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2 school districts lower spending proposals

The Floral Park-Bellerose teachers association sit together during

The Floral Park-Bellerose teachers association sit together during a Floral Park-Bellerose school board informational budget meeting Tuesday evening. (May 29, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

The Three Village and Floral Park-Bellerose school districts, two of seven that failed to override state tax caps in budget voting earlier this month, Tuesday night lowered their spending proposals to keep within Albany's strict new limits on property tax hikes.

Applause rang through Robert Cushman Murphy Junior High School in Stony Brook as Three Village district officials announced that they will preserve full-day kindergarten classes, junior high school sports and nine-period daily schedules at the high school if a revised budget passes. June 19 is the date for revotes across the state. About 200 people attended the meeting.

The district had earlier listed all those services as facing potential cuts under a capped budget.

"I was thrilled," said Shari Fontana, an office manager whose younger son is due to enter kindergarten next fall. "If they cut full-day kindergarten, there's no way I could have picked him up on time. So I would have had to send him somewhere else."

Three Village's revised budget, approved unanimously by the school board for a revote, is about $176.6 million. It would raise spending 1.2 percent and tax collections 2.99 percent, which is the capped increase set by state formula. The revamped budget will cut about 23 staff positions, including about seven teachers, on top of 85 positions already slated to be lost in the coming school year, and increase elementary classes sizes slightly, district officials said Tuesday night.

The district's original $178.6 million budget included a 4.48 percent tax hike, but that failed to win the required 60 percent voter majority on May 15.

Floral Park-Bellerose's new revised budget, also approved unanimously by the school board there, would hold the tax hike for the 2012-13 school year to 2.47 percent, which is within the district's revised 4.11 percent cap, according to district officials.

The district's revised budget of about $27 million would raise spending 2.65 percent. It cuts about $583,000, mostly by eliminating six staff positions, including three teachers, according to district officials. Approval of the new plan was preceded by 45 minutes of questions and comments from an audience of about 150 people.

"We're going to have to make cuts, so we want our voters to know this is a reasonable budget, a budget they can understand," said Superintendent Lynn Pombonyo.

Floral Park's original $27.6 million budget included a tax hike of 6.58 percent. That proposal, too, failed to obtain the 60 percent majority required by the tax-cap law.

So far, 115 of 124 districts on Long Island have passed budgets. Ten districts, including five small systems in the East End, overrode the state's cap.

Nine districts lost initial budget votes and have announced revotes. Elmont is the only one that has said it will attempt a cap override again.

Under state law, any districts that fail to pass budgets twice in a row face tax freezes in the coming 2012-13 school year. Districts keeping within caps need simple voter majorities for budget approval.

The state's new fiscal restraints had stirred anxieties in many districts accustomed to rich course offerings. An example is Three Village, where parents at a public hearing last week pleaded for the preservation of courses and other services, contending that any reductions would harm the district's reputation.

With Mary Kate Mahoney

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