The proposed budgets for Long Island’s school districts total $14.3 billion. Residents will head to the polls Tuesday. Newsday TV’s Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday staff; File Footage

Voting on school budgets and board races kicked off early Tuesday, with most Long Island districts calling for modest tax hikes and added services, including expanded class schedules for more than 17,000 students.

Most polls opened at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. in Nassau County and western Suffolk County, and will close at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. In eastern Suffolk, many polls will open early afternoon, then close at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.

Spending proposals totaling a combined $14.3 billion Islandwide appear on ballots, along with names of 441 board candidates and 96 special propositions.

Budgets are up an average 4.17% for the 2022-23 school year, the sharpest increase in more than a decade. But proposed tax increases average only 1.54%, because record allotments of state and federal funding are picking up much of the added tabs for districts.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Voting on school budgets and board races kicks off early Tuesday, with most Long Island districts calling for modest tax hikes and added services. 
  • Four of the Island's largest systems — Brentwood, Sachem, Patchogue-Medford and Riverhead — are proposing expansions of secondary school schedules from eight daily class periods to nine. 
  • Only two of the Island's 124 districts — New Suffolk and Wainscott on the East End — are seeking voter overrides of state tax-cap limitations. 

School taxation is a major economic factor on the Island, typically accounting for more than 60% of property owners' tax bills.

Education leaders said they are cautiously optimistic about the outcome of budget votes, and that turnout will be a key factor.

"This year, the biggest concern we have is possible complacency," said Lorraine Deller, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association. "But there's little reason to suggest that budgets will not be approved."

School supporters cited the fact that all but two Long Island districts are keeping taxation within the limits set by the state's strict "cap" limitations. The exceptions are New Suffolk and Wainscott on the East End, which are calling for cap overrides.

Eighteen districts have frozen tax rates; four are calling for cuts.

Normally, such actions would translate into lopsided support from voters. This year is different, however, because political and social issues such as mask mandates and gender identity have surfaced in some school board races.

"This vote could be the strangest of all," said Michael Dawidziak, a pollster and political consultant based in Bayport. "National politics has sorta filtered down to the school level."

Aside from politics, one growing question in academic circles is how extra money from Washington, D.C., and Albany can best be spent in boosting student enthusiasm and achievement. Four of Suffolk's larger districts — Brentwood, Patchogue-Medford, Riverhead and Sachem — have responded by proposing that school schedules be expanded from eight daily class periods to nine.

Nine-period school schedules can help improve education in a variety of ways, supporters said. In some cases, such schedules increase overall instructional time.

In other instances, instructional time remains about the same, but schools gain more flexibility in what they can offer students. For example, ninth periods can provide students with a wider selection of popular elective courses or college-level Advanced Placement classes. Extra periods also can provide more remedial time for students struggling with English and math lessons.

Proposed expansions in all four districts would start in September, assuming voters approve the budgets.

Brentwood proposes to make use of its ninth period by offering students at least 20 additional elective courses, ranging from American Sign Language, Cybersecurity, dance and music, to occupational training in barbering and cosmetology. In addition, students needing extra academic help could sign up for double periods of English and math.

"There's really no reason why every kid can't take a course they're interested in," Superintendent Richard Loeschner said.

Students do schoolwork in the library at Patchogue-Medford High School on...

Students do schoolwork in the library at Patchogue-Medford High School on May 13. If approved in the budget vote Tuesday, Patchogue-Medford would use extra funding to provide elective courses at its high school and three middle schools, officials said. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Patchogue-Medford would use extra time to provide elective courses at its high school and three middle schools, officials said. Courses to be offered in seventh grade would include Drone Technology, Crime Scene Investigation, debate and entrepreneurship.

In addition, middle schools would provide extra English periods daily and extra math every other day.

"For years, the board of education wanted to go down this road," Superintendent Donna Jones said. "It was a no-brainer once we had the state funding."

Riverhead is restoring nine-period days at both its high school and middle school. Elective offerings will be increased in September, and a year later, the district plans to add an Advanced Placement Capstone program that includes in-depth research projects for participants.

In addition, a Freshman Seminar program will help ninth-graders with issues such as time management and financial literacy, local officials said.

Sean O'Hara, the principal at Riverhead High School, described class expansion as "an opportunity to enhance the educational experience for all of our students."

Sachem would increase daily instructional time by 30 minutes, bringing secondary instruction up to the 990 hours a year required by state law, local officials said. The district had a temporary waiver from that requirement, officials added.

Course offerings would be increased in grades six through 12, with introductions to Italian, French and Spanish in middle schools and AP Human Geography in the district's two high schools.

Also, there will be additional academic support classes in English, math and science.

"This ninth period will be a boon for our students' college and career readiness," Superintendent Christopher Pellettieri said.

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