The Lindenhurst school board, amid calls for compassion for superstorm Sandy-battered residents, has finalized a budget with its lowest tax-levy increase in more than a decade.
The $145.7 million budget voted on Wednesday night by board members sets the tax levy increase at 1.99 percent. The budget workshop Wednesday began with the increase at 3.15 percent, under the district's state tax cap of 3.55 percent. This included cutting three elementary school positions, 3.7 middle school positions and 2.2 high school positions due to declining enrollment and program shifts. Clerical and custodial positions were also eliminated.
In addition, the district cut 66 aides and added five positions as part of a revamping of the elementary special education program.
After further spending reductions, including not replacing a retiring high school dean, the levy increase was brought down to 2.7 percent. More than a half-dozen additional proposals that targeted programming -- such as music and theater programs -- were defeated. The board then turned to the reserve fund.
The district had already budgeted taking nearly $500,000 from the reserves. Several board members argued that an additional $600,000 should be removed to keep the tax-levy increase under 2 percent.
"If ever there was a time to look at the rainy-day fund and give back to the taxpayers of Lindenhurst . . . this would be that year," board member Ed Langone said.
District Superintendent Richard Nathan noted that the decrease from 2.7 percent to 1.99 percent would reduce the average increase in school taxes for homeowners to $221 from $243. "I know 1.9 sounds a lot better but moneywise, it's not all that better," he said.
Only vice president Edward Murphy Jr. voted no on using the reserve money, saying he understood the burden on Sandy victims but was "very, very concerned" about the declining reserve fund, which is down to about $4.5 million from $7.8 million three years ago. "I think it's important to balance all the needs of the community," he said. "I just see this as a step closer to eliminating music and [all-day] kindergarten."
The last time the board approved a tax-levy increase below 2 percent was in 1998, when it kept the levy even.
The board is scheduled to adopt a final budget Thursday at 7 p.m. at the McKenna Administration Building.