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114 of 124 school district budgets pass

114 of 124 Long Island school districts passed

114 of 124 Long Island school districts passed budgets on Tuesday night. Click here to see an interactive version of the map. Photo Credit: Newsday.com

Despite widespread tax revolts elsewhere, Long Island voters approved school budgets overwhelmingly Tuesday night - a relief for many local school officials who had cut staffing and other costs in bids for public support.

Voters rejected 10 school budgets. School officials said budgets were shot down in Port Jefferson, Westbury, West Babylon, Wyandanch, West Hempstead, Elwood, Herricks, Garden City, Levittown and East Rockaway.

One hundred and thirteen other districts reported that budgets had been approved. The budget in Lawrence was approved last week.

Wyandanch voters squashed a budget that would have meant a 13.93 percent increase in school taxes for the average homeowner. Port Jefferson voters rejected a spending plan that would have raised the district's tax levy by 3.47 percent. And West Babylon voters said no to a budget that would have raised the average homeowner's tax bill by more than 7 percent.

Voters in some districts, including South Country, Middle Country and Levittown, also turned out incumbent school board candidates.

Results were "very difficult to predict with everything that has been is going on," said Herricks Superintendent John Bierwirth.

Brian McCarthy, Tuckahoe's superintendent, said turnout was higher than in most years and he was "very pleased that the electorate passed our budget."

Better-than-average turnout was the story throughout the afternoon in many districts, although officials in Bridgehampton and Remsenburg-Speonk said weather kept turnout low.

School officials in the Middle Country district said that by early afternoon, the number of voters had already exceeded the total in last year's election.

Huntington poll workers and school officials in Glen Cove also said their districts saw more voters Tuesday than typically.

William Floyd board trustee Viola English said that the turnout in her district was also good - by 2 p.m., there were 700 more voters than at the same time last year.

"Every district is in for a battle," she said.

In many districts, including West Babylon, voters were polarized by school budgets that both raised taxes and reduced programs or school staff.

West Babylon's proposed budget would have increased school taxes by 7.13 percent for the average homeowner even as it eliminated two teaching assistants, three elementary teachers and 10 paraprofessionals. West Babylon resident Phil Doumas, 63, said he voted against the budget because he's "had enough of taxes" and wants to see the district scale back.

"Hold the line is the least we can do," he said. "Tighten their belts just like everyone else."

But Jennifer Cooke, 36, voted in favor of the budget and called the tax increase "a small percentage."

She added: "I don't want all the cutbacks. I have young children."

In Levittown, voting appeared to be brisk Tuesday afternoon: The polls at Gardiners Avenue School opened at noon and 41 people had voted by 12:45 p.m., poll workers said. The district sought a 6.12 increase over last year's budget and a tax levy increase of 3.81 percent.

Constantine Cucurullo, 89, said he voted for the budget. "I haven't voted against a budget in 59 years," he said. "I don't believe in negative votes for schools."

But not everyone thought that voter turnout was higher than usual.

In Uniondale, Kenneth Turner, 47, stood outside the high school at around noon, holding fliers for his wife, who is running for the board. The district proposed a budget with a 0.37 decrease and a tax levy increase of 2.7 percent.

He said the rainy weather had dampened turnout, with only a trickle of voters showing up. "I am thinking not a lot of people are going to come out in this," he said.

Long Islanders went to the polls to consider school budgets in a year of dire predictions: Vote yes, and taxpayers could face hundreds of dollars in extra property taxes. Vote no, and schools may face widespread layoffs, larger classes and canceled sports teams.

In the Northport-East Northport district, Kathleen Sullivan, 57, was voting at Dickinson Avenue School Tuesday morning. Her three children are no longer in school, but she said they received an "amazing education."

The district called for an 0.83 percent hike over last year's budget and a 1.95 percent change in the estimated tax levy. The budget passed.

"I have many, many friends with children still in the district and many friends whose children are teachers in the district," she said.

Peter Leone, 56, of Northport, said he came out to vote at Dickinson Avenue because he thinks "the taxes are too high."

Ray Teiner, 39, who has two children in district schools and one in preschool, said he supports the budget. "My wife is a schoolteacher," he said.

Despite uncertainty about how much state aid will be available to help ease taxpayers' burden, districts held budget votes, the first time in six years districts have decided to do so without a timely school-aid package.

The lack of such a package prompted most districts to project higher tax increases than last year, yet hold the line on spending.

Schools account for more than 60 percent of Island property taxes, which rank among the nation's highest.

In the West Hempstead school district, Brianne Rosenstock, 31, of West Hempstead, said she voted no on the budget, which called for a 3.69 percent increase over last year and a 9.4 percent increase in the tax levy.

"If my kids were in school, I'd feel the same way," said Rosenstock, who has three young children not yet in school. "The increase was just huge. Everyone's doing more with less."

Joan Deng, 76, also voted no because of "the high taxes." Asked about potential cuts to school programs, she shook her head and said, "I know."

She added, "You pay enough. When you're a senior, it's not easy."

Stacy Ezor, 42, of West Hempstead said she voted yes.

"This district is very good at keeping things modest," said Ezor, who has two children in private school and another in a district public school.

"They're not spending money on frivolity here," she said. "If the state's not providing funding, the community has to step up.

"I want there to be good schools for all the kids," she said.

Some residents, including Rebecca Monks, 19, of Huntington, considered local issues when they went to the polls. Monks said she feared "class size is going to jump" because of a plan to create a districtwide sixth-grade center at Jack Abrams Intermediate School.

Monks said the Jack Abrams plan played a role in her decision to support the budget. Defeating the budget could result in a new spending plan that forces even fuller classrooms, she said.

But Jim Romaine, 64, said the Huntington district's proposed tax hike - 3.54 percent for the average homeowner - is simply too much.

"For the first time ever, I voted no," he said. "For me it's a bit of backlash, too. I'm just appalled by the property taxes."

In the William Floyd district, Bob Mignogna, 61, of Shirley voted against the budget. The retired KeySpan engineer's two kids went through the district, and his granddaughter is in middle school.

"We pay enough taxes already. All of the upper management got their hands in the jar," he said.

The district asked for a 2.75 increase in the budget, with an 8.53 percent hike in the tax levy. The budget passed.

Joe May, 65, of Mastic, a director of the Mastic Park Civic Association, said he voted in favor of the budget because of "the kids. Too many programs would be cut out, too many teachers. The community needs it."

In Uniondale, Deanna Meyers-Turner, who ran for the board of education, said she was the first one to vote when the polls opened at 6 a.m.

She campaigned for hours in the morning and by the afternoon, she said that turnout has been "good and steady."

Candidate Terri Mangum said she also noticed a consistent turnout and theorized that residents were coming out to support the budget.

"They realize our budget is lower and the tax levy is lower than other districts," she said.

With Jennifer Maloney, Deborah S. Morris, Andrew Strickler, Reid J. Epstein, Laura Rivera, Yamiche Alcindor, Nomaan Merchant, Stacey Altherr, Mitchell Freedman, William Murphy

and Carl Corry

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