Long Islanders turned out Tuesday to vote in schools districts across the Island, deciding on school board members and whether to tax themselves to back proposed budgets, support new programs and pay for higher salaries and benefits.
Paramount, they said, was the future of the region's children.
Rallying voters in Hempstead
As some Hempstead residents headed to the polls Tuesday afternoon, they walked through thick barbecue smoke wafting from booths promoting various candidates for a seat on the school board of the beleaguered Nassau district.
While budgets were the main concern for many other Long Island residents, voters in Hempstead were focused on the school board election as they cast their ballots at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School.
Betty Cross, a school board member for decades, waived off a reporter and declined to give interviews as she greeted supporters with hugs and kisses.
Her opponents, citing the district's poor graduation rates and a recently announced grade-inflation investigation, said it's time for Cross to go.
Adegboyega Asanpaola, 19, of Hempstead, said he was casting a ballot for Randy Stith, 23, saying he would know best how to help district students.
Asanpaola, enrolled at the University of Albany, grew up in Hempstead. His parents, unhappy with the local public schools, pulled him out of the district. He graduated from Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville.
He said he wants students who do go to the Hempstead schools to have more opportunities, including clubs and sports.
Many of his peers who stayed in the district, he said, went on to work for UPS or as mechanics; fine jobs, he said, but limited in both their income and potential.
"In the long run," he said, "they need a college education."
Being heard in Huntington
At Huntington High School, part of a Suffolk district where reintroducing full-day kindergarten was on the ballot, a steady stream of voters cast their votes late in the afternoon.
Judy Jamison, a resident for more than 40 years, said her two children, still enrolled in the district, were fortunate to have full-day kindergarten and were well-prepared for first grade. "I think it's important that the district go back to full day," she said.
"I felt the students who only had half-day kindergarten the last two years, it could make them go backwards, especially if they had full-day preschool," Jamison said.
Raymond Shirvell, a resident for at least 50 years, said full-day kindergarten is a good thing for people with children.
"Many people have two jobs and are not home during the day, so they need the program for baby-sitting," he said.
He added that no matter how one votes, though, it's important just to do it.
"If you don't, you can't gripe about high taxes and everything else," said Shirvell. "It's the only time you get your opinion heard."
It was dismissal time at Loretta Park Elementary School in Brentwood and kids were rushing to their buses as parents and grandparents waited by the exit, some with snacks for their little ones.
Sandra Figueroa emerged from the school followed by four children she cares for in her day-care business. Instead of heading to the parking lot, she took a detour into the polling station, and they followed her behind the curtain.
"What are we doing?" one of them asked her. She replied, "Voting for your school."
Figueroa, whose son is a senior at Brentwood High School, said she has supported school budgets in her 14 years in the district and won't stop now.
"I'm voting for them," Figueroa said in Spanish. "I want them to have better programs and more teachers. . . . We have to give our votes and be aware that schools make our communities stronger and better for everyone."
Camille Serrano said her concern was not so much the budget as electing the right candidates in a district where many kids are immigrants or come from low-income households. "When it comes to the school board, I think we need to make sure that the school board is diverse like the district," she said.
Vida and Alexander Nettles, longtime residents who are retired and no longer have children in the school system, were voting at Pine Park Elementary School. They were supporting the budget out of a sense of duty.
"Anything that would help the children, we need to do," she said. "I understand we don't want more taxes, but we already cut the music program and we have kids who deserve better."
"My parents and other parents supported the school system when I was a child," he said, "and now we come out and support these schools."
With Deborah S. Morris and Jo Napolitano