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School board to lower budget request

Ward Melville High School at 380 Old Town

Ward Melville High School at 380 Old Town Rd., East Setauket. (May 7, 2011) Credit: Jasmin Frankel

The Three Village school board Tuesday night indicated that it would lower its budget request to about $176.7 million -- about $1.9 million less than a spending plan that failed to win 60 percent voter approval last week.

The revised budget for the 2012-13 school year would increase the district's property-tax collections by 2.99 percent, within the district's 2.99 tax-levy limit prescribed by a new state law.

The revamped plan will be submitted to district voters June 19 -- the date set for revotes throughout the state.

The revised plan would raise spending about 1.2 percent over this year's figure. The original plan would have boosted spending 2.29 percent and taxes 4.48 percent.

The revamped budget comes at a cost in terms of staffing and student services. Before Tuesday night's meeting, district officials had warned that a $1.9 million reduction from the original budget could require cutting full-day kindergarten to half-day, and trimming daily schedules at Ward Melville High School from nine periods to eight.

In addition, officials estimated they might have to cut as many as 125 staff positions, including dozens of teachers, rather than the 85 staffers that would have been lost under a larger budget. However, school officials said Tuesday night that specific cuts would not be announced until a follow-up meeting next Tuesday.

Some suggested that extra reserve money might be used to ease the cuts.

More than 500 teachers, parents and others showed up for the latest board meeting -- most to demonstrate their support for preserving favorite programs. "Cutting kindergarten to one-half day or eliminating it would have a serious negative impact on our children who are ready to embark on their educational careers," said Lisa Stickelman, 39, whose 5-year-old son is scheduled to enter that level next fall.

The board's president, John Diviney, said that further losses in student services could be expected in the years ahead, unless the state compensates for its new tax limits by granting districts relief from costly requirements in special education and other areas, often referred to as "mandates."

"Unless there is real mandate relief within a short period of time, this cap is going to cause real devastation," Diviney said.

Some local taxpayers contend it is they who need relief, in the form of further curbs on district spending.

"We're getting taxed out of our homes here," said John Blaikie, a retired aerospace engineer and project manager who lives in the Strathmore Village development.

In the May 15 vote, Three Village's original budget of $178.6 million received 3,981 "yes" votes and 3,035 "no" votes. That was a 56.7 percent majority -- short of the 60 percent needed to override the cap.

Three Village is one of seven districts on Long Island that failed in attempts to override its tax-cap limits in the May 15 budget vote. The other six are Center Moriches, Comsewogue, East Islip, Elmont, Floral Park-Bellerose and Mount Sinai.

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