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Voters: It's time to get tough on budgets

Oyster Bay High School. (May 18, 2011)

Oyster Bay High School. (May 18, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Karen Wiles Stabile

Voters in Oyster Bay and Locust Valley said they rejected budgets that would have brought 5-percent-plus increases in tax levies and turned out incumbents whom they considered spendthrifts.

Residents said it's time for school officials to face the same financial reality as the rest of the world.

Anna Hunderfund, superintendent at Locust Valley, said the district's first order of business is to revisit the defeated spending plan.

"There is probably no single answer that can be pointed to as the root cause of our budget failing by a relatively small margin," she said in a statement. "But since the budget is a financial plan, we have to assume that financial issues were a significant driver of the outcome."

Lisa McLoughlin, 54, a Bayville resident for 34 years, said she voted against the Locust Valley budget because spending "has been out of control." She said schools try to use "fear mongering" to pressure residents to approve budgets, saying it's for the good of the children.

McLoughlin has lobbied against the International Baccalaureate program at the district because students can take college-level Advanced Placement courses instead. She voted for school board candidates who said they'd consider cutting the program.

Phyllis Harrington, superintendent of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District, said she did not interpret her budget defeat as a message from voters.

She said administrators were disappointed because the district had tried to be frugal while keeping items in the budget that parents supported.

Oyster Bay has 172 teachers and support staff and 1,700 students. The district proposed laying off 3.5 teaching positions at the elementary school level, raising class sizes from a low of 20 to a high of 28, Harrington said. The district did not contemplate teacher layoffs at the high school because classes already have 28 to 30 students, she said.

Grace Searby, an Oyster Bay resident for more than 40 years, served on the school board in the '70s. She voted down the budget and endorsed the two school board challengers, calling the incumbents "big spenders."

Searby said the district could cut costs by renegotiating the teachers' contract, freezing step increases, cutting professional development and trimming sports.

"A message was sent to the school board that they did not do their job and did not represent the entire community," Searby said. "Expensive doesn't equal excellent. We could do more with less."

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