School budgets totaling billions of dollars won approval in 121 districts and lost in three across Long Island, according to results of an unprecedented three-day count of mail-in ballots completed Thursday.
Voter participation surged as a result of the switch to universal absentee balloting, ordered by the state as a precaution during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lopsided pro-budget majorities were the rule for most of the region, though spending plans went down to defeat in Riverhead, Uniondale and Valley Stream 13.
"We had thousands of ballots, and the counting process had to start no earlier than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, and it required a hand count," said Lorraine Deller, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association, in reference to the longer waits for results. "Our association wants to recognize the magnitude of the job done by district clerks."
Districts, unable to obtain voting machines reserved for next week's primary elections, faced major challenges dealing with a flood of paper.
Smithtown fielded about 11,000 ballots this year, compared with 2,800 mostly walk-in votes last year. Sachem had about 10,400 ballots compared with last year's 4,100. East Meadow's count was nearly 8,000, compared with last year's 2,200.
This week's election returns also recorded ousters of school-board incumbents in Hempstead and Wyandanch who had criticized the state's assignment of monitors to those districts.
In Wyandanch, civic activist Jarod Morris defeated incumbent Nancy Holliday. In Hempstead, incumbent Randy Stith lost his at-large seat in a contest among seven candidates for two board slots.
Alan Singer, a Hofstra University professor who has followed developments in Hempstead for years, saw positive developments there.
"The changes on the board, the appointment of the state monitor and passage of the school budget are hopeful signs for the future," Singer said.
Budget losses in the region, while limited to three districts, are the most numerous since 2014-15.
Uniondale's $211 million budget went down by a vote of 1,157 to 885. The district, in a statement, thanked its approximately 2,000 voters for their participation, expressed disappointment at results and indicated the possibility of a July revote.
"For now, our focus will be on planning for the new school year and, with great expectation and anticipation, the return of our scholars to our classrooms in the fall," the statement continued.
Riverhead's $147.1 million budget lost by 3,173 votes to 2,847. In Valley Stream 13, a $55.3 million plan lost 1,522 to 1,353.
Riverhead officials said they were "discouraged and disheartened" by the defeat, and are weighing their next move. Valley Stream 13 indicated that a revote was possible and that the district remained "committed to delivering a diverse and rigorous instructional program."
The region's 124 districts called for nearly $13.4 billion in spending during the 2020-21 school term, but that figure could drop. Albany has announced it might have cut back on state aid to schools, due to falling revenues triggered by the coronavirus.
Islandwide, proposed spending will rise about 1.8% next year, the lowest increase in five years. Taxation would go up 2.1%, the lowest increase in three years.
Any districts failing to win majority approval for their budgets can hold revotes, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said. The most likely revote dates are either July 21 or July 28, according to school representatives. Any systems failing to win in the second round essentially face tax freezes next school year.