With voters approving 92 percent of mostly modest school budgets on Long Island Tuesday - similar to statewide results - educators, politicians and tax watchers looked to Albany to either restore aid to districts forced to propose deep program cuts for next year, or reaffirm the governor's view that voters are willing to do more with less.

While educators hoped the returns would lead to restoration of some $600 million in proposed school aid cuts, experts said the debate in Albany would continue.

"I don't think it is going to make much of a difference," Gary Bixhorn, chairman of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association Legislative Committee, said Wednesday. "Frankly, I think the debate over the executive budget and the reduction of state aid is passed."

Long Island voters approved budgets with an average tax increase of 3.41 percent. Many proposals trimmed staff and programs. Most districts also accounted for Gov. David A. Paterson's call for $1.1 billion in school-aid cuts statewide, including $172.6 million on the Island. State lawmakers have failed to agree on a budget.

A spokeswoman for Paterson said Wednesday that "voters have sent a clear message in support of the governor's school aid proposal. . . . The legislature should follow the example that everyday New Yorkers set this week and pass a responsible budget that includes the governor's proposed cuts."

Some local educators support an Assembly proposal favored by Speaker Sheldon Silver to restore $600 million of those cuts.

"I think there is a good chance, and I am very, very cautiously optimistic that there will be some restoration. I think the budgets will impact the thinking in Albany," said Hank Grishman, president of the Nassau County Council of Superintendents.

Wendell Chu, president of Suffolk's superintendents, said state lawmakers should take notice of Tuesday's results. "They should be reflecting on the number of school districts that have passed budgets and realize that they, too, have to step up for education," Chu said.

But Elizabeth Lynam of the nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission said with New York facing a $9.2 billion deficit, the question is what can the state afford. "A lot of the boards were expecting to have some sort of loss in state aid and local taxpayers have approved the changes that boards want to make," she said.

A Newsday/Hofstra University poll released Thursday found a majority of Long Islanders oppose raising taxes if state aid is cut, but at the same time a majority oppose budget-cutting measures such as laying off teachers and staff.

Staff and program cuts next year represent "a change in the level of service that Long Island students will receive," said Bixhorn, chief operating officer of Eastern Suffolk BOCES. "The goal is to make sure there is the same quality of instruction, but unfortunately there are fewer resources and fewer teachers delivering it."

Kevin Riley, 41, a carpenter, lives in New Hyde Park and has three children in the Herricks district, where the budget failed by one vote.

"Taxes keep going up and people's pays are going in the other direction," he said. "People don't want to hurt the kids but people are taking cuts. It seems like an unwinnable battle."

With Yamiche Alcindor

Latest videos