School districts published their budgets this week, and the results were mostly predictable: To make up for shrunken aid from Albany, schools will ask for more in property taxes.

Will Long Island ante up at the ballot box on May 18? On average, Island schools want just 3.41 percent more next year, but we're in a time of near-zero inflation. A few Island schools propose 8 and 9 percent hikes. Faced with the same math last week, New Jersey voters trounced 315 local school budgets out of 537 - a historic rebuke.

Gov. David A. Paterson encouraged New York schools to use reserve funds to minimize the property tax bite. What happened to that money? And what about school officials' promise to squeeze savings from shared services and back-office consolidations? Even if they followed through, that sort of paring is meager when 70 percent of each budget goes to salaries and benefits.

Only one Island school district, Brentwood, has fully acknowledged that fact. The district announced Monday - notably, after the New Jersey votes - that teachers would give up their raises and step increases next year, and accept a one-time, $900 pay cut. The plan will save 200 jobs while preserving music classes and sports.

The Brentwood message is one of caring enough about the quality of the education offered next year to make a responsible sacrifice. Here is a ray of light in an otherwise overcast school-budget sky. hN

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