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North Bellmore board OKs lower budget for June revote

Mark Schissler, assistant superintendent for business in the

Mark Schissler, assistant superintendent for business in the North Bellmore district, speaks during a school board meeting Tuesday evening. The board approved a proposal for a June 19 revote on a slightly lower 2018-19 budget. Credit: Danielle Silverman

The North Bellmore school board called Tuesday night for a June 19 revote on a revised $57.15 million budget for 2018-19, with slightly less spending and taxes than a spending plan rejected under unusual circumstances a week ago.

Earlier in the day, trustees in the Uniondale district reviewed the revote options designed to deal with the budget defeat there, then postponed a decision to allow for more public discussion next week.

The other 122 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties all gained voter approval of their spending plans on May 15. The overall 98.4 percent passage rate was among the highest on record for Long Island.

North Bellmore’s revamped spending plan, supported unanimously by the board Tuesday night, is about $75,000 lower than the original proposed budget.

Spending would rise 3.31 percent, as compared with 3.45 percent in the initial plan. The tax levy would go up 3.2 percent, compared with 3.4 percent originally.

Marie Testa, the district’s superintendent, told the mostly supportive crowd of about 150 residents and others at the district’s Martin Avenue Elementary School that turnout for the meeting signaled that the revote effort would prove successful.

“We’re looking forward to passage of the budget,” Testa said.

She noted that the initial budget received a majority vote and failed only because of parents’ petitions for expanded busing, which drove potential expenses over the district’s allowable state-established tax cap and therefore required a 60 percent majority of those voting.

The revote budget will require only a simple majority.

In Uniondale, Superintendent William Lloyd told those at the lightly attended afternoon meeting that another session probably will be held next Tuesday evening to give more residents a chance to talk about the district’s next step.

Among the options, he said, are a June revote on the same $197.3 million budget voted down last week — but with more of the district’s financial reserves applied to the revenue side to allow a 0.08 percent decrease in the tax levy.

Another avenue Lloyd outlined would provide for a revote on the same budget rejected by voters on May 15. That original spending plan called for a 0.99 percent tax-levy increase for 2018-19.

No options put forward so far would include reductions in the district’s proposed 5.41 percent spending increase, which was among the highest in Nassau County and which became a target of some residents’ complaints earlier in the year.

Lloyd told a Newsday reporter that he was not entirely ruling out a spending reduction, but believed it was important to maintain student programs and services.

“I think it would be extremely harmful to cut programs for children,” Lloyd told the audience in Uniondale High School’s Little Theater.

Some in the audience took exception.

“There are times when you have to realize that you can’t spend money on all the things you want,” said one resident, who said he lives in the Westbury portion of the district but declined to give his name.

The state’s tax-cap law, which took effect during the 2012-13 school year, allows several options in cases where districts fail to pass budgets in the first round of balloting.

Under one approach, a district’s school board can adopt a “contingency” budget that freezes taxation at the current year’s level and holds spending within that limit.

In Uniondale, schools chief Lloyd said that moving to contingency would mean elimination of new equipment purchases and student programs, including field trips, summer school and after-school clubs. He added that reductions could even extend to the district’s award-winning show choir.

In response, one audience member, Charmise Desiré, who was elected to the school board and will take office July 1, referred to the threatened loss of the show choir as “a fear tactic, which I find deplorable.”

Districts that take the route of a revote must submit the same budget or a revised version in June. That spending plan must continue to take the tax cap into consideration.

A budget that stays within the district’s tax cap, as set by state formula, can be approved by a simple majority vote. A budget that seeks to override the cap requires a 60 percent majority, and rejection in the second round of voting results in an automatic tax freeze.

That kind of financial restriction can force a school district to dig into reserve funds, cut staff or reduce student services.

Last week, Uniondale’s proposed $197.3 million budget was defeated by a vote of 847 in favor and 1,009 opposed.

The rejection was somewhat unusual, in that the tax levy would have risen less than 1 percent — well under the allowed cap of 3.82 percent.

However, some local residents had complained that the plan’s 5.41 percent spending hike seemed high, especially because the district had just managed to push through a $158 million bond issue two months earlier for additional classrooms to accommodate surging enrollment, as well as technology improvements. The district has about 7,200 students.

North Bellmore’s setback was more out of the ordinary.

That district’s board, like Uniondale’s, had not tried to bust its tax cap. Plus, its proposed budget actually gained majority support in the initial vote on May 15, with 1,322 in favor to 1,231 opposed.

But North Bellmore faced the need for a revote nonetheless, triggered by a provision of the tax-cap law.

Last week’s ballot there included two spending proposals — separate from the budget and backed by two rival parent groups — which would have increased the number of students bused at district expense to public and non-public schools. Costs of the extra busing would have pushed the district over its cap, and that meant the proposed budget required a 60 percent majority.

No such busing propositions will appear on North Bellmore’s ballot on June 19, so a simple majority will suffice to approve the budget itself.

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