One hundred and fifteen Long Island school districts won voter support for budgets Tuesday, often by lopsided majorities, with a budget defeated in a season marked by strong spending proposals and weak tax increases.
West Hempstead’s proposed $71.39 million plan was defeated, with 734 “yes” votes to 1,103 “no”. The proposal would have increased spending by 3.61% and taxes by 2.14%. About eight districts were unreported as of 12:10 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Spending proposals totaling $14.3 billion islandwide appeared on Tuesday’s ballots, along with the names of 441 board candidates and 96 special proposals.
Budgets are increasing an average of 4.17% for the 2022-23 school year, the biggest increase in more than a decade. But the proposed tax increases average just 1.54%, as record state and federal funding allocations support much of the added tabs for districts.
A striking feature of this year’s budget campaign was that five of the neediest districts – Brentwood, Copiague, Hempstead, Roosevelt and Wyandanch – were able to come up with dramatic spending increases of 10% or more while maintaining tax increases. at 1% or less. These systems also required major program and service upgrades.
Copiague’s $162.43 million budget was cut from 639 to 238.
School taxation is a major economic factor on the Island, typically accounting for over 60% of property owners’ tax bills.
Education officials said they were feeling cautiously optimistic after reviewing early returns.
“Clearly the trend is positive when it comes to budgets,” said Lorraine Deller, executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association. “Still awaiting final results, we are very pleased with the show of support for Long Island Public Schools.”
Supporters of the school cited the fact that all but two Long Island districts keep taxation within the limits set by the state’s strict “ceiling” limitations. The two that aren’t are tiny New Suffolk and Wainscott in the East End. Approval of cap overruns requires voter majorities of at least 60% under the state’s tax cap law.
“I continue to thank the community for their unwavering support of our unique school,” said David Eagan, longtime Wainscott Board Chair.
Normally, moderate taxation would result in unbalanced voter support. This year looked different, however, as political and social issues such as mask mandates and gender identity surfaced in some school board races.
“This vote might be the strangest of them all,” said Michael Dawidziak, a Bayport-based pollster and political consultant, ahead of the vote. “National politics has kind of filtered down to the school level.”
Students vote for the first time
Shortly before noon, a group of Malverne High School students, some already in summer shorts, walked across the street to a polling station to contest their first adult election.
“I thought we should have a say – it’s part of our first step to being participating members of the community,” said one of the group, Elizabeth Cardenas, 18, an elderly person.
A classmate, Jared Lugo, also 18, agreed.
“Voting on the school budget is a good way to provide future students with better educational opportunities,” Lugo said.
He added that the electronic ballot tabulation system was simpler than he thought.
Malverne’s $64.4 million budget, which increased spending by 3.96% and taxes by 1.99%, was increased from 394 to 145. The tax hike was within the cap of 2 .23% taxed by the state.
Malverne, like most districts on Long Island, is requesting a number of program extensions in 2022-23. These include new Spanish classes for grades 3-5, after-school and summer classes, and major building upgrades.
“They keep it in the [cap] framework – it’s very important to the taxpayers here,” said another voter, Charles Nanton, 91, a retired New York City police officer who chairs a local youth sports group.
Various factors motivate voters
Some of those interviewed at Lake Ronkonkoma’s Hiawatha Elementary School on Tuesday morning said traditional questions about program funding were the motivating factor in how they voted.
“I think it should be more about students and education than someone’s agenda,” said Tricia Huffman, a member of the Hiawatha PTA who has three children in the district.
Christine Dunne of Lake Ronkonkoma said she paid no attention to candidates who had political support. As the parent of a child on the autism spectrum and one with ADHD, she is more interested in funding special education.
“I always vote yes [to the budget] because you are hurting your children if you say no,” she said.
Others came to vote for candidates who matched their political interests.
Maria Graziano said she was motivated to vote in her first school district election by issues related to how gender and race are taught in school. She said she got more involved because she was against mask and vaccine mandates for schoolchildren.
“Hopefully by getting involved, we can have some control over what happens with our children and what they learn,” Graziano said.
Suggestions for extending the school day
Aside from politics, a growing question in academic circles is how the extra money from Washington, D.C., and Albany can best be spent to boost student enthusiasm and achievement. Four of Suffolk’s largest districts – Brentwood, Patchogue-Medford, Riverhead and Sachem – have responded by proposing that school timetables be cut from eight daily lesson periods to nine.
Nine-period school timetables can help improve education in a variety of ways, proponents said. In some cases, these schedules increase the overall teaching time.
In other cases, teaching time stays roughly the same, but schools gain flexibility in what they can offer students. For example, ninth periods may offer students a wider selection of popular electives or college-level advanced courses. Extra periods can also provide more catch-up time for students who are struggling with English and math lessons.
The proposed extensions in the four districts would begin in September, assuming voters approve the budgets. Sachem’s plan won, 3,148 to 1,590. Riverhead’s budget passed, 1,658 to 993.
With Chinese Vera