Wyandanch’s revised school budget, which carried a 20 percent tax hike, suffered a decisive defeat Tuesday, with 223 voters opposed to the $73.3 million package and 139 in favor.
Under state law, the loss — a second rejection by district voters of a board-approved spending plan — means the 2,800-student district faces a tax freeze for the 2019-20 school year, coupled with a contingency budget that clamps tight restrictions on spending.
Meanwhile, voters in the Eastport-South Manor school district approved that system's $96.6 million budget, which was the same spending plan put forward in the initial round of balloting on May 21. The count there was 1,108 "yes" votes to 587 "no."
Wyandanch district officials warned last week that failure to pass the budget could mean the loss of 30 jobs for teachers and other staff, along with elimination of pre-kindergarten and after-school programs and deep reductions in sports and bus services. The district's contingency budget is slightly more than $69 million.
“I’m sorry that the budget failed, for the sake of our kids,” said one veteran school board member, Nancy Holliday, who attended the somber vote count at the district’s Central Administration Office.
The proposed budget would have boosted spending by 2.8 percent and taxes by 20 percent. That tax increase far exceeded the district's 0.93 percent state-imposed cap, so the spending plan required a 60 percent voter supermajority to win adoption.
The defeat marks the first time that a district in the western part of Long Island will feel the full impact of penalties imposed under New York’s tax-cap law for districts that fail to override their caps in two consecutive votes. That statute took effect in 2012-13.
Wyandanch’s seven-member school board, which backed the budget, has scheduled a 7 p.m. public meeting Wednesday, at which the budget rejection and its consequences can be reviewed.
Earlier Tuesday, none of a dozen Wyandanch residents who spoke with a Newsday reporter during voting hours voiced approval of the district’s spending plan.
“We need better fiscal management,” said Sheila Chandler, a retired registered nurse who said she voted against the budget. “No sense giving them more money to mess things up.”
Several residents who were casting their votes during lunchtime said they had been influenced by a series of state reports critical of Wyandanch’s fiscal operations.
Emanuel Wilkins, a retired crisis-intervention coordinator, said, “You get a 3 percent raise and taxes go up 20 percent, it doesn’t balance out."
A budget that Wyandanch voters rejected on May 21 would have increased spending by 9.19 percent, to $77.8 million, and required a tax increase of nearly 41 percent.
State officials in recent weeks have acknowledged Wyandanch's underlying problems — it is the poorest district in Suffolk County in terms of taxable income and property wealth. Those authorities also have concluded, however, that much of the system's woes stem from divisions between the school board and top administrators.
"The district's going to need some help, but we need to sit down and have some hard discussions after the vote," said state Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford), whose legislative district includes Wyandanch.
Eastport-South Manor's spending plan, which was the same as an earlier proposal that lost on a procedural issue, raises expenditures 3.65 percent and taxes 2.75 percent. That was within the district's tax cap, so it required a simple majority to pass.
"We are very happy with the results. It's a good day for E-SM," acting Superintendent Joseph Steimel said late Tuesday night. "We are very glad the community came out and supported our programs here."
Suzann Henninger, whose daughter attends Eastport-South Manor schools and who is a teacher in another district, said she voted for the budget both Tuesday and on May 21.
"It's for the children, and it's for the best interest of the children," she said. Of the district having to hold a revote, Henninger said, "I don't think it necessarily gave off a bad image. We don't know all the details, so it's hard to make a judgment on that."
Eastport-South Manor officials announced on June 5 that they would put the budget to a revote — acknowledging then that the state Education Department had ruled the results of the May 21 vote were insufficient. Until then, local authorities had insisted their budget had passed in the first round.
The ballot issue was complex. Eastport-South Manor's budget fit within the district's tax cap, but was accompanied by a special proposition to hire armed security guards. The cost of the additional proposition would have pushed the district over its cap limit.
On election day, the budget passed by a 54.7 percent majority, while the security guard proposition failed. Eastport-South Manor administrators immediately declared the budget approved.
Fifteen days later, the Education Department ruled that, no, the budget had required a 60 percent supermajority to pass.