The Patchogue-Medford school district is the only system on Long Island scheduling a budget revote on June 16 -- a situation it may face for years to come because of an ongoing fight over student busing.
Stephen McGiff, a Patchogue attorney heading a campaign to extend busing for students who attend parochial and private schools, said Friday that reaching that goal probably would require a lengthy struggle. The group is prepared to petition annually for ballot propositions on the issue, he said.
McGiff and other parent petitioners placed a $423,000 proposition on Patchogue-Medford's May 19 ballot to cover costs of extended busing. It was voted down, with 524 yes votes to 2,668 no votes -- the proposal's second rejection in as many years.
"Unfortunately, I'll be dealing with this for many more years," McGiff said in a phone interview, explaining that his youngest child is only 4 years old.
The proposition would have extended the distance that the district would pay for busing of students to private schools from 15 miles outside the district to 25 miles. Supporters contend the plan could save the district money in the long run by encouraging students to remain in private schools, where most of their costs are paid by parents.
A revote on Patchogue-Medford's $173 million regular budget now is virtually required under the state's strict tax-cap law. The only other option would have been for the district to accept a tax freeze.
Regional education analysts pointed to Patchogue-Medford's experience as a troubling example of how districts can be adversely affected by spending propositions placed on ballots by relatively small numbers of residents.
Patchogue-Medford, for example, requires only 130 signatures on a petition.
The district's proposed budget, unlike the busing proposition, won support from many local voters. However, the 1,845-1,411 vote fell short of the 60 percent majority mandated by the cap law.
A supermajority was required because the proposition would have pushed Patchogue-Medford's tax-levy increase to 3.28 percent, beyond its allowable cap.
For the revote, the district's budget, without the proposition, would raise taxes 2.86 percent, which is within the cap and needs only a simple majority.
"We're hopeful," said Donna Jones, the district's assistant superintendent for business. "I'm pretty confident we have a strong budget."
Jones recently met with supporters of busing expansion and suggested they consult as early as September regarding any plans to put a similar proposition on the May 2016 ballot. This, she said, would allow the district to better plan its budget, whatever the ultimate decision on busing.
Regional school analysts said Patchogue-Medford's troubles illustrate a flaw in the cap law, which is a major initiative of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
"What this means is that a budget carefully crafted by an elected board of education can be derailed by the need for a supermajority," said Lorraine Deller, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association.
The association has called for a change in law that would allow a simple majority of local voters to pass any budget that stays within its cap -- regardless of any proposition's effect on the tax levy.
Skeptics have responded that this could encourage districts to try to circumvent caps by putting up separate propositions.
"One of the reasons the cap has been so successful at controlling property tax growth is that exclusions are limited," said Morris Peters, a spokesman for the governor's budget office.
Islandwide, school tax increases for 2015-16 will be held to a near-record low, averaging less than 1.8 percent in budgets approved earlier this month.
The governor has called for permanent extension of the tax cap; negotiations on that and other school issues are underway in Albany.