6 LI school districts eye budget revote

Local residents, some holding signs, fill the stands Local residents, some holding signs, fill the stands of the gymnasium at a rally for Sachem Schools at Sachem High School in Ronkonkoma (March 9, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz

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They all have one thing in common: Voters turned them down.

But the six Long Island school districts that must put 2013-14 spending plans to a revote June 18 aren't taking the same approach in winning residents over.

Each of them had sought to pierce state-imposed tax-cap limits. Now, one district plans to reoffer the same budget, three already have decided to come in at or under their cap, and two others -- East Quogue and Manhasset -- must make decisions by Monday.

 

Offering unchanged budget

North Babylon will ask voters to approve the budget that residents rejected on May 21, which seeks a 3.4 percent tax-levy increase, officials said. Because this is above the district's state-imposed tax cap of 2.65 percent, the budget must be approved by 60 percent of those voting.

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The school board considered adhering to the cap but returned to its original proposal in part to reduce class sizes, Superintendent Pat Godek said. North Babylon also wants to restore previously trimmed positions to help teachers meet rigorous new academic standards, she said.

If approved, the $112,010,068 budget would allow the district to add four elementary teachers -- some classes swelled to 32 students because of previous cuts, Godek said -- and keep five security personnel brought on after the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

The district also would make some long-overdue repairs and add curriculum specialists in the math, English language arts/English as Second Language and science departments, Godek said.

If the budget fails again, the district would lose faculty, sports, cultural arts, clubs and late buses, among other cuts. Godek said she's confident the community will pass the budget. Fifty-four percent voted in favor of it on May 21, and supporters at a recent meeting said they wanted to protect programs.

"The board and the community has confidence in the fact that the initial budget . . . was sound," Godek said. "It was not asking to take away, but was about giving back -- providing the things the community expressed a need for."

 

New approaches

Other districts, shaken by the May "no" votes, are taking a different approach.

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Sachem will ask voters to approve a budget that increases the tax levy 3.14 percent -- equal to the district's tax-cap limit -- after residents turned down its earlier request for a 7.49 percent hike, the highest tax-levy boost sought on the Island this year.

The school board briefly considered asking for more, but worried about the possibility of voters turning them down again. Fifty-four percent voted in favor of Sachem's proposal last month.

If the district had again sought to pierce its cap and failed to hit 60 percent approval in the revote, the tax-levy increase automatically would have been zero.

Board president Rob Scavo said the district wasn't willing to take that chance. The revised budget will require approval by a simple 50 percent majority of those voting. "It was too much of a risk -- especially for our students -- to gamble like that," he said. "Nobody has a crystal ball."

Under the 3.14 percent tax-levy increase, Sachem would shave its proposed budget by $6.8 million, bringing it to $286,936,993.

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The district would cut roughly six administrators, 141 faculty and 82 support staff, including aides, custodians, clerks, and grounds and maintenance workers. Kindergarten would go from full-day to half-day, as the faculty cuts would mean shedding 22 kindergarten teachers and their aides.

All sports would remain intact and the district would provide 50 percent funding for clubs, Scavo said.

Similarly, the Baldwin school district -- shot down last month in its request for a 7 percent tax-levy increase -- instead will ask voters for a 3.14 percent bump, equal to its tax-levy cap, officials said Saturday.

The new request will require a simple majority vote. Board member Eric Harrison said the proposed budget of $118,251,507 will come at the cost of jobs and vital programs.

At least 27 teachers would be let go, he said, adding that other cuts have not been finalized. He said the board should have asked for more -- a 4.1 percent increase, to be specific -- adding that he believes the community would have supported it.

"I was very disappointed" by the board's decision, he said.

A fourth district, South Country, will ask voters for a 0.95 percent tax-levy increase, coming just under the district's 0.98 percent tax cap.

The $119,585,724 spending plan that voters turned down would have meant a 2.97 percent tax-levy hike; it got only 54 percent approval. The revised budget is $118,727,666.

Interim Superintendent Howard Koenig said the school board worked hard to preserve staff and programs. South Country will cut supplies by 10 percent across the district, eliminate two custodial positions, reduce its use of security personnel, and try to fund its computer lab technicians through grants, among other changes.

If the budget is rejected a second time and the tax-levy increase goes to zero, he said, full-day kindergarten would go to half-day, and music and the arts would be reduced to the state minimum.

The district also would likely eliminate interscholastic sports, clubs, after-school programs and possibly summer school, along with its alternative high school program. "It would be terrible," Koenig said.

 

Still deciding

The East Quogue and Manhasset districts have until Monday to announce their budget plans. In the May budget vote, East Quogue sought a 4.65 percent tax-levy increase when its tax-levy cap was 2.46 percent, and Manhasset sought a 5.98 percent tax-levy increase when its cap was 0.15 percent.

 

 

6 districts prepare for revote

 

Six Long Island school districts whose proposed 2013-14 budgets were voted down May 21 are deciding on spending plans for a June 18 revote. This chart reflects what districts have decided so far. Monday is the deadline for decisions.

BALDWIN

New proposed tax-levy increase: 3.14 percent

Tax-levy cap: 3.14 percent

EAST QUOGUE

New proposed tax-levy increase: Still deciding

Tax-levy cap: 2.46

MANHASSET

New proposed tax-levy increase: Still deciding

Tax-levy cap: 0.15

NORTH BABYLON

New proposed tax-levy increase: 3.4 (unchanged from May 21)

Tax-levy cap: 2.65

SACHEM

New proposed tax-levy increase: 3.14

Tax-levy cap: 3.14

SOUTH COUNTRY

New proposed tax-levy increase: 0.95

Tax-levy cap: 0.98

Sources: District officials

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