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Wyandanch school board weighing June revote on leaner budget

Wyandanch school board president James Crawford at a

Wyandanch school board president James Crawford at a special board meeting Wednesday night.   Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Wyandanch’s embattled school board is weighing a June revote on a leaner $70.9 million budget — down sharply from the $77.8 million plan rejected last week in the only voter defeat among Long Island’s 124 public systems. 

The revamped spending plan would require more than $5.9 million in cuts in 26 categories. These range from elimination of teaching and social worker positions, to reductions in sports, to outsourcing of security and transportation.

The projected tax hike under the revised spending plan would be 9 percent, district officials said.

That would be far less than the 40.93 percent increase spurned by residents in the May 21 balloting. Fewer than 500 people voted on the budget, which drew 332 "no" votes to 149 "yes" votes and was one of only three spending plans on the Island that sought to pierce its local tax-cap limit. Because of that, it needed approval of a 60 percent supermajority to pass.

School board president James Crawford said at a board meeting Wednesday night that members hope to approve the package Friday. The deadline for the board to approve the budget is June 4.

June 18 is the date set for budget revotes statewide. 

Earlier Wednesday in a phone interview, Mary Jones, the district’s superintendent, said the revised budget, too, would have to pierce the district's cap limit if the district wants to avoid damaging its core academic program. The district's tax cap is 0.95 percent.

Jones, in a follow-up message to Newsday, added that her proposal is a "stopgap" measure, intended to get the 2,760-student district through the 2019-20 school year. Further difficult decisions could lie ahead, she said. 

At the board meeting, Jones acknowledged that the plan, though painful, would maintain academic standards.

“We understand this is a difficult time for the community,” Jones said. “Nevertheless, we have to ensure that our students continue learning."

State auditors already have warned that Wyandanch could close the year millions of dollars in the red if it does not reduce spending. 

"This year we are forced to reduce services, programs and personnel to put forth a realistic budget, but we will face this same problem again during the  2021 school year and beyond if we cannot secure additional revenue to offset our expenses," Jones wrote in an emailed statement Wednesday to Newsday.

After meeting briefly in public, board members went into a closed-door executive session to discuss details of the revamped spending plan, as well as possible actions on individual school personnel. 

Wyandanch's budget, in addition to being the only one voted down on the Island, was one of only 11 rejected statewide, according to preliminary tallies by the New York State School Boards Association. 

The association's figures showed 663 budgets passed in districts statewide, including those in Nassau and Suffolk counties. 

A major factor in Wyandanch's defeat was the projected tax increase of 40.93 percent — by far the largest on the Island. One day after the vote, several angry audience members at a crowded Wyandanch board meeting accused trustees of putting up a budget that they knew would fail.

At the same meeting, Jones confirmed that the district's top business official, Idowu Ogundipe, had resigned and would leave the district  in late June, at the close of the current school year.

Some members of the community remain angry and skeptical.

The revised spending plan drew sharp, and sometimes heated, responses from some in the audience of about 50 residents and district employees.

“If you mess it up, then you have to clean it up,” said Robert Beato, the father of two students in the district, glaring at school administrators seated at tables in front of the audience. “I don’t see salary reductions for anyone here. I have to pay for it. We have to pay for it.” 

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