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Smithtown school district faces cash crunch

Smithtown High School East. (Feb. 20, 2012)

Smithtown High School East. (Feb. 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Erin Geismar

Smithtown's school district faces a looming $4.5 million deficit in next year's budget unless officials find ways to cut spending or increase revenue, its superintendent said this week.

Anthony Annunziato told the school board Tuesday that increases in expenses such as salaries, health insurance and special education would drive up spending by 5.54 percent, to $227.3 million next year. But revenue is projected to go up only 3.5 percent, to $222.8 million, unless Smithtown pierces the state cap on tax-levy increases.

He said he does not want the district to ask voters to override Smithtown's tax cap, which he said would be 3.5 percent. Under the state tax cap law, a 60 percent supermajority is required to override the cap.

"That's not really what my plan is," Annunziato said in an interview. "My plan is to look to make reductions."

He said he would offer possible spending trims during a Feb. 5 school board meeting.

Smithtown would see a 2.39 percent cut in state aid under the proposed state budget submitted Tuesday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. State aid could be increased by the Legislature, Annunziato said.

School board president Gladys Waldron said the district's options are limited. She said the district could cut spending by reducing staff or increasing class sizes. "The only place you really can save is, you have to look at programs," she said.

Annunziato, who took the Smithtown job in July, said the district's $215.34 million budget for 2012-2013 does not allocate sufficient funds for expenses such as electricity and substitute teachers, forcing it to dip into reserves. He said the district budget is replete with what he referred to as "zero codes" -- line items for which insufficient funds had been allocated. In some cases, no money had been budgeted for routine expenses.

For example, he said, the district had spent $470,234 so far this year to hire substitutes -- though no money had been budgeted for them. The district has spent $1.4 million on electricity, though only $438,000 was budgeted for that expense, Annunziato said.

The district dipped into reserves to pay those expenses, leaving it with less surplus that could be used to limit next year's tax increase, he said.

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