Editorial: Annual school vote is too important to skip
Good news abounds as Long Island taxpayers head to the polls Tuesday for school district elections.
Spending increases among the Island's 124 public school districts are relatively small and the average tax levy increase of 1.57 percent is the lowest in decades. Declining enrollments and a generous dollop of election-year state aid are factors, but so is the state's property tax cap. Achieving the 60 percent voter approval needed to exceed the cap is a daunting challenge, and the number of districts bold enough to try has decreased each year -- from 17 in 2012 to seven in 2013 to five this year.
This year's would-be cap-piercers -- Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Patchogue-Medford, Sayville and West Babylon -- have an added hurdle. Homeowners in districts that stay within the cap will get new state rebate checks that cover their increases. That's a powerful incentive to say no.
School budget votes offer a rare chance to vote directly on the taxes you pay, and school levies are by far the largest part of local property tax bills. But there are other important reasons to cast a ballot. Some districts are putting up propositions, like the one in Deer Park that asks voters to approve the sale of a vacant school building.
Scores of school board seats are open. The races feature some themes that echo across districts -- like disgruntlement with Common Core -- as well as district-specific issues. In Half Hollow Hills, a decision to close two elementary schools is a major issue. The race in Central Islip is being fueled by a state audit that found the district overestimated expenses and underestimated revenue, creating surpluses that exceeded legal limits.
In Hempstead, nothing less than the future of the district is at stake as challengers try to toss out two members at the heart of the dysfunctional board, which has failed to improve student performance or to deal with the simmering racial tensions. Newsday has endorsed Ricky A. Cooke Sr. and Maribel C. Touré. Our editorial detailing the need for change and why we support Cooke and Touré can be read at newsday.com/opinion.
In the end, every school district has the same responsibilities: Spend money wisely. Educate the children well. Those missions are too important for any of us to stay on the sidelines. We all have an obligation to weigh in. So vote.