The Huntington School District’s long-term debt continued to drop during the 2018/19 school year. The current amount is among the lowest of any comparably sized district on Long Island.
While the debt has dropped and no new bond issues have been authorized, the district has still been able to carry out significant building improvement projects through the use of regular budget appropriations, usage of a capital reserve fund and state grant monies. Taxes have not been raised to carry out any of the capital projects.
The district has largely pursued a pay-as-you-go approach to financing capital improvements and pension costs and has doggedly adhered to a conservative budgeting philosophy.
Entering the current school year, Huntington owed just $1,395,000 in principal and $232,800 of interest for a total debt as of July 1, 2019 of $1,627,800.
The district’s outstanding serial bonds are less than one percent of Huntington UFSD’s debt limit. Huntington has dramatically reduced its debt in recent years. As of June 30, 2009 the district had a total bonded debt of $6,370,000.
The district retired $170,000 of long-term debt principal during the 2018/19 school year. Another $175,000 in principal will be paid off during the current fiscal year, $180,000 in 2020/21, $190,000 in 2021/22 and $200,000 in 2022/23.
The total debt will continue to plummet each year through the 2025/26 school year. By June 30, 2026 the district will have completely extinguished its current long-term debt.
The district carried out a bond refunding in April 2015, which reduced the interest rate on its long-term bonded debt from between 4.125-4.25 percent to an average of 2.21 percent. The refunding resulted in interest savings of nearly $200,000 over the remaining years of the debt.
Building Improvement Projects
The monies in the capital reserve fund represent dollars already provided to the district by taxpayers, which as a result of tight fiscal management and economizing weren’t needed to pay for regular school operations. The source of the funding is the annual transfer of surplus monies from the district’s general fund.
District residents authorized creation of the capital reserve fund and residents approve any capital project prior to any work being undertaken. Once residents approve a set of projects, architect’s plans are submitted to the state for approval. Once approval is secured, bids are solicited. The district is eligible for state reimbursement on projects at the rate of 37.2 percent of final costs.
The district has been using a mix of capital reserve monies, state grants and regular budget appropriations to complete millions of dollars in renovation and reconstruction projects in all eight buildings. By utilizing property taxes already paid, the district has saved taxpayers millions of dollars in debt service while still addressing Huntington’s capital project needs.
For example, new roofs have been installed on Southdown, Jefferson, Washington and Flower Hill primary schools in the last two years and sections of the high school roof are also being replaced on a scheduled basis. New highly efficient dual fuel (oil and gas) boilers and related hot water accessories have been installed at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School and Woodhull Intermediate School in the past two years. The 62 year old boilers at Huntington High School will be replaced in 2020.
New security vestibules have been installed to improve building safety, the parking field, sidewalks and curbs at Woodhull have been completely reconstructed and an additional paved parking lot containing dozens of new spaces has been created. The Washington Primary School, Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School and Huntington High School parking fields, sidewalks and curbs have all been reconstructed and improved drainage has been installed. An air conditioning system has been installed in the high school auditorium for the first time since the facility opened in November 1958.
Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School’s courtyard amphitheater has been renovated and its outdoor basketball court complex has been completely resurfaced. New perimeter fencing has been installed to improve security.
The J. Taylor Finley Middle School LGI/auditorium has been completely renovated with new flooring, seating and painting along with the refinishing of the stage. New flooring has been installed in more than 30 Finley classrooms. Nearly 1,000 original Finley student hallway lockers will be replaced in 2020.
Huntington High School’s turf field is being replaced along with the football goal posts. An enhanced perimeter spectator safety netting system is being installed along with a new larger press box, which is being funded by a state grant.
The Huntington High School library and an adjacent computer room is in the process of being renovated. Stage I is now complete as the library has new flooring, bookcases, desks, tables and chairs and a new air conditioning system. The ceiling has been replaced and the entire facility has been painted. Stage II, which includes further enhancements to the library and the renovation of the computer area is planned for 2020. The work has largely been funded via a state grant.
Student, faculty and public bathrooms in buildings have been renovated across the district, with new floor and wall tiles and new plumbing fixtures. Electrical upgrades have also been made throughout the district. Work has also included installation of new ADA compliant, bathrooms, ramps and wheelchair lifts, fire-rated doors, new interior and exterior doors and associated hardware, the installation of and electronic door access system, replacement of fire alarm systems and installation of wireless clock systems.
Many of the district’s more than 50 year old in-ground oil tanks have been removed and replaced with modern ones that include materials and technology to prevent leaks. Plumbing has been upgraded to drinking fountains. The Huntington High School and J. Taylor Finley Middle School athletic locker rooms have been completely reconstructed, including bathrooms in both locker rooms.
New sidewalks have been installed along the main driveway at Huntington High School to improve pedestrian safety. Sidewalks and main plazas have been reconstructed at multiple buildings. Additional air conditioning units have been added to buildings across the district.
None of this work has resulted in the district raising taxes, borrowing money or incurring interest charges. Existing monies have been utilized to complete every project.
Successful bidding and careful project management has allowed many of the projects to be completed substantially beneath the original cost estimates. In-house labor has been used whenever practical.
While there has been turnover on the Huntington School Board over the past three decades, trustees have maintained a general disdain for increased debt levels and or budget gimmicks and overly optimistic fiscal forecasts.