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Valley Stream 13 district cuts tax hike in half, trims more than $800,000 in spending

Valley Stream 13 school district Superintendent Constance Evelyn

Valley Stream 13 school district Superintendent Constance Evelyn said the budget vote's closeness encouraged the district to revamp its plan quickly so that supporters could start campaigning for passage in July. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Valley Stream 13 School District, which saw its proposed budget narrowly defeated last week, is attempting to rally public support for a revote by cutting its projected tax hike roughly in half and trimming more than $800,000 from increased spending.

The district's board on Tuesday night unanimously endorsed a revised $54.4 million budget that would raise spending 2.51% and tax revenue 1%. The $55.3 million budget originally proposed would have boosted spending 4.17%, well above Nassau County's average, and taxation 1.99%.

Valley Stream 13's initial spending plan was rejected 1,522-1,353 by voters on June 16. The budget was one of three defeated on Long Island, along with proposals in Uniondale and Riverhead. A total of 121 budgets passed, most by lopsided majorities, in unusually heavy voting that was all via absentee ballot. 

Uniondale's board also met Tuesday to discuss budget plans, but reached no final decisions. Riverhead's board is scheduled to meet Monday. 

District 13's superintendent, Constance Evelyn, declared at the board meeting that the vote's closeness encouraged the district to revamp its plan quickly so that supporters could start campaigning for passage in July. The schools chief also noted that voter approval was needed to avoid imposition of a bare-bones contingency budget which, she said, would have an "overwhelmingly negative" impact on children's services. 

Statewide revotes are expected to be held either July 21 or July 28. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has not yet announced the date. 

Another decision yet to be made in Albany is whether revotes will consist largely of mail-in ballots, as a continued precaution against COVID-19 infection.

District 13's original spending plan, with its more than 4% increase, emerged as an issue in a school board race in which Anthony Bonelli, an engineer critical of the hike, challenged Frank Chiachiere, the board president. Chiachiere narrowly won, with 1,488 votes to Bonelli's 1,274.

Bill Freda, another candidate who campaigned against the budget, said there was a widespread feeling in the community that the school administration was unaware of how much economic pain was being felt by local taxpayers as a result of the pandemic. “It was just completely clueless,” Freda said.

Islandwide, the average proposed spending increase for the 2020-21 school year was 1.83%. The average tax increase was 2.13%. 

Also on the ballot were two propositions, which both passed. One would provide air conditioning and smartboards for classrooms throughout the district. The other would expand libraries at two schools, to make those facilities equal to other libraries in the system. 

While approved, none of those renovations can be carried out unless District 13 first passes its revamped budget, local officials said. Under state law, failure to pass a budget on a revote would force the district to operate under a bare-bones $53.9 million contingency plan that would include a tax freeze and further cuts in programs. 

Any such scenario would prove "very hurtful and harmful," Evelyn said. 

District 13 already has cut more than $800,000 in spending items from its original budget, including summer recreation programs and plans for two new prekindergarten classes.

Valley Stream 13 is an elementary school district serving about 2,050 students in southwest Hempstead Town. It is part of a larger system that includes two other elementary school districts and a central high school district.

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