Six Long Island school districts have proposed budgets that will pierce the state tax cap. NewsdayTV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Newsday/A.J. Singh

School budgets on Long Island could rise 4.18% on average to a total $15.78 billion in 2024-25, leading to expansion of programs ranging from preschool classes to high school courses in personal finance, a Newsday review finds.

Voting on the budgets is scheduled for Tuesday. 

School property taxes would increase at a lesser rate of 2.56%, to $9.78 billion, due largely to a fresh infusion of state financial aid. However, six local districts are pushing for overrides of their state tax cap limits, which would result in higher rate hikes, between 4.55% and 10.8%. 

School taxation accounts for more than 60% of homeowners' tax bills, in a region where rates rank among the highest in the country. Newsday's analysis was based on annual “Property Tax Report Cards” compiled by the state Department of Education, together with survey forms collected from all 124 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties. 

Looking at longer-range trends, 2024-25 will mark the 11th straight year in which proposed tax increases average less than 3%. This reflects the impact of the state’s strict tax cap law, as well as growth in state financial assistance that lessens districts’ dependence on local property taxes.

As usual, the great majority of school systems — 118 in all — are keeping within tax cap restrictions in their latest budget requests.

“I'm cautiously optimistic that the great majority of budgets will pass,” said Bob Vecchio, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association. 

However, a continuing debate in Albany over future distribution of state aid has left him less optimistic for the future, Vecchio added. 

Districts pushing to pierce their caps in the Island’s western region include Port Washington, with a proposed 4.55% tax hike; West Babylon, 4.99%; and Sachem, 4.87%. Farther east, Springs seeks an 10.8% tax increase; East Hampton, 8.71%; and Amagansett, 7.77%.

In many of those districts, local officials say they're struggling to keep up with inflationary costs of employee salaries and benefits, health insurance and other expenses. Overrides require voter majorities of at least 60% to win approval. 

Calls for higher taxes have stirred local opposition. Fred Gorman, a longtime taxpayer advocate in the Sachem district, messaged other residents recently to declare: “In this year of inflation, the BOE [Board of Education] is wrong not to offer the taxpayers a zero-tax increase.” 

Across the Island, the funding outlook for districts will be mixed next year. On one hand, state aid for the region will be up $205 million, or 4.24% on average, maintaining gains from previous years. On the other hand, distribution of state money is uneven from one district to another, and federal pandemic relief money is due to expire by September.

As a result, there are gains and losses among districts, with some announcing staff layoffs while others plan to expand student programs and services. 

Middle Country has announced plans to cut more than 21 teaching positions. Hicksville is cutting more than 30 positions through resignations, retirements or other means.

Among districts proposing expansions, North Babylon has said it would hire 11 new teachers in order to staff a new ninth class period at its high school. Port Jefferson and Valley Stream 13 would expand prekindergarten programs. 

Freeport wants to add new courses in quantum information science and mathematics, and anatomy, physiology and pathology, among others. Jericho would add a course entitled “The Pursuit of Happiness,” which includes literary studies in a book club setting.

Instruction in personal finance is gaining ground in some districts, with encouragement from the state. 

Commack High School, for example, would add an eight-week financial literacy unit in September to an economics course required for all seniors. The lessons would be taught in a classroom converted to resemble a Wall Street trading floor, where students have access to financial data via Bloomberg terminals.

Meanwhile, the Levittown district plans to add entire courses in financial literacy and readiness at its two high schools. Those half-year courses would be required and include lessons in financial planning, savings, investment and charitable giving.

Levittown Superintendent Todd Winch sees the new instruction as providing important practical skills that supplement broader lessons covered by traditional economics courses.

“That’s important for kids to understand,” said Winch, referring to traditional economics. “But it’s not necessarily going to pay your bills or explain why you have to have insurance on your car.”

Elsewhere on the Island, some districts face economic struggles. 

The Sachem district, Long Island’s second largest, seeks to pierce its tax cap limit in a move that would generate more than $6 million in extra revenue but mean heavier property taxes for homeowners.

