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Riverhead, Uniondale, Valley Stream 13 school districts up for budget revote

The Uniondale school distict's $211,098,056 budget would lift

The Uniondale school distict's $211,098,056 budget would lift spending 1.82% and taxes 1.98%. Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

On-site voting started at 6 a.m. Tuesday in three Long Island school districts that failed to pass school budgets in mid-June and are trying once again.

Reopening of school polls reflects a more general move toward public activities, now that coronavirus infection rates have fallen. The first round of voting, which saw 121 of 124 district budgets pass on Long Island, was conducted by mail. 

Riverhead and Uniondale are offering the same budgets rejected in the first round of voting, on grounds that the spending plans are fiscally responsible because they keep within the state's strict tax-cap limits. Valley Stream 13 is submitting a reduced budget, in hopes of winning greater public support, and its proposal also falls within cap limitations.

Polls in all three systems will remain open until 9 p.m. Local voters also had the option of obtaining absentee ballots, though such ballots were not sent automatically as they were for the initial round. 

Under the state's tax-cap law, districts are allowed one revote, in cases where budgets are rejected initially. Failure to win approval in two consecutive votes automatically forces districts to operate on "contingency" budgets, which essentially means that revenue collected through property taxation are frozen for an entire fiscal year.

All three systems holding revotes are on contingency status, at least until voters deliver their final verdict. 

Valley Stream 13's revised $54,423,813 budget would increase spending 2.51% and taxes 1%. Voting will be held at four sites: Wheeler Avenue School, James A. Dever School, Howell Road School and Willow Road School. 

The district's original plan would have boosted spending 4.17%, well above Nassau County's average.

Uniondale's recycled $211,098,056 budget would lift spending 1.82% and taxes 1.98%. Voting is at five sites: Northern Parkway School, California Avenue School, Smith Street School, Grand Avenue School and Walnut Street School. 

Riverhead's $147,124,895 plan, also a redo, would raise spending 1.87% and taxes 2.21%. Voting will be at four sites: Riley Avenue School, Aquebogue School, Phillips Avenue School and Roanoke Avenue School.

Some school officials point to a contingency budget's impact, in hopes of bringing out more supporters Tuesday. Riverhead, for example has said that continued operation on a bare-bones budget would mean loss of all athletics, student clubs and musical performances, as well as reductions in high school elective courses and science programs.

Gerard Antoine, assistant superintendent for business in Valley Stream 13, warned in a video posted on the district's website of potential cancellation of chorus, dance and orchestra programs, together with student council. 

"The budget will not affect a high-quality instructional program," Antoine said. "But if the budget doesn't pass and we operate on a contingency budget, then it will affect our educational program."

Some taxpayer advocates contended, on the other hand, that districts were turning a deaf ear to their complaints that spending was simply rising too quickly, especially during an economic downturn. In recent years, Uniondale has faced increased resistance to taxation from residents of newly constructed adult communities in the area. 

Bob Zarro, a retired UPS delivery driver who lives in one such community, faulted Uniondale for putting up the same budget.

"They never give up," Zarro said, adding that he expected the great majority of his fellow residents to vote "no" again. 

Revotes mark the end of an unparalleled budget season, in which about 2 million absentee ballots were distributed to voters throughout the Nassau-Suffolk region, and most spending plans passed by lopsided margins. Budget defeats were relatively narrow. 

Riverhead's plan went down 3,173 to 2,847; Uniondale by 1,157 to 885; Valley Stream 13 by 1,522 to 1,353.

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