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Voters in two LI school districts to go back to polls Tuesday

The Uniondale school board prepares to meet in

The Uniondale school board prepares to meet in executive session on May 22, after the district's budget did not pass. Credit: Danielle Silverman

School budget revotes are scheduled Tuesday in North Bellmore and Uniondale, with both districts offering revised proposals for spending and taxation that are more modest than plans rejected by voters last month.

Uniondale’s revamped $196 million budget for the 2018-19 school year would raise spending 4.7 percent, down from the 5.41 percent increase defeated on May 15. The district’s tax levy — that is, total revenues raised by property taxation — would drop 0.07 percent, compared with a 0.99 percent hike included in the original plan.

North Bellmore’s amended $57.15 million spending plan is up 3.31 percent, as compared with 3.45 percent in the initial budget. The revised tax levy would increase 3.2 percent, rather than 3.4 percent as in the original.

Revotes on rejected school spending plans have become a rarity in recent years — a development due, in large part, to increased public satisfaction with school budgets subject to state-imposed tax-cap restrictions.

Islandwide, budgets passed in 122 districts — a 98.4 percent approval rate — on May 15.

The state’s cap law, which took effect in 2012, sets annual restrictions on tax increases and requires districts to freeze taxes whenever budgets are defeated twice in the same year.

The revised budget proposals in both North Bellmore and Uniondale keep within the districts’ caps.

In recent weeks, Uniondale has faced what local officials conceded was a challenge in winning back support from local residents, including a growing number of retirees living on fixed incomes. The district’s initial budget, though well within its cap, went down by a vote of 1,009 opposed and 847 in favor.

Opponents voiced displeasure with the budget’s proposed 5.41 spending hike, which came on the heels of a $158 million bond issue that narrowly passed in March.

“The result of the budget vote on May 15th was a clear message that we had to do more to limit the economic impact of school taxes on our taxpayers,” Uniondale’s school board stated in a budget bulletin issued earlier this month.

The board added that the trimmed budget accomplishes its goal by reducing the tax levy and keeping “exceptional” student programs and services intact. The district enrolls about 7,200 students and is Nassau County’s third largest.

The spending plan also freezes salaries for top administrators and limits raises for teachers to annual “steps” increases already built into their salary schedule.

Supporters noted that the budget is structured in such a way that taxes will run a little higher if a majority of voters say “no” again and the levy is frozen at its current level. The levy will drop slightly if voters say “yes.”

“Passing the budget is a win-win,” said Olga Hernandez, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at the district’s Lawrence Road Middle School. “They brought the budget down as much as they possibly could, and it’s still way, way below the cap.”

Budget backers hope the spending revisions will satisfy the community’s growing retiree population, many of whom resist higher taxes. Uniondale in recent years has witnessed a boom in construction of condominiums, including many reserved for older adults without school-age children.

One such community is Meadowbrook Pointe, established in 2006 with 720 town houses, condominiums and other units.

Steve Schwartz, a resident who runs a blog for the community, said he polled residents about the budget and received 140 responses. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they would vote “no;” 27 percent “yes,” he said.

Schwartz, who once taught English in another district, said he supports the budget, but was only speaking for himself.

“We need to vote the budget in, because if we don’t, it’s only the children who are going to suffer,” Schwartz said. “I’m sure some people in the community are not going to like that I said that.”

Another Meadowbrook Pointe resident, Bob Zarro, disagreed, contending the school district was not offering adequate tax relief.

“Whatever they did was very minimal, and it’s not enough,” Zarro said.

North Bellmore

North Bellmore, like Uniondale, did not attempt a cap override last month. Moreover, the district’s proposed budget drew support from a small majority — 1,322 in favor versus 1,231 opposed.

The plan went down, nonetheless, due to a legal twist.

Two groups of community residents had petitioned for extra student busing, forcing the district to put special spending propositions on the ballot that would have pushed the budget over its cap. As a result, the spending proposal fell under the provision of the state tax-cap law requiring a 60 percent super-majority to pass, and fell short.

The district enrolls about 2,050 students.

Marie Testa, superintendent of North Bellmore schools, voiced optimism going into the second round of balloting.

The amended budget requires a simple majority to pass, because it is not accompanied by any special spending propositions. Also, district officials said they found about $75,000 in savings through lower insurance premiums and rental fees that allow them to modify spending and tax requests.

“I’m very positive that the community will show its support and pass the budget, so we can have the best education for the children,” Testa said. “I understand the challenges this community is facing, but this budget does not pierce the tax cap, and we’ve been very responsible.”

District administrators, in defending their budget, said a large part of the proposed spending increase would pay for bond borrowing by the local public library, not the school system. Administrators added that a second budget defeat would force deep cuts in the teaching staff and other personnel.

Jo-Ann Erhard, a local parent and former PTA president, expressed confidence that residents who split on the busing issue would rally together for Tuesday’s vote.

“I think everybody definitely has the same goal — to continue with the great education we have,” Erhard said.

School budget votes, take two

— Revoting on the revised budgets for North Bellmore and Unuiondale will be held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in both systems.

— North Bellmore’s polling site is the Newbridge Road Elementary School.

— Uniondale, which is a larger district, will provide polls at five elementary schools: California Avenue, Grand Avenue, Northern Parkway, Smith Street and Walnut Street.

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