At an April 23 meeting, a divided Sachem board voted 5-4 to request the 4.87% hike in the district’s taxes for the 2024-25 school year. Sachem normally would be restricted to a tax increase of just 1.92%, under the state’s tax cap law.

The proposed cap override would raise the district’s total property tax collections to a total of $217.9 million.

Local school officials contend the additional taxes are needed to maintain all academic, athletic and co-curricular programs while also keeping cash reserves at a level they consider adequate. At the same time, officials have announced plans to reduce staff, largely through attrition, as student enrollments continue to decline.

“We are making some of those tough decisions now, and we’ll have to for the next several years,” said Christopher Pellettieri, the district's superintendent.

Cost drivers for the coming year include an additional $5.3 million for employee benefits, $3.4 million for contractual professional services and $2 million for employee salaries, according to the district.

Sachem, like other districts, has found itself caught in recent years between inflationary cost increases and public pressures to curb spending. One board member told residents at the April meeting that she was “dumbfounded by the amount of people who called me, and they want to force us to make cuts.” 

One opponent, Gorman, was a prominent advocate of the state’s cap law that lawmakers approved in 2011. The statute sets a baseline limit on tax increases of 2% or the annual inflation rate, whichever is lower, while allowing adjustments in districts based on local financial circumstances.

In a phone interview, Gorman said Sachem’s latest push for a cap override was disappointing, given all the effort that was spent in establishing the cap.

“Sachem brought me back into the fight,” Gorman said. “They’re sticking their nose up at the voters.”

In a message to Newsday, Pellettieri said the district's decision to try for a cap override “was not made lightly.” The schools chief added that “due to several factors, some of which are outside our control, we feel this is the best option that allows Sachem to continue forward with providing our students with the best possible educational experience.” 

School budgets on Long Island could rise 4.18% on average to a total $15.78 billion in 2024-25, leading to expansion of programs ranging from preschool classes to high school courses in personal finance, a Newsday review finds.

Voting on the budgets is scheduled for Tuesday. 

School property taxes would increase at a lesser rate of 2.56%, to $9.78 billion, due largely to a fresh infusion of state financial aid. However, six local districts are pushing for overrides of their state tax cap limits, which would result in higher rate hikes, between 4.55% and 10.8%. 

School taxation accounts for more than 60% of homeowners' tax bills, in a region where rates rank among the highest in the country. Newsday's analysis was based on annual “Property Tax Report Cards” compiled by the state Department of Education, together with survey forms collected from all 124 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • School spending across Long Island would rise about 4% and taxes 2.5% during the 2024-25 school year, under budget proposals scheduled for Tuesday voting. 
  • Six districts seek voter permission to exceed their tax cap limits: Amagansett, East Hampton, Port Washington, Sachem, Springs and West Babylon.
  • Financial outlooks vary from district to district, with some projecting teacher layoffs and others planning program expansions. 

Looking at longer-range trends, 2024-25 will mark the 11th straight year in which proposed tax increases average less than 3%. This reflects the impact of the state’s strict tax cap law, as well as growth in state financial assistance that lessens districts’ dependence on local property taxes.

As usual, the great majority of school systems — 118 in all — are keeping within tax cap restrictions in their latest budget requests.

“I'm cautiously optimistic that the great majority of budgets will pass,” said Bob Vecchio, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association. 

However, a continuing debate in Albany over future distribution of state aid has left him less optimistic for the future, Vecchio added. 

Districts pushing to pierce their caps in the Island’s western region include Port Washington, with a proposed 4.55% tax hike; West Babylon, 4.99%; and Sachem, 4.87%. Farther east, Springs seeks an 10.8% tax increase; East Hampton, 8.71%; and Amagansett, 7.77%.

In many of those districts, local officials say they're struggling to keep up with inflationary costs of employee salaries and benefits, health insurance and other expenses. Overrides require voter majorities of at least 60% to win approval. 

Calls for higher taxes have stirred local opposition. Fred Gorman, a longtime taxpayer advocate in the Sachem district, messaged other residents recently to declare: “In this year of inflation, the BOE [Board of Education] is wrong not to offer the taxpayers a zero-tax increase.” 

