East Islip Middle School.

East Islip Middle School. Credit: Alexi Knock, 2011

East Islip's school board downsized its proposed budget Tuesday night to include a 2.99 percent tax increase that is well within the state's capped limit, while also preserving full-day kindergarten and other student services that had been threatened with cuts.

Applause filled a cafeteria meeting room at district headquarters, as a standing-room crowd of more than 200 parents and others heard school officials announce that most academic programs would be saved, assuming the revamped $105.8 million spending plan passes in a June 19 revote.

"I am thrilled!" said Bridget Barsch, 41, a Great River mother with three students in the district. "Now I don't have to sell my house."

Officials said restoration of student services was made possible through $325,000 in contract concessions by district employees, extra state financial aid and additional cuts in personnel encouraged through special retirement incentives.

Other services that would be saved under the pending agreement include sports, elective music classes and daily schedules consisting of nine periods at East Islip's high school and middle school, which otherwise could be cut to eight periods.

Among planned cuts, however, are sixth-grade foreign-language classes, third-grade music lessons, some clubs and new equipment purchases.

East Islip will cut a total of 27 staff positions, including 15 slated for elimination in the district's original budget.

"It was a difficult road to get here, but I think we've got things together," board president Glenn Reed said.

Reed and others emphasized that changes in employee contracts would include no extensions or deferrals of pay and other benefits. Reed and other board members had said early on that they did not want to commit East Islip to higher contract costs in the future in exchange for concessions and savings in the 2012-13 school year.

East Islip's original $107.6 million budget, with a 5.94 percent tax hike and 3.58 percent increase in spending, was defeated by 3,072 no votes to 2,545 yes votes on May 15. The district's tax cap set by state formula is 3.23 percent. The revised budget would raise spending 1.86 percent.

Reed went on to say that the lower tax request reflected a realization that a second no vote would result in a tax freeze -- a possibility that, he said, would be "a total disaster."

Some residents have accused the district of "crying wolf" in its warnings about services that could be lost -- an accusation Reed denied. In a budget brochure distributed before the May 15 vote, the district said rejection might result in reductions of full-day kindergartens to half-day and of nine-period class schedules to eight periods.

"It's going to be interesting to see how they backtrack after warning about all these devastating things that could happen," said Andrea Vecchio, a longtime leader of East Islip TaxPac, a local taxpayer group.

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