Fewer teachers and other school workers face layoffs next year than in the recent past under district budget proposals overwhelmingly approved Tuesday, local and state officials said Wednesday.
For a growing number of districts, the news is even better. They're hiring again in order to expand student services or restore programs lost during the recession, officials said.
The Manhasset district, for example, plans to add 15 teachers to its staff in the 2014-15 school year. Superintendent Charles Cardillo said the move would allow local elementary schools to reduce class sizes that had grown to as large as 27 or 28 students in some grades..
"That actually was a major, major concern last year," said Renee Press, mother of two students and president of the Manhasset School Community Association, the local equivalent of a district PTA.
Press noted that more than 77 percent of Manhasset voters said "yes" to the district's $87.9 million budget -- evidence, she said, of strong support for renewed hiring.
Across the Island, all but three of the 124 districts won budget approvals Tuesday. The near-record passage rate was echoed across the state.
Statewide groups representing school boards, superintendents and teachers all estimated Wednesday that 98 percent or more of district spending plans had been approved.
The New York State Council of School Superintendents said that rate, if it holds up in the final count, would set a record.
Most educators agreed that the high rate of budget approvals, coupled with a recent $1.1 billion boost in state school aid, would help curb the number of teacher layoffs next year.
Earlier this week, the New York State School Boards Association released survey results showing that 80 percent of 283 district business officials responding expected no new employee layoffs next year.
Nearly half of respondents planned to do some hiring.
"There's a greater sense of optimism than in the recent past," said Dave Albert, spokesman for the school boards group. "I don't think we're out of the woods yet, but I would like to think we're on an upswing."
A recent Newsday survey of 124 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties found a similar trend toward fewer job eliminations.
Twenty-three districts reported plans to hire teachers or other staff, adding a combined total of 411 positions. Thirty-five other districts said they expected to shed positions, mostly through retirements or resignations, for a reduction of 256 jobs.
In contrast, a Newsday survey two years ago found that districts planned to eliminate more than 1,100 job across the region.
The Sachem district, Long Island's second largest, plans the greatest number of hires next year: 61 new employees, including 10 teachers.
Sal Tripi, vice president of Sachem's school board, said the additions would partially compensate for about 250 employees lost in recent years, and help reduce large class sizes in many local schools.
"We still have a long way to go, but we're certainly better off than we were last year," Tripi said.
One lingering question in the minds of many educators is whether state lawmakers will continue the generous aid flow to local schools, once November elections are completed.
Island schools received an extra $125.7 million in the state's latest appropriation.
State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said he had "not an ounce of doubt" that Albany would maintain its support in future years. He noted that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the State Legislature have agreed on the principle that aid increases each year will at least match average growth in personal income statewide.
"Every dollar we drive from the state to the local level helps mitigate the property tax burden," Flanagan said.