Nearly $16 billion in school spending is on the line...

Nearly $16 billion in school spending is on the line in Tuesday's school board elections. Credit: Reece T. Williams

Are you going to vote Tuesday?

Long Islanders' annual May trip to the polls — to vote on school budgets and board members — is one of the clearest ways residents can use their voices in their local communities. Directly voting on how your money is spent is important; school funding is the biggest component of property taxes. Also critical: selecting community members as your representatives to make important decisions about your children's education.

All told, 373 candidates in 124 districts are vying for residents' votes this Tuesday. And there's nearly $16 billion in school spending on the line.

In six districts — Port Washington, West Babylon, Sachem, East Hampton, Springs and Amagansett — voters will decide whether to pierce the state tax cap. In Port Washington, the proposed budget would increase taxes by 4.55%, while in West Babylon, it's a 4.99% hike. On the East End, those numbers are even higher. Amagansett's tax levy would rise 7.77%; in Springs, it's 10.8%. 

A tax cap override requires 60% of voters to agree, either now or in a revote next month. Two rejections of the proposal would mean a tax freeze.

Other districts are proposing layoffs or program cuts, at times pointing to the end of COVID-19 relief funds. That's a particularly frustrating argument, since everyone knew that aid would end. Why is a district like Riverhead facing a “fiscal cliff” of nearly $20 million as its pandemic aid, which was about the same amount, wanes? 

The May school votes also are an opportunity for districts to seek voter approval on other big changes, bonding or other needs. That includes large-scale capital improvements, which voters will often see as a bond referendum, and more specific efforts, like Harborfields' attempt to liquidate a capital reserve fund to help pay two Child Victims Act lawsuit settlements or South Huntington's sale of district property to cover the cost of replacing boilers at its high school.

As voters make their own tough fiscal calls, they also must determine who should be making such decisions in the future. While some districts have candidates running unopposed, others have races roiled by fiscal issues or contentious cultural issues — such as the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts — that have become centerpieces of heated campaigns.

While the need to address divisive social issues isn't new, it's unfortunate that ugly rhetoric and partisan politics have seeped into our school boards, to the point where other elected officials, including town supervisors and state Assembly members, police unions and local political leaders, have made endorsements or provided funds. Voters should consider their choices carefully. 

Tuesday represents an opportunity for Long Island residents to determine the best path forward for each school district. That starts with taking time to research the district's budget details, bonding requests, and board candidates.

Then, please vote. Newsday's school voters guide.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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