By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON June 2, 2006 While a severe thunderstorm raged outside, Sullivan West board members debated their way through potential budgets to put before voters during Tuesdays special meeting.
Power was briefly lost, plunging the high school auditorium in Lake Huntington into darkness, but it was restored within a few seconds. Still, the storms intense lightning continued to send a buzzing noise through the sound system.
But the buzz on the stage was perhaps even more intense, with board members arguing over how much or how little to cut from a $32 million budget more than 1,200 voters had rejected weeks earlier.
The general argument swirled around minimizing cuts so as to avoid negatively impacting students or cutting deep enough to ensure a yes vote and thus avoid an austerity budget.
Board members either disagreed or were unsure about the publics intentions in the previous no vote, wondering aloud whether they were sending an unhappy message to the board about issues far beyond taxes (and thus would vote yes on the next budget, even an unrevised one), or whether they really were focusing just on the taxes (and thus wanted to see substantial cuts).
Echoes of board arguments of years past permeated the proceedings, and even the final split in the decision sounded familiar to those following the struggling districts long saga.
An initial vote to cut $217,000 out of the budget failed. The board subsequently voted 5-4 to cut even more $279,500 bringing the total proposed budget down to $31,912,767.
In concert with $200,000 more in state aid than initially budgeted, that would reduce the tax levy increase from an estimated 8.9 percent to between 5.4 and 5.8 percent, depending on how the yet-to-be-compiled assessment data affects it.
My guess is it [the actual tax levy] will be a bit lower, said Superintendent Alan Derry on Wednesday.
Board members Regina Wagner, Anna Niemann, Catherine Novak, Rich Sandler and Angela Daley voted for the new budget, while Arthur Norden, Rick Lander, Jennifer Mann and Shawn Bailey voted against it.
Whats gone? In some ways, nothing.
For one, no current staff will be laid off, said Derry.
The $110,500 drivers ed. program was eliminated but replaced with a $46,000 one through BOCES. Niemann advanced the idea, although she warned that only 64 students could participate and Wagner cautioned that coordinating schedules with BOCES would be far more difficult than the same task utilizing an in-house program.
A $66,000 elementary summer school program will never get off the ground.
The $30,000 latchkey program which was a proposed addition new to this year was cut, as was the $20,000 painting of the Jeffersonville campus gym to replace the old Trojan colors and mascot with Sullivan Wests colors and bulldog.
And $3,000 that could have gone to an increase in Derrys salary have been axed.
But the losses are real.
One less student from the middle school and one less from the high school will be able to attend alternative education classes in Youngsville through BOCES (a savings of $38,000). Tuition payments for handicapped students have been slashed by $20,000, and an elementary guidance counselor position, costing $36,000, has gone by the wayside.
The board also agreed to cut $2,000 from its travel/conferences budget.
But is it enough?
Novak, Sandler and Niemann thought so, and Wagner and Daley compromised after saying they felt a 6.9 percent tax levy increase would be palatable to voters.
But the rest were worried that the public might say no and force the district into an austerity budget requiring cuts amounting to $1.9 million.
The day of reckoning will come June 20, but prior to that second vote, the public will have a chance to ask questions and make comments about the proposal. The public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the high school in Lake Huntington, followed by the regular monthly board meeting at 7:30 p.m.
Getting Out the Vote?
Supt. Derry suggested board members now focus on urging people to vote on the budget, rather than lamenting the presence or lack of cuts.
The next day, he told the Democrat that there were three people not on the board who were also crucial to that effort the very three the public overwhelmingly voted onto the board on May 16 and who will take office in July.
Theyre going to be key people, said Derry, identifying Noel van Swol, Shaun Sensiba and Rose Crotty as the coordinators of the more than 1,200 people who voted down the budget and pushed aside incumbent board members Rich Sandler and Angela Daley in favor of themselves (Regina Wagner is retiring from the board, although candidate John Reggero unsuccessfully attempted to gain her seat).
Thats very interesting, replied van Swol when told of the superintendents assessment. Mr. Derrys comments are absolutely nonsense. None of the new board members had anything to do with creating the budget or getting the district into the fix its in now.
Van Swol said Derry and the current board need to take responsibility for their decisions and be more open about the budget process.
We, as members of the public, were not even permitted to see any of the documents shared with the board [that] night, he said.
When asked if he would encourage or discourage a yes vote on the budget, van Swol chose an indirect answer, saying it would be very difficult for the public to support the proposed budget without more openness from the district.
Calling the cuts too little, too late, he remarked, Quite obviously, many board members still have no idea how upset the community is over the closing of the Narrowsburg and Delaware Valley schools.