A mixed funding outlook

Across the Island, the funding outlook for districts will be mixed next year. On one hand, state aid for the region will be up $205 million, or 4.24% on average, maintaining gains from previous years. On the other hand, distribution of state money is uneven from one district to another, and federal pandemic relief money is due to expire by September.

As a result, there are gains and losses among districts, with some announcing staff layoffs while others plan to expand student programs and services. 

Middle Country has announced plans to cut more than 21 teaching positions. Hicksville is cutting more than 30 positions through resignations, retirements or other means.

Among districts proposing expansions, North Babylon has said it would hire 11 new teachers in order to staff a new ninth class period at its high school. Port Jefferson and Valley Stream 13 would expand prekindergarten programs. 

Freeport wants to add new courses in quantum information science and mathematics, and anatomy, physiology and pathology, among others. Jericho would add a course entitled “The Pursuit of Happiness,” which includes literary studies in a book club setting.

Instruction in personal finance is gaining ground in some districts, with encouragement from the state. 

A rendering of the financial lab planned for Commack High School....

A rendering of the financial lab planned for Commack High School. The district is sharpening a focus on financial literacy. Credit: Commack School District

Commack High School, for example, would add an eight-week financial literacy unit in September to an economics course required for all seniors. The lessons would be taught in a classroom converted to resemble a Wall Street trading floor, where students have access to financial data via Bloomberg terminals.

Meanwhile, the Levittown district plans to add entire courses in financial literacy and readiness at its two high schools. Those half-year courses would be required and include lessons in financial planning, savings, investment and charitable giving.

Business teacher Nicole Savage imparts lessons at General Douglas MacArthur...

Business teacher Nicole Savage imparts lessons at General Douglas MacArthur High School in Levittown. Credit: /A.J. Singh

Levittown Superintendent Todd Winch sees the new instruction as providing important practical skills that supplement broader lessons covered by traditional economics courses.

“That’s important for kids to understand,” said Winch, referring to traditional economics. “But it’s not necessarily going to pay your bills or explain why you have to have insurance on your car.”

'Tough decisions' in Sachem district

Elsewhere on the Island, some districts face economic struggles. 

The Sachem district, Long Island’s second largest, seeks to pierce its tax cap limit in a move that would generate more than $6 million in extra revenue but mean heavier property taxes for homeowners.

At an April 23 meeting, a divided Sachem board voted 5-4 to request the 4.87% hike in the district’s taxes for the 2024-25 school year. Sachem normally would be restricted to a tax increase of just 1.92%, under the state’s tax cap law.

The proposed cap override would raise the district’s total property tax collections to a total of $217.9 million.

Local school officials contend the additional taxes are needed to maintain all academic, athletic and co-curricular programs while also keeping cash reserves at a level they consider adequate. At the same time, officials have announced plans to reduce staff, largely through attrition, as student enrollments continue to decline.

“We are making some of those tough decisions now, and we’ll have to for the next several years,” said Christopher Pellettieri, the district's superintendent.

Cost drivers for the coming year include an additional $5.3 million for employee benefits, $3.4 million for contractual professional services and $2 million for employee salaries, according to the district.

Sachem, like other districts, has found itself caught in recent years between inflationary cost increases and public pressures to curb spending. One board member told residents at the April meeting that she was “dumbfounded by the amount of people who called me, and they want to force us to make cuts.” 

One opponent, Gorman, was a prominent advocate of the state’s cap law that lawmakers approved in 2011. The statute sets a baseline limit on tax increases of 2% or the annual inflation rate, whichever is lower, while allowing adjustments in districts based on local financial circumstances.

In a phone interview, Gorman said Sachem’s latest push for a cap override was disappointing, given all the effort that was spent in establishing the cap.

“Sachem brought me back into the fight,” Gorman said. “They’re sticking their nose up at the voters.”

In a message to Newsday, Pellettieri said the district's decision to try for a cap override “was not made lightly.” The schools chief added that “due to several factors, some of which are outside our control, we feel this is the best option that allows Sachem to continue forward with providing our students with the best possible educational experience.” 

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