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Elmont puts cap-busting budget up for revote

A sign reminds people to vote outside the

A sign reminds people to vote outside the Covert Avenue School in Elmont. (May 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Elmont school leaders say their district faces unique problems, and they're about to try a unique solution.

This K-6 district on the Nassau-Queens border has announced plans for a budget revote on June 19 that would make it Long Island's first to attempt a second-ballot override of new state tax-cap limits.

Elmont's first try on its spending plan, on May 15, did get a 56.8 percent majority -- but that was short of the 60 percent needed to exceed its cap.

The risks are considerable. Another rejection of the district's $78.5 million budget would freeze taxes for the coming school year and force $3.4 million in cuts. Some residents already are angry over what they call the district's undue secrecy in setting a revote.

"Our children need every service they can get," said Superintendent Albert Harper in explaining the revote decision. Harper, a former high-school principal, won national recognition in 2005 for encouraging high academic achievement by minority students.

Elmont's district enrolls about 3,700 students, and is one of the Island's most racially and ethnically diverse. There is little commercial property, so taxes fall mostly on homes.

Elmont's proposed budget seeks to boost spending 2.76 percent and taxes 6.87 percent -- above the 1.89 percent cap for the district.

The revote decision was reached by five board trustees at their May 23 meeting, with board president Michael Jaime and another member absent, and with no public participation. Some residents cried foul.

"They were hoping that people would be away, and that they'd sneak this past," said Pat Nicolosi, a frequent critic and vice president of the local library board.

State law requires that board meetings be "posted conspicuously" in advance, and that the news media be notified "to the extent practicable."

Newsday checked with a district representatives May 21 but was not told of the May 23 meeting until a reporter checked again May 24. The representative, Kathy Beatty, an executive with Syntax, a respected firm that handles public relations for dozens of districts, said she did not learn of the meeting until then. The meeting was not posted in advance on the district's website.

Harper said the meeting was arranged hastily due to board members' conflicting schedules, and that time was insufficient to publish the usual notice in a local newspaper. Harper added, however, that notice was posted more than 24 hours in advance on bulletin boards in eight district buildings. The district believes "it did comply with the intent of the public meeting notice law," he said.

Elmont has scheduled two community meetings to discuss its budget, starting with a 7 p.m. forum Wednesday at Stewart Manor Elementary School. The second meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. June 12 at Dutch Broadway Elementary School. Some residents say that forum might help win over voters angered by a branch library closing in the area -- a closing not related directly to the school budget.

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