Sayville holds a public forum Feb. 15 to address the...

Sayville holds a public forum Feb. 15 to address the community's concerns over school taxes. Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

When school administrators in Sayville asked parents last week what programs they would support cutting to balance the budget, the officials were playing a new variation on a familiar tune.

When budgets get tough and opposition to tax increases stiffens, districts know what to do: Identify the programs important to the most vocal parents and students and tell them these will be the first to go if the proposed budget, and the tax hike that goes with it, are rejected.

Advanced placement courses, popular sports, full-day kindergarten, music and band programs and the kinds of extracurricular activities selective colleges love are always listed for the chopping block.

Never mentioned are lower profile courses, administrative staff, travel and training budgets, and raises to reward teachers who take "graduate classes" so simple the colleges that offer them won't accept them toward their own degree programs.

And the districts have an ace in the hole, the fact that when the voters reject a budget, the schools automatically go to an austerity budget. Thanks to the convoluted laws involved, austerity budgets are often higher than the budgets voters reject, while still including senseless, mandated cuts.

School budgeting problems are structural, long term and won't be fixed by districts holding favorite programs hostage. It's a trick that's run its course.

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