Board member Edward Barry speaks to the community members at...

Board member Edward Barry speaks to the community members at the board meeting about the difference between a yes and no vote. Board votes to resubmit the district budget for a revote after trimming it to within the tax cap. (June 4, 2012) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Comsewogue's school board voted Monday night to lower its budget request to $78,255,576 -- a plan that cuts more than $858,000, keeps within the state's new tax cap and redistributes students among the district's four elementary schools.

The revamped budget would raise spending by $1.69 million, or 2.2 percent, while boosting tax collections by $1.28 million, or 2.72 percent. Comsewogue's original proposal would have lifted spending by 3.3 percent and taxes by 4.5 percent -- higher than the district's capped limit of 2.75 percent.

In May 15 voting, the initial budget did not gain approval of the 60 percent majority required for any budget proposal that exceeds a district's tax-cap limit. Comsewogue's new plan needs a simple majority to pass when voters go to the polls June 19.

Comsewogue officials estimated they would save more than $1 million through initial shifts of about 750 students to elementary schools they would not have attended otherwise. Officials added that the move would make class sizes more uniform and also slightly smaller on average, while preserving after-school activities.

The reconfiguration -- sometimes known as the "Princeton Plan" -- would cluster students by grade level in elementary schools that now all contain grades K-5. Under the change, the Clinton Avenue and Norwood Avenue schools would house grades K-2, while the Boyle Road and Terryville Road schools would take grades 3-5.

At a district workshop last week, staffers and parents expressed mixed feelings about the redistribution.

"I think educationally it's a sound program," said Janellen Smith, a part-time special-education aide at Clinton Avenue Elementary School and mother of two district graduates.

Lisa Spinazzola, a resident of Port Jefferson Station for 18 years with one child in the district, said she would support the new budget. "I'm sorry the other one didn't pass," she said. "But I understand why."

Superintendent Joseph Rella believes the community will support the amended budget, saying the earlier version was only narrowly defeated. "It wasn't that people didn't want it," he said. "They couldn't afford it."

John Millett, 52, also of Port Jefferson Station, has two children in the district. He said he plans to vote down the proposed budget. "I think there is too much fat in this place and it could be cut," he said. "It's too top-heavy."

Some working parents contended the reorganization could disrupt their schedules, especially if bus pickup times are changed. School officials said they are amending bus schedules to meet these concerns, and already provide morning day care for children of parents with conflicting schedules.

Comsewogue's original budget would have eliminated the equivalent of about 19 full-time staff positions, including 17 teachers. The revamped plan would cut about 23 full-time positions, including 21 teachers, and 10 part-time aides.

With Mary Kate Mahoney

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