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Primer for LI school district elections

A sign at Garden City High School advertises

A sign at Garden City High School advertises a school budget vote. Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

Long Islanders have a chance to vote on school budgets and board candidates Tuesday amid the greatest financial challenges for districts in two decades.

Island-wide, districts are proposing a combined total of $10.8 billion in spending for the 2011-12 school year -- up 2.17 percent from this year. Tax levies, the total revenues raised by local property taxes, would rise 3.96 percent.

Why the difference between spending and taxes? Mostly, that is due to record cuts in state aid to schools, totaling $206 million. The reduction includes $89 million in federal jobs money that is not being renewed next year.

Albany lawmakers -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- contend the cuts were essential to balance the state's budget. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who pushed for the reductions, has added that most districts could compensate for lost aid by dipping into cash reserves.

The state's teachers union, New York State United Teachers, has responded that Albany should have extended an income-tax surcharge on upper-income residents instead of cutting aid.

On the Island, school taxes account for more than 60 percent of property taxes. Those bills rank among the nation's highest.

With so much at stake, many civic activists decry the fact that less than 20 percent of eligible voters typically turn out for school elections. But taxpayer representatives note that school elections provide voters with only limited influence over boards and budgets.

The School Voters Guide on provide information for all 124 of Long Island's districts. To look up information in your area, click on the name of the town first, followed by the name of the school district.

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