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Tough budget choices in C. Islip schools

Students from Ralph G. Reed Middle School in

Students from Ralph G. Reed Middle School in Central Islip protest in front of the Anthony Alfano School. (April 1, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz

The Central Islip School District, like others on Long Island, has tough budget choices to make.

So tough that at a public hearing on the budget Monday, Superintendent Craig Carr presented three budget scenarios to the public -- all of which he said are undesirable. Carr said he presented the comparisons -- scenarios showing if taxes were raised by 13 percent, 5 percent or not all -- to help the public understand the difficult decisions ahead.

"We have to find a balance . . . between what we want and what we can afford," he said.

His message was delivered to the more than 650 people who packed Central Islip High School's auditorium Monday.

It was the last chance for residents to publicly address the board before it drafts next year's budget.

Central Islip, which has a $171-million budget and 6,300 students, was expected to lose $5 million in state aid.

With a 13 percent tax hike, 50 teachers would be laid off while all sports programs and extracurricular activities would remain, Carr said.

Doubtful that residents would pass such a steep tax increase, Carr said that scenario is unlikely to be put to a vote.

A 5 percent tax increase would require 110 teachers be laid off, and flat taxes would require 170 teachers to go, he said.

While Carr said none of the scenarios are palatable, he would not reveal what he planned to recommend to the board.

During Monday's hearing, dozens spoke, sometimes emotionally, about their concerns.

"These kids shouldn't be held back because of a budget," said Keshia Benjamin, 33, whose daughter is a student. "If you cut the music department, sports and other extracurricular activities, you're going to push them into the streets."

"None of the options given were good," said Tamiko Nelson, who has three children in the district. "I want to see less teacher cuts."

Joe Saenzdeviteri, a former Central Islip teacher who is considering placing his daughter in a district school, said, "She will not attend a school district with 40 to 50 kids in a class. You're not instructing at that point; you're doing classroom management."

Others asked the board to work with unions on options such as pay freezes rather than layoffs.

Carr said afterward he and the board will take into account the public's feedback.

The board will adopt a budget April 11. A public hearing is scheduled for May 5, and a budget vote is scheduled for May 17.

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