Dr. Christopher J. Pellettieri, Sachem Superintendent of Schools, stands inside...

Dr. Christopher J. Pellettieri, Sachem Superintendent of Schools, stands inside the administration building in Lake Ronkonkoma, Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

With a mixture of gratitude and relief, superintendents in the Sachem and West Babylon districts hailed results of Tuesday's budget revotes that resulted in overwhelming support for spending plans that kept within state tax-cap limitations. 

Balloting outcomes mean that all 124 public school districts on Long Island will enter the 2024-25 fiscal year with voter-approved plans for spending and taxation. The next school year begins July 1. 

Sachem and West Babylon were the region's only districts that failed to pass budgets in the first round of voting last month, when they attempted overrides of state cap limitations requiring 60% majorities. Following those defeats, both districts moved to get tax increases within cap limits by reducing payrolls and drawing down cash reserves. 

"This was a very challenging process, but we are pleased to be able to continue to provide the type of quality education our students and families have grown accustomed to," said Christopher Pellettieri, the Sachem superintendent, in a statement released after Tuesday's vote. "Now we can move forward planning for the 2024/25 school year and beyond." 

Sachem's approved $374.3 million budget carries a 1.92% hike in its tax levy, down from 4.87% proposed last month. The latest plan passed 3,355 to 1,573 — a sharp contrast to the bare majority of 4,176 to 4,127 recorded in the first round of voting. 

West Babylon's $136.3 million budget includes a 2.013% tax increase, down from 4.99% originally proposed. Passage was by a vote of 1,768 to 654 — well above the 1,333 to 1,028 tally of last month. 

Tuesday's wins came at a cost. As part of their cost-cutting efforts, Sachem and West Babylon reduced numbers of employed teachers and other staff by a combined 110 positions through retirements, layoffs and other measures. 

West Babylon's turnaround was particularly dramatic. School board trustees there had initially agreed on a second attempt for a tax-cap override but changed their minds after dozens of residents showed up at a May 29 meeting and demanded a lower levy increase.

In the end, West Babylon's board decided to save money by eliminating a ninth-grade student health program, along with much of its tutoring in reading and math for struggling elementary students. The district earlier had abolished three administrative positions and the equivalent of 16 full-time teacher jobs. 

Sachem, for its part, cut 21 jobs throughout the system, on top of 70 reductions announced in May. Cutbacks will increase elementary class sizes by about one student per class while also eliminating sixth-grade foreign language instruction.

"We are extremely happy the community supported our proposed budget to maintain our programs and co-curricular student offerings," said West Babylon's superintendent, Yiendhy Farrelly, in a statement. 

Sachem and West Babylon were among 17 districts statewide that passed budgets on revotes, according to the New York State School Boards Association. The only system failing again in the second round was Berne-Knox-Westerlo in the Albany area, which was also the only district attempting an override for the second time.

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