On Tuesday, the Sachem school board approved a reduced $374 million budget proposal that stays within the district's tax cap limit and includes small increases in elementary school class size districtwide. Credit: John Roca

Sachem school officials will go back to voters June 18 with a scaled-down $374 million budget proposal that keeps within the district's tax cap limit while paring back on teaching positions, high school elective courses and other staff and services. 

The revised spending plan, passed unanimously by Sachem's board Tuesday night, would cut 21 jobs throughout the system on top of more than 70 reductions announced last month. Workers affected by the new job cuts would include eight teachers, along with social workers, librarians and security guards. The plan also would raise the size of each elementary class by about one student and eliminate foreign-language lessons in sixth grade. 

Spending would rise about 2.8% under the new proposal. Total tax collections, known as a levy, would increase by 1.92%, which is the district's cap. The district estimates the owner of an average home in the district would pay an additional $124.17 to $128.07 in annual property taxes, depending on location, if the plan is approved. 

Sachem leaders decided on the revote after a bigger budget that would have pierced the district's tax cap failed at the polls last month. The district's superintendent, Christopher Pellettieri, described the cost-cutting as "challenging" and "tough" but also necessary to cope with inflationary expenses and a tightening of state financial aid. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Sachem school officials have OK'd a scaled-down budget plan for 2024-25 to put before voters June 18 after the original plan failed at the polls last month. 
  • The new plan would pare back on teaching positions, high school elective courses and other staff and services. 
  • Total tax collections, known as a levy, would increase by 1.92%, which is the district's tax cap limit. The earlier failed budget proposed a 4.87% tax increase.

"I appreciate the board and community coming together on what we believe is a fiscally responsible budget," the schools chief said in a brief interview at the close of Tuesday's public meeting. "We look forward to hearing from the community on June 18."

Pellettieri, here at a school board meeting last month, has...

Pellettieri, here at a school board meeting last month, has described the cost-cutting as "challenging" and "tough" but necessary. Credit: Barry Sloan

Some object to cutbacks

While some residents applauded the district's new approach, others objected to the choice of cutbacks. 

"I understand that Sachem school district, just like all our Sachem families, is hurting financially right now," said Lauren Muqattash, a mother of two students who spoke during a public comment session. "But this budget you're proposing disproportionately hurts our elementary and middle school students." 

Several board members, including the president, Robert Scavo, later said budget cuts had been distributed through the school system and had included elimination of a combined 47 elective courses at the district's two high schools. 

During statewide school district voting on May 21, Sachem’s proposed 4.87% tax increase failed to win a 60% voter majority required for overrides under the state’s strict cap law. The local vote was 4,176 in favor, 4,127 opposed — a majority of just over 50%.

Sachem’s revised package requires a simple majority to pass in the scheduled revote. That appears likely, given the fact that the district managed to muster a small majority in the first round. Under state law, a loss in the second round would result in an automatic tax freeze for the 2024-25 school year, along with further cuts. 

Originally, Sachem had proposed a $377.3 million budget for next year that would have boosted spending 3.7%. Even with that increase, district administrators said on May 8 that financial pressures were requiring them to impose staffing cuts, including the reduction of 41 teacher positions, mostly through retirements.

Drawing down cash reserves

The district also proposes to draw down cash reserves in order to keep taxation within state limits. The latest plan calls for the additional use of $3.1 million in reserves and fund balances, on top of $9.2 million contained in the original budget plan.

The district, which is located in central Suffolk County, enrolls nearly 12,000 students and is the second largest on Long Island. It incorporates parts of three towns: Brookhaven, Islip and Smithtown. 

Pellettieri and other Sachem leaders have cited what they describe as inadequate state financial assistance as one reason for their district’s cash crunch. As part of a statewide aid package adopted by Albany lawmakers in April, Sachem will receive an overall increase for next year of just 1.29%, far below the current 3.4% inflation rate. Sachem’s share of foundation aid, the state’s biggest assistance program, will be frozen at the current year’s level.

Sachem and West Babylon were the only two districts out of 124 on Long Island where budgets failed in the first round of voting. West Babylon, which also had sought to pierce its tax cap, already has scheduled a revote on a budget that stays within that cap.

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