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Crowd confronts Elmont school officials

At a forum about the upcoming budget revote

At a forum about the upcoming budget revote in the Elmont School District, Stewart Manor resident Joanne Corrao expressed her concerns about the budget that goes beyond the tax-cap limit. Corrao was looking for compromise from the school board and urged the board to consider cuts in school programs that she considers non-essential. The Elmont budget, was rejected the first time around. (May 30, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

A mostly skeptical, standing-room crowd confronted Elmont school officials Wednesday night at a public forum where the district had hoped to defend its decision to schedule a revote on the same $78.5 million budget with a 6.87 percent tax increase that was rejected by voters May 15.

That projected tax increase exceeds the state's new tax cap -- 1.89 percent in Elmont's case. The midsized elementary district on the Nassau-Queens border is the only one on Long Island that has decided to attempt for a second time to win voter approval of a budget exceeding a state cap.

The revote date is June 19 for districts across the state.

Wednesday night's meeting at the stately Stewart Manor Country Club got off to an edgy start when Superintendent Albert Harper said the district faced "mandated" state costs, including increases on pension contributions equaling 2.3 percent of the budget for the coming 2012-13 school year.

"You're asking for a 6.8 percent increase," said Anthony Battista, 58, of Stewart Manor, a physician.

Another resident, Janice Hyland, 41, of Stewart Manor, said she was a math teacher in Queens and supported quality education.

"But something's got to stop," Hyland said to applause. "I closed on my house 10 years ago today. My taxes have doubled."

Earlier in the meeting, Harper said that a second "no" vote on the proposed budget would force cuts, potentially including full-day kindergarten and summer school. In addition, he said, the district would be forced to charge fees to youth groups and other organizations for use of district ballfields and other facilities.

"Little League, Boy Scouts -- all would have to pay," the schools chief declared. "It would be a shame."

Derek Lawrence, 47, of Elmont, the vice president of a local youth sports club and father of an eighth-grader, spoke in support of the budget. "My view is this," said Lawrence. "They're saying this is the cost of maintaining status quo. The fact of the matter is, this is the price we have to pay at this point."

Elmont school officials have scheduled another public forum on June 12 at Dutch Broadway Elementary School.

Some residents also have objected to the Elmont board's decision to approve the revote at a hastily called meeting on May 23 that was not posted on the district website. Newsday had checked with a district representative May 21, and was not told of the board's meeting until a reporter checked back May 24.

"I think it's shameful," said Pat Nicolosi, vice president of the Elmont library board and a frequent critic of the school district's spending habits.

Elmont enrolls about 3,700 students, and is one of the Island's most racially and ethnically diverse. About half of all students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, due to modest family incomes, and there is little commercial property, so the bulk of property taxes falls on homes.

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