Sachem, one of two districts on Long Island holding a...

Sachem, one of two districts on Long Island holding a revote Tuesday, would cut 21 jobs throughout the system, on top of 70 reductions announced last month. Credit: Newsday / A.J. Singh

The Sachem and West Babylon school districts, which failed to override tax-cap limits in last month’s budget voting, are holding revotes Tuesday on revised plans for the 2024-25 academic year that slice tax increases by more than half.

Polls will open in both districts at 6 a.m. and will close at 9 p.m.

West Babylon’s reduced $136.3 million budget carries a 2.013% tax hike, down from 4.99%. Sachem’s reduced $374.3 million budget calls for a 1.92% tax increase, down from 4.87%. Both districts, in order to curb property taxation, cut positions of teachers and other staff and dipped into cash reserves.

Despite the reductions, both districts said they are maintaining strong programs. Sachem described a commitment to core curriculum and support services for students. West Babylon specified that it will continue to offer full-day kindergarten, athletics and technology as part of its operations.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Sachem and West Babylon school districts will hold revotes Tuesday on revised budget plans after voters did not override tax-cap limits last month.
  • Among the cuts, West Babylon has abolished the equivalent of 16 full-time teacher jobs, while also canceling field trips along with some music and art sessions. Sachem’s revised budget would eliminate 21 jobs throughout the system.

  • The latest proposals from Sachem and West Babylon are within state cap restrictions and require only simple majorities of voters in order to pass.

West Babylon estimated its new plan would cost taxpayers an extra $14.95 to $19.93 per month, depending on assessed value of their property. Sachem estimated an extra $10.35 to $11.33 per month, depending on the town where property is located. 

The latest proposals from Sachem and West Babylon are within state cap restrictions and require only simple majorities of voters in order to pass. The two districts managed to muster small majorities in the first round of voting, but not the 60% required for overrides under New York’s tax-cap law.

Eighteen school systems statewide, including the two on Long Island, are holding revotes on the same day, according to the New York State School Boards Association. In last month’s initial round of voting, budgets holding to cap limits passed at a rate of 98.6% statewide, the association reported.

At a Sachem public hearing last week, one longtime resident, Fred Gorman, complimented the district on its decision to lower the tax request.

“I wish you all the luck in the world with your budget,” said Gorman, a retiree and former taxpayer activist who resumed his fight against rising rates this year when Sachem attempted its override. “I have a really good feeling it will pass, because it’s below the cap.”

Cutting programs, positions, field trips

Keeping taxes under the cap has not been easy for either of the Island’s districts involved in the second round of voting. West Babylon, for example, is drawing down cash reserves and fund balances by $4.6 million. Local officials acknowledged that the move, while deemed necessary to avoid further cuts, could result eventually in a lower credit rating and higher costs of borrowing.

In addition, the district has abolished three administrative positions and the equivalent of 16 full-time teacher jobs, while also canceling field trips along with some music and art sessions. A ninth-grade student health program has been eliminated, along with much of the district’s tutoring in reading and math for elementary students who need extra help.

At a hearing in West Babylon, one parent scolded board trustees for cutting back on remedial services known as AIS, or Academic Intervention Services.

“Why didn’t anyone speak up for children who are struggling?” asked the mother, Dawn Conboy. “Shame on you. It’s time to do better.”

Sachem’s revised budget would cut 21 jobs throughout the system, on top of 70 reductions announced last month. Many of the earlier cuts were through retirement. Employees affected by the latest cutbacks would include eight teachers, five social workers, two librarians and two roving security guards.

As a result of staffing reductions, the size of each elementary class would increase by about one student. Sixth-grade foreign language instruction would be eliminated.

Sachem’s latest plan also calls for drawing down cash reserves by $3.1 million. This would be in addition to a $9.2 million drawdown contained in the original budget proposal.

Sachem is the Island’s second-largest district, with an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students in central Suffolk County. West Babylon enrolls about 3,600 students in southwest Suffolk.

Under the cap law, any district that votes “no” twice must adopt a contingency budget with a tax freeze for the next school year. Freezes, while rare, can result in cutbacks that take many years to restore, local officials said.

Sachem estimates that a contingency budget would require $9.2 million in additional reductions, affecting students programs, capital projects and equipment purchases. West Babylon calculates it would face a $1.6 million gap.

At West Babylon’s hearing last week, Denise Gillis, the assistant superintendent for finance and operations, ran through a list of district offerings that could be lost under contingency.

“We would need to reduce the budget, and that would eliminate the athletic program,” Gillis said. “It would eliminate all student clubs and all co-curricular programs. It would eliminate robotics and science research. … It would modify and reduce our kindergarten program to half-day. It would modify and reduce our secondary electives and AP offerings.”

In Sachem, meanwhile, board President Robert Scavo offered some final remarks on budget adoption.

“You know, let’s get that passed so our students can continue enjoying the things that Sachem has to offer,” he said. 

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