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Uniondale school officials seek public input on 2018-19 budget

Uniondale Superintendent William Lloyd, left, school board President

Uniondale Superintendent William Lloyd, left, school board President Emerson Mott and Vice President James Sharpe are seen at a board meeting on May 22. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Uniondale school officials have scheduled a public budget meeting Tuesday night — the second in seven days — in an effort to hammer out agreement on what to do next after voters’ rejection of a $197.3 million spending plan for the 2018-19 academic year.

The meeting, scheduled at 7 p.m. in the Little Theater at Uniondale High School, takes place against a backdrop of demographic and economic changes that some local authorities said are affecting voting patterns in the 7,300-student district, the third-largest in Nassau County.

“This is kind of a new experience for all of us,” said Emerson Mott, the school board president and a trustee of 13 years’ experience.

Over the past six months, Uniondale, which had not suffered a budget defeat in more than a decade, got hit with two setbacks in rapid succession.

In December, a proposed $199.9 million bond issue intended to provide new classrooms and relieve overcrowding, went down by a vote of 1,041 opposed and 830 in favor. In March, a scaled-down version for $158 million passed narrowly, with 1,144 in favor and 1,079 opposed.

Then on May 15, the district’s budget request for the 2018-19 school year failed, 1,009 votes to 847. Rejection came despite the fact Uniondale’s spending plan kept its tax increase well below the district’s state-mandated cap limit — an approach that, for most school systems, virtually guarantees success.

William Lloyd, the district superintendent, told Newsday recently that various budget approaches might be rolled out and debated before a final decision is reached. At a public meeting on May 22, Lloyd also said painful cuts in student programs — possibly including the high school’s popular Show Choir — could be required in the event of a second budget defeat.

So far, Lloyd and his staff have presented two possible options for a budget revote on June 19.

One choice would be the original $197.3 million budget with its 0.99 percent tax hike. Another option would be the same budget, but with an infusion of district reserve funds on the revenue side that would allow a 0.08 percent tax decrease.

Both options would retain the budget’s spending increase of 5.41 percent — one of the highest proposed on Long Island this year.

That was troubling to some school supporters, who fear that potential voters now on the fence may consider such a hike excessive.

“Yes, I’m worried that it’s going to be voted down again, so one thing I would request of the district is to look at where they can take out money so we can get ‘yes’ votes,” said Addie Blanco-Harvey, who serves as first vice president of the Uniondale district’s PTA board.

Blanco-Harvey, 44, who came to the United States as a 7-year-old from El Salvador, is among the increasing number of Uniondale residents who are Latino.

Students of Latino ethnicity now make up 57 percent of the district’s enrollment. That’s up from 39 percent a decade ago, according to state data.

Blanco-Harvey manages public relations for a large practice of endodontics, a form of dentistry. She cited the Uniondale district for helping her and her children succeed academically, especially through Advanced Placement courses that provide a head start in college-level studies.

“I think it’s very important to keep these in place,” Blanco-Harvey said in explaining why she supports budget passage.

In recent years, Uniondale also has witnessed an influx of a different sort — retirees attracted by newly built complexes for adults.

One such community, established in 2006, is Meadowbrook Pointe, with 720 town houses, condominiums, suites and villas. The community is open to adults ages 48 and up, provided they do not have school-age children.

One Meadowbrook Pointe resident, Bob Zarro, 81, told Newsday that he and many neighbors are leery of rising school taxes.

“We’re on fixed incomes, and those don’t go up,” said Zarro, a retired UPS delivery driver. “We’re getting killed over here. We’ve got a couple people moving out since the bond issue.”

Uniondale school officials have tried reaching out to such voters. In February, Lloyd and his assistant superintendent for business affairs, Jamal Scott, spent an hour and a half with Meadowbrook Pointe residents, seeking their backing for the modified bond issue that ultimately squeaked through.

Lloyd, among his other points, said the district needs more financial assistance for its growing enrollment of immigrant students classified as English Language Learners.

“We have a very high ELL population, and we welcome everyone,” the superintendent said.

Alan Singer, an education professor at Hofstra University, observed that the area’s demographic change can pit residents who do not have school-age children against those who do.

While that phenomenon occurs elsewhere on Long Island as well, one difference in Uniondale is “a large number of parents who can’t vote” among the immigrant population, he said.

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