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Bridgehampton sticks with cap-piercing plan, as Sayville, West Babylon trim school budgets

Members of the West Babylon Board of Education,

Members of the West Babylon Board of Education, hold a public meeting concerning the upcoming June 17 budget revote, at the West Babylon High School, on May 28, 2014. Credit: Johnny Milano

The number of Long Island school districts seeking to bust state tax caps dwindled this week, as both Sayville and West Babylon decided Wednesday night to lower budget requests below their levy limits for a June revote.

Bridgehampton's board went in the opposite direction, sticking to its original cap-piercing plan that would produce the Island's biggest percentage tax hike.

All three districts' proposed 2014-15 budgets were rejected May 20 -- the only spending plans on the Island defeated at the polls -- after failing to get the 60 percent majorities required to override their respective tax-levy limits.

East Hampton was the only district that managed to bust its cap in the first round of voting, and Bridgehampton will make its second try on June 17, the statewide revote date. The Nassau-Suffolk region saw 11 overrides in 2012, the first year that tax caps took effect, and three last year.

West Babylon's revised budget of $99,308,888 would raise spending 0.63 percent, down from a 1.93 percent hike in the original spending plan.

It would boost property-tax collections, known as a levy, 1.36 percent -- within the district's 1.3617 cap. The original budget would have raised tax collections by 3.61 percent.

The reduced budget would cut the equivalent of 9.9 teachers, 18 hall monitors and a number of sports teams -- including bowling, gymnastics and golf at the high school level and junior high volleyball.

Wednesday night's meetings in both West Babylon and Sayville shifted from board rooms to school auditoriums to accommodate larger-than-expected turnouts. Most West Babylon residents appeared to support the district's revamped budget, though many voiced sadness over program cuts.

"I'm thinking of seniors applying for college," said Wendy Degaetano, 51, a former board member and mother of a varsity golfer. "They're held up against each other in terms of how many years they played on teams, and now these sports are being cut."

Sayville's board has not officially adopted its revised budget, but plans to vote on it Monday.

A preliminary revision discussed Wednesday night totals $90,051,225 and would boost spending 0.66 percent, district officials said.

That's down from a 1.87 percent increase in the defeated budget. The revised budget would raise the tax levy by 1.22 percent, which equals the district's cap limit.

Under Sayville's reduced spending plan, secondary summer school and 15 coaching positions would be among the cuts. District officials said they were able to avoid taking more drastic action -- for example, reorganizing elementary grade levels in a grade-clustering approach known as the "Princeton Plan" -- because district employees agreed to $500,000 in health-plan savings.

Like many other residents, Jennifer Tomforde, a mother of three, said she was relieved that elementary reorganization was taken off the table. Tomforde added that the revised budget "can't please everybody in Sayville, but it is the least way to affect the kids."

Another resident, Laurie Rutherig, said she and others were upset that district officials seemed to avoid trimming their own compensation packages. "They should start with cuts at the top instead of cutting the children all the time," Rutherig said.

Bridgehampton's $12,326,036 budget proposal -- the same as the plan defeated May 20 -- would raise spending 9.93 percent. It would boost tax collections 8.76 percent, by far the highest in any of the Island's 124 districts.

At the meetings, school officials in West Babylon and Bridgehampton took differing tacks in explaining their plans of action.

Anthony Cacciola, West Babylon's superintendent, noted that the district obtained a majority of slightly more than 51 percent in last week's vote -- a showing making it unlikely that a 60 percent majority could be turned out in a revote.

"The community spoke on May 20 -- that's extremely safe to say," Cacciola said.

Bridgehampton officials, in contrast, voiced hope that a greater number of residents -- some of whom they described as "complacent" -- could be persuaded to come out and support the budget the second time around. The tally in the first round of voting was 134 "yes" votes and 113 "no" votes.

"Maybe we could go back to the drawing board and try to get some of the votes from the naysayers and really educate them on the actual numbers," said Ronald White, the board president.Both Sayville and West Babylon officials expressed regret over planned reductions in staff and student services.

"I've been working in Sayville -- this is my 36th year -- and I have helped put together the programs that create very, very successful students, and it's very painful when I'm working to try not to dismantle them," said Walter Schartner, the Sayville superintendent.

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