landscaping, eco-friendly parking pavers along some of Downing Road and field reconstruction and drainage of North Side School’s baseball fields and basketball courts, Pirro said.
District voters will vote on both propositions on May 16 in the Wheatley Gymnasium.