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Long IslandEducation

Residents turn out for school budget revotes

Gotham Avenue Elementary School in Elmont, New York

Gotham Avenue Elementary School in Elmont, New York was one of nine Long Island school districts to hold a budget revote on Tuesday. (June 19, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Voters in nine Long Island school districts turned out at polls Tuesday to give the thumbs-up or -down in revotes on budgets for the 2012-13 school year.

Of the nine districts, seven tried in initial votes on May 15 to exceed the state's new tax-cap limit, which requires approval by a 60 percent supermajority. Six of the seven lowered their proposed budgets so the spending plans now fall within their respective district caps and a simple majority vote is needed for passage.

Only the Elmont school district, an elementary-only district on the Nassau-Queens border, still is seeking to pierce its cap and must have its revised budget approved by 60 percent of those voting.

Districts where revotes are being held Tuesday are seven in Suffolk County -- Center Moriches, Comsewogue, East Islip, Mount Sinai, Oysterponds, Three Village and Tuckahoe -- and two in Nassau -- Elmont and Floral Park-Bellerose.

In Mount Sinai, Deborah Lang, 48, voted quickly before driving her daughter, a 10th-grader, to her math final. Lang has two other children in district schools, in the sixth and eighth grades.

She said she voted in favor of the revised spending plan because she thinks the district offered a "very modest budget" considering the current economic conditions and the fixed costs that districts must pay.

"With the current climate in Albany, I really don't think schools have much leeway," said Lang, who works as a registered nurse at Long Island Veterans Home in Stony Brook. "These are tough times for the schools, and you don't want the children to have to suffer."

But Susan Hollingworth, 66, a retired travel agent, said she voted "no" on the revised budget, which calls for a .53 percent decrease in spending from the current budget. The tax levy would increase 2.13 percent, a rise equal to the district's tax-cap limit.

"I think there has to be a balance between cost and education," she said. Hollingworth, of Mount Sinai, said she has an adult daughter with a husband and an infant and she's lucky they were able to stay on Long Island.

The sticker price of taxes is driving young people from the area, she said, adding that parents of students who have children in high school sports can afford to pay more for their children to play.

"They don't need such fancy equipment," Hollingworth said. "Just give them sound, safe things to use."

Dan Buckley, another voter in Mount Sinai, said school taxes are too high and districts need to get teachers' pension costs under control. He would not say how he intended to vote.

"It is very difficult for seniors to live here," said Buckley, a retired banker who is in his 70s. "I haven't had a child in the district for 21 years, and I've watched our taxes rise and pay them each year."

A second budget defeat would bring the freezing of a district's tax levy at its current level, which school officials have said could lead to staffing cuts and trims in student programs and services.

Oysterponds and Tuckahoe, both small districts on the East End, put up budgets in the May 15 vote that adhered to tax-cap limits but were rejected anyway. Oysterponds is reoffering the same budget but has dropped a controversial plan to give students a choice of high schools. Tuckahoe has trimmed back its spending plan.

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