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Long IslandEducation

Sachem district votes to stay within state-imposed tax cap

Kathy Chierichella of Holbrook addresses the Sachem school

Kathy Chierichella of Holbrook addresses the Sachem school board about the budget during a public meeting Wednesday, April 13, 2016. Chierichella, a parent of three students, said cuts affect "150 athletes who used to compete at high school levels who no longer have those opportunities." Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Sachem school district, Long Island’s second-largest, will stick within its state-imposed tax cap next year, despite earlier discussions of a possible override, school board members decided Wednesday night.

The school board’s decision by a vote 6-2, with one member absent, means only a handful of small East End systems will seek to exceed assigned caps. That includes the 180-student Amagansett district, where the board voted in favor of an override early Tuesday morning.

State restrictions on local increases in property taxes are at their lowest levels by far since they were introduced in the 2012-13 school year, and Sachem is no exception. The district in 2016-17 will be held to a limit of 0.76 percent.

Sachem officials had informed the state comptroller’s office last month that they might push for a 1.99 percent tax hike instead, depending on whether Albany came up with enough extra financial aid to make an override unnecessary.

Any proposal to bust a cap must be approved by a 60 percent “supermajority” vote. Balloting on school budgets and board candidates is scheduled for May 17 in Nassau and Suffolk counties and statewide.

During a budget presentation that dragged past 11:30 p.m., the board concluded the state had met that condition.

“With the money we’re getting, I don’t think it’s smart piercing the cap,” board president Tony Falco said.

Bruce Singer, who is Sachem’s associate superintendent for business, said in advance of Wednesday night’s board meeting, that the district owed thanks to state lawmakers from the area who pressed for more funding than Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo originally sought in his January budget message.

Singer, now in his 35th year as associate superintendent, is one of the Island’s most experienced school business officials.

“I wrote a thank-you letter to Sen. Flanagan,” said Singer, referring to Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan (R-East Northport). “They worked very hard on our behalf.”

Some parents complained, however, that the board should spend more money to restore sports teams and other activities cut in recent years.

“That’s 150 athletes who used to compete at high school levels who no longer have those opportunities,” said Kathy Chierichella, of Holbrook, a parent of three students.

Cuomo initially proposed an additional $2.5 million in operating aid for Sachem, as part of an extra $105 million for the Island as a whole.

The Legislature topped the governor’s offer, with an additional $8.2 million for Sachem, and a $155 million increase for the Island. Senate Republicans, whose base is on the Island, also pushed through another provision that restores all aid money cut from districts’ budgets in 2010-11 and 2011-12 as part of state efforts to cope with an economic downturn.

The measure particularly helps school systems in Nassau and Suffolk counties, which suffered some of the deepest reductions because of their relative wealth. Sachem, as a result, obtained an extra $525,000 payment for 2016-17 — part of a $25.1 million package Islandwide.

Wednesday night’s agreement by Sachem’s board means the district will keep within its 0.76 percent cap next year in calculating its hike in the tax levy, which is total dollars collected through local property taxation.

The district’s proposed budget for 2016-17 is tentatively set at about $306,407,296 — a 3 percent increase from this year’s figure of $298.4 million. It also restores some custodial, nursing and other positions. However, the district will close three buildings — Sequoya Middle School, Gatelot Avenue Elementary School and Tecumseh Elementary School — in response to shrinking enrollments.

In Amagansett, the board voted Tuesday to seek a 3.74 percent hike in its tax levy for 2016-17. Without an override attempt, the district would have been limited to a 0.16 percent increase.

Eleanor Tritt, who serves as the district’s superintendent and as principal of its single elementary school, said that sticking to the cap would have meant cutting $300,000 from student services, possibly including preschool and summer-school programs.

The district’s proposed $10,473,428 spending plan represents a 0.34 percent increase over this year’s budget.

Bridgehampton, which had announced earlier that it might attempt a cap override, was due to discuss the issue at a board meeting Wednesday night.

School officials there did not return Newsday’s call. Greenport and Shelter Island will take up the question of overrides next week.

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