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Long Island

Four LI districts seek to go from half-day to full-day kindergarten

(L-R) East Meadow Parents For Full Day Kindergarten

(L-R) East Meadow Parents For Full Day Kindergarten Tara Iliopoulos, Wanda Small, Jodi Luce, and Stacy Van Wagenen, with daughters also from left; Nora Iliopoulos, 1, Eleni Iliopoulos, 5, Lily Van Wagenen, 3, and Sophie Luce, 5, April 23, 2015. The group of parents, sporting yellow t-shirts to promote their solidarity and visibility, is advocating for full-day kindergarten to be passed with the May budget vote in the East Meadow School district. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Four of the six school districts on Long Island that offer half-day kindergarten are trying to convert to full-day programs, with funding for the change in proposed 2015-16 school budgets that go before voters on May 19.

One of those districts -- East Meadow -- will seek to pierce the state-imposed property tax cap, with voters asked to approve a ballot proposition in order to implement a full-day program.

East Meadow school Superintendent Louis R. DeAngelo, in a statement, said the district included a ballot proposition to add full-day kindergarten "based on community input."

Elwood, Mount Sinai and Northport-East Northport are the other Long Island districts including full-day kindergarten in spending plans their district voters will consider next month.

Floral Park-Bellerose and Harborfields are not proposing a switch to full-day programs. However, Floral Park-Bellerose's kindergarten runs for more than four hours each school day, while other half-day programs -- including the one in East Meadow -- run 21/2 hours.

Kindergarten is not mandated by the state Education Department, but most of about 700 districts statewide have full-day programs. Only 18 systems, including the six on the Island, have reduced-day kindergarten. A full-day program, according to the department, is at least five hours per day.

The state also has been pushing a prekindergarten initiative. In September, when the school year started, the state launched its public preschool program at an annual cost of $340 million. Most of the new full-day classes are located in New York City. About 700 children are enrolled at five locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and some districts already have their own pre-K programs.


East Meadow propositions

In East Meadow, voters will consider a $192,852,723 proposed budget for 2015-16, which is listed as Proposition No. 1 on the ballot. It would result in a tax-levy increase of 2.13 percent -- equal to the district's levy limit under the state's property tax cap.

A second proposal -- Proposition No. 2 -- represents the addition of full-day kindergarten at a cost of $2,992,075. If voters approve it, the tax levy would increase to 3.02 percent and exceed the district's cap.

Because approval of the second proposition would push the tax-levy increase over the district's limit, a supermajority of 60 percent or more of those voting is needed for either of the propositions to pass. Even if the full-day kindergarten proposal is defeated, a supermajority still is needed to pass the first proposition, the 2015-16 budget.

The ballot is fashioned in this way, school officials said, "because this allows the individual to cast his/her vote on Proposition #1 alone (the basic budget) or on Proposition #1 in addition to Proposition #2 (adding full-day kindergarten)."

Districts that attempt to pierce their cap and do not draw the necessary 60 percent vote can submit the same budget or a revised budget to a second vote. Under state law, two failed votes normally would result in a tax levy frozen at the current level.

However, because of East Meadow's dual-proposition ballot, if Proposition No. 1 passes by a supermajority, there is a budget. Proposition No. 2 is an additional academic program that is not required for the basic budget, school officials said.

Jodi Luce, 41, a parent of two who has a daughter entering kindergarten in the fall, is part of an activist group advocating for the full-day program. The group petitioned the board, collected more than 1,000 signatures in support of it, and launched a social media campaign.

"The standards are much higher and the expectations are greater, and I think in order for our children to meet those expectations they need a full-day program," Luce said. "But it is not just for the children entering school. It is also for the community. We have statements from a few Realtors that it is impacting the property values."

However, Andy Lindow, 41, an East Meadow resident for 11 years, said he is concerned about both the cost of implementing a full-day program and its impact on future district expenses. He has two children in elementary school and two preschool-age children.

"I am trying to take a longer view of it and trying to look down the road," he said. "I'm nervous. I don't think I can afford to live here in 20 years."

East Meadow school officials could not provide a figure of the dollar amount that full-day kindergarten would add to school taxes on an average single-family home. They did note that residents would be ineligible for state tax-rebate checks if a supermajority approves both propositions. Last year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers approved election-year tax rebates for residents of districts that stay within caps.


Others won't pierce cap

While school officials in the Elwood, Mount Sinai and Northport-East Northport districts also are seeking to move to a full-day program, the cost will not force them to pierce their respective tax-levy limits.

The Harborfields district does not have a full-day program included in the 2015-16 budget, but plans to have a committee look into it.

"In an effort to fully investigate the need for full-day kindergarten moving into the future, we thought it was necessary to involve our community in the process from the very beginning," Superintendent Diana Todaro said in a statement. "This committee, which will be comprised of a variety of community residents, will begin meeting over the summer and present their findings to the board in the early fall."

The Mount Sinai school board unanimously approved a 2015-16 school budget last week that includes a full-day program. The budget falls within the district's 1.86 percent property-tax cap, so only a simple majority vote of 50 percent or more is needed for passage.

"We made it a point that this isn't a budget about full-day kindergarten. It is a K-12 budget," board president Robert Sweeney said. "Our whole approach has been that we are now developing more in our elementary and middle school, and full-day kindergarten happened to be a piece of it."

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