Central Islip school budget vote delayed

Central Islip Senior High School on Wheeler Road. Central Islip Senior High School on Wheeler Road. (April 13, 2011) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

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The Central Islip school district delayed approving a $192.7 million budget after residents at a contentious meeting Monday night demanded answers about teacher salaries, advanced placement courses and reducing class sizes.

Board members, the superintendent and district business administrator could not answer those questions.

Resident Renee Ortiz asked the board to postpone the vote, "so that we the community, and even you yourselves as board members, have time to digest" the budget after changes were made late last week.

The budgeting process has been heated in recent years, including in 2011, when students were suspended for marching out of school to protest teacher layoffs and spending cuts.

The total instruction budget proposed for next year, which makes up more than half the total budget, increased by $5.2 million over the year before to $100.9 million. The school district did not respond to a request Tuesday for figures related to teacher salary increases and other specific budgetary items.On Monday, after almost two hours of tense exchanges between board members who argued among themselves as well as with residents, board member Doris Dodson made the motion to push the vote back. A new date for the vote has not been set, but the budget must be adopted by April 25.

"I'm just not optimistic that anything's going to change," board president Fred Philips said. "But let's not vote tonight . . . and then we'll go from there."

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Many residents and some board members voiced concern about a state comptroller's audit released March 28 that concluded that from 2008 to 2013 the district overbudgeted expenditures and underestimated revenues to help finance the following years' operations. That led to more than $25 million in surplus funds while taxes increased 9 percent during that time.

Superintendent Craig Carr said the district was creating a buffer in case it was liable for failing to file paperwork in 2006 related to a capital improvement project that could have cost the district $54 million. The district has since recouped all of the money, he said.

Residents said they were not made aware of the surplus at the time as taxes and teacher salaries went up while student performance declined.

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The district was designated a "focus district" in this year's state Education Department performance list, meaning it "must develop comprehensive plans to support improvement efforts." One of its schools, Ralph G. Reed Middle School, is considered a "priority," putting it in the lowest 5 percent statewide for English and math scores.

"In my five years of selling real estate here in Central Islip . . . I have never encountered a single buyer coming into our community saying that they're interested in moving here for the school district," Tom Malanga, president of the Park Row Homeowners Association and a local real estate agent, said at the meeting. "Almost all of them commented on the high tax rate and questioned me why the taxes are so high."

This year's budget proposal comes with an estimated 0.62 percent tax decrease, which would lower a typical homeowner's taxes by $53.

Central Islip Union Free School District

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The money:

-- 2014-15 budget proposal: $192,676,704

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-- Estimated tax decrease: About $53 per average household (0.62 percent)

-- 2013-14 adopted budget: $187,955,865

Source: Central Islip school district

The schools

-- Total enrollment: 7,195

-- Average class size: About 25.7 students

-- Attendance rate: 93 percent

-- Graduation rate: 66 percent

Source: State Education Department's 2011-12 Report Card (which has the latest data available)

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