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Eastport-South Manor school board holds hearing on budget revote; stands by prior vote

Eastport-South Manor district Assistant Superintendent for Business and

Eastport-South Manor district Assistant Superintendent for Business and Operations Tim Laube, left, and acting Superintendent Joseph Steimel speak during a public budget hearing at Eastport-South Manor Junior-Senior High School Tuesday. Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Eastport-South Manor school district officials told residents who turned out for a public hearing Tuesday they are going forward with next week's revote on a $96.6 million budget, but maintained that last month's budget vote was valid.

Next Tuesday's vote will be held in case school district lawyers cannot convince state Education Department officials that the May 21 vote should have counted, acting Superintendent Joseph Steimel told about a dozen residents during the budget hearing at the district's junior-senior high school.

State officials told the district last week the budget vote was invalid because a second proposition on the ballot would have caused the budget to exceed the state tax cap.

"We strongly disagree with the state," Steimel said, adding lawyers for the district will continue to make their case to Albany officials.

Eastport resident Mike Doyle questioned why district officials followed the advice of district lawyers to count the budget as having passed.

"Did your attorney give you bad advice?" said Doyle, a retired Eastport-South Manor teacher. "Did they check with the state?"

Steimel responded: "We wouldn't consider it bad advice at all ... Even the [state] officials ... are checking to see where it stands."

District officials had announced after polls closed last month that the budget had passed, with 1,211 “yes” votes and 1,002 “no” votes. The second proposition, allowing the district to hire armed security guards, failed resoundingly that night.

The security proposition will not be on next week's ballot.

The revote would be on the same budget put up before — a $96,551,702 million spending plan carrying a 2.75 percent tax increase. The plan is within the district’s state-imposed cap limit and will require a simple majority to pass.

The Eastport-South Manor school board scheduled the revote last week. The proposed budget would raise school taxes about $300 for the average district resident.

Manorville resident Joan Breimann said any tax increase would be too much for her.

"I don't know if I can retire here in Manorville," she said. "It's getting out of hand."

State officials ruled that the budget vote last month had failed because it garnered support from 54.7 percent of the voters — less than the 60 percent required by the state tax cap law.

In a June 5 letter to Steimel, Assistant Commissioner of Education Christina E. Coughlin said the higher level of support was required because the tax increase would have exceeded the cap if both propositions had passed.

If next week's vote fails, the district will be forced to adopt a $95 million contingency budget — a bare-bones spending plan that freezes taxes.

Eastport-South Manor enrolls about 3,200 students in communities straddling the border between Brookhaven and Southampton towns.

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