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Long IslandEducation

Uniondale school district approves plan for budget revote

Jamal Scott, center, Uniondale assistant superintendent for business

Jamal Scott, center, Uniondale assistant superintendent for business affairs, addresses questions during a public meeting Tuesday night to discuss how to revise its 2018-19 budget for a June 19 revote. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Spending in the Uniondale school district would rise a bit less than originally proposed during the 2018-19 academic year, and taxes would drop further under a $196 million budget option approved in a unanimous 5-0 vote Tuesday night by the Uniondale School Board.

A capacity audience filled the district’s high school theater for a spirited debate on the proposal.

The revised spending plan, which will be submitted to residents in a June 19 revote, would raise spending by 4.7 percent. That’s $1.28 million less than the initial 5.41 percent boost voted down by residents on May 15 amid heavy criticism.

The new plan includes a salary freeze for the district’s top administrators. Teachers would receive an annual “step” increase built into the district’s salary schedule, but no further contractual raise.

The new option also calls for a decrease of 1.048 percent in the tax levy — that is, total revenue collections from property taxes. Other options rolled out a week ago would have either lowered taxes 0.08 percent or raised them 0.99 percent.

“We don’t want to take money away from teachers,” said Superintendent William Lloyd, who responded to a questioner that he favored the new option. “But we have to make hard choices.”

Budget options laid out at Tuesday’s meeting — most of which called for lower spending hikes and taxes than the plan rejected on May 15 — drew a spirited response from many of the dozens of residents and others who filled Uniondale High School’s Little Theater.

Martha-Ann Brady, who has lived in the district for 70 years, said that, above all, she wanted to avoid another budget defeat and the imposition of a “contingency” budget that could force cancellation of after-school programs for students.

“You pay it now or you can pay it later,” said Brady, who works part-time as an elections staffer in the district. “If you don’t have those after-school programs — Show Choir, basketball, football — then, maybe, they’ll have a chance to do a little mayhem.”

Gary Bowen, 38, an accountant, said many homeowners including himself worried, on the other hand, about what might happen to property taxes when Nassau County completes an upcoming reassessment.

“None of us know what our assessments are going to be,” Bowen said.

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 to 847. Rejection came even though 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.

The board’s previous tax hike proposals troubled some school supporters, who feared that potential voters now on the fence may consider such an increase 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.

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.”

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