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School vote is your chance to be heard

People stand in line to sign-in to vote

People stand in line to sign-in to vote regarding the school budget at Greenport High School. (May 15, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

You have one chance each year to vote directly on the taxes you pay, and this year it arrives tomorrow, when residents across New York go to the polls for school district elections. And once again, the state's property tax cap is having an impact on Long Island.

The number of districts trying to bust the cap continues to plummet, from 17 in 2012 to two this year. And that's only because East Meadow and Patchogue-Medford have very specific additions that, if approved, would put each district's tax hike over cap limits. In East Meadow, it's a proposal to finally join nearly every other Long Island district in offering full-day kindergarten. In Patchogue-Medford, a proposition asks the district to expand the mileage limit for busing students to private and parochial high schools. In each district, both the budget and the extra proposal must receive 60 percent of the vote to pass -- a percentage that each year gets increasingly difficult to reach.

The tax cap isn't the only force helping to keep the rise in proposed spending on Long Island to a record-low 1.69 percent. Districts got a nice boost in state aid this year, saw their pension payments reduced considerably, and largely continue to see declines in enrollment.

If having a say on school funding isn't reason enough to hit the polls, here's more motivation: Hundreds of school board seats are up for grabs. These are the people who propose budgets and taxes, and set school policy. They also will play a role in an issue that has roiled much of the state for the past two years: the creation of a new teacher evaluation system. Depending on your view, you might welcome or be alarmed by the increasing number of teachers, active or retired, who are running for board seats in their home districts.

So do your homework. Then participate in the process. Vote.