School officials: Few districts will try to pierce caps in future
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A resounding voter rejection of school budgets that attempted to bust state tax caps has convinced many education officials on Long Island and statewide that few districts will try such moves in the future.
In Tuesday's elections, six of seven Island districts that tried to pierce their caps fell short of the 60 percent supermajorities needed. The rate of defeats in the region was far higher than last year, when seven of 17 override attempts failed.
The number of rejections surprised many.
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"I was shocked and appalled," said Eric Thorne, 33, a sales manager who lives in East Quogue and appeared at a recent budget hearing to support his district's $23 million budget. His wife, Elizabeth Thorne, 27, teaches in another district and also supported the budget.
East Quogue's spending plan drew a 59.2 percent voter majority -- not quite enough for an override. The budget would have raised taxes 4.65 percent, beyond the district's 2.46 percent cap.
School officials said Wednesday they will meet within a week to decide what to do next -- possibly a revote on a reduced budget that would result in the loss of about a half-dozen jobs.
Thorne worries about the impact. "If people have a choice, they're going to move to a district that offers the most services, not the least," he said.
Voting patterns in Nassau and Suffolk counties were repeated across the state. Including those on Long Island, 28 districts attempted cap overrides statewide and 21 failed, the New York State School Boards Association reported Wednesday.
In contrast, 95 percent of districts that kept within caps had their budgets approved, both on the Island and statewide.
The state has set June 18 as the date for all revotes.
"We seem to be approaching the point where only a handful of districts even attempts an override," said David Albert, an association spokesman.
Manhasset's $89.2 million budget also fell short, with a 53.3 percent majority. It would have boosted taxes 5.98 percent, beyond a 0.15 percent cap.
District officials will meet Thursday night and again within a week to decide their next step. They had warned earlier that lowering their budget to stay within the cap could mean larger classes and loss of all interscholastic sports.
Budget opponents Wednesday were unsympathetic, saying that high taxes were driving elderly residents out of their community.
"To the degree there are any cutbacks, this is a painful medicine that must be taken to restore fiscal sanity," said Martin Dekom, 44, president of the Manhasset Republican club, which campaigned against higher taxes.
Baldwin's $121.5 million budget drew a 55.8 percent majority. It would have raised taxes 7 percent.
Superintendent James Mapes said the school board would meet Thursday night and again within a week to plan a likely revote. The district has warned that staying within its 3.14 percent cap would mean cutting full-day kindergarten to half-day and eliminating most sports, art and music.
"When the district loses, the community loses," Mapes said Wednesday.
Bruce Singer, Sachem's associate superintendent for business, said the district will likely ask voters for a 3.14 percent tax levy increase -- staying within the state's limit.
The board will meet Thursday to solidify its plans, he said.
Even if the proposal gains approval, the district will lose 78 teachers and other staff, Singer said. He added that Sachem would move to half-day kindergarten and also eliminate all nonvarsity sports.
Singer called the cuts "pretty Draconian."
The North Babylon school district will meet Thursday and Tuesday to strategize after residents voted down its proposed 3.4 percent tax levy increase. The state limit was 2.65 percent.
Salvatore Carambia, assistant superintendent for business at the district, said he didn't know what the school board would ask for or whether the new budget will bring about staff reductions.
"They are going to review where we need to make the necessary adjustments to come to a number that will we feel the community would support," he said.
The district, which serves 4,783 students, let go of 68 teachers from 2009 to 2012 and class sizes are at a maximum at all levels, he said.
The South Country school district met Wednesday to carve a path forward after its budget fell short with a 54.1 percent majority.
Interim Superintendent Howard Koenig said the loss was particularly disappointing because the district hoped to bring back several teachers, add more college-level Advanced Placement courses and expand its music and art offerings.
"That's what hurts," he said. "It was a good budget."Now that the proposal has been shot down, "everything is on the table," he said. The district has 4,500 students.
District PTA president Phyllis Virno, 43, said she suspects residents voted against the budget to show their frustration with the district, which has been plagued by scandals including a teacher who was charged ealier this month with raping a student.
But voting against the budget only hurts students, said Virno, the mother of two boys in the district.
She hopes voters will turn out in favor of its next proposal, saying she thinks it is "impossible" to adhere to the state's proposed cap "and have any degree of quality education in our district."
"We have no choice but to pierce the cap," she said.