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OB-EN Budget Fails and A New Board Takes Over

The Oyster Bay-East Norwich election vote took place on Tuesday, May 17. It was rainy most of the day and that usually means a low turnout – and with fewer seniors venturing out – it is believed to have a positive effect on passing budgets. 

Before the vote was tallied, Oyster Bay-East Norwich Board of Education member Ann Marie Longo said, “It’s a tough one to call this year. The controversy over Mr. Tweed clouded the issues of the budget. I hope I’m wrong.” She turned out to be prescient, the budget tanked.

The no-voters were evident in town last weekend with a big red “Vote No” sign on the Anderson building on South Street. Jared Hirsch, who had campaigned to keep Mr. Tweed and promised to work for the budget’s passing, was seen in front of the Atlantic Steamer Fire Company with a “Vote Yes” sign. There were in fact “Vote Yes” signs all over and were still visible last weekend.

Bob Santos was standing nearby and when asked which way he wanted the vote for board members to go, gave a chuckle. He is just finishing his time volunteering for the community as a Little League baseball coach. If successful in her campaign, his wife would be putting in long hours on the board of education, taking over the family role of volunteer.

By then, about 30 people were standing around waiting as Robin Dando announced the election lever machines were closing and it was time for the count. Former board member Dolores Grieco was the Chief Election Inspector and she worked with District Clerk Margaret Nolan, and board member Robin Dando, and Bob Santos to get the “old time lever” machines closed. They tossed the curtains over the bar; dropped the bar down and closed the doors (some refused to lock) and walked in back to read off the numbers.

When the first machine was closed the numbers were read off by Trustee Robin Dando, the budget lost. There were 243 yes votes; and 273 no votes. True to form, the first machine told the story, which Dr. Phllis Harrington commented on later. After the first tally at the three other machines the count was 222 yes to 200 nos. The third machine tallied 235 yes and 221 nos; the last machine tallied 285 yes and 325 nos. 

As each of the four machines was counted there was silence. The absentee ballots might change or confirm the story.

Ms. Nolan called out the names of the voters as she slit the envelopes and handed them off to Ms. Longo who emptied the envelopes and to Ms. Grieco who stacked them.

As Ms. Nolan read off the names, one of them was recognized as being in the obituaries in the May 19 issue of the Enterprise Pilot. They checked on it the next day, and Ms. Nolan said, “Actually that is why we read off the names. Someone should have said something out loud at the time. Someone did mention it after the fact. Those ballots were sent out prior to the ninth, he died on the ninth. I received it back on the eleventh in the mail. So he very well could have filled it out before he passed away. That is the only thing we can assume.” [Therefore a man who died on May 9, voted in the election and his vote was counted on May 17, by absentee ballot.]  

Ms. Longo read off the votes, “no, no, no, no, Santos and Zbodula. Yes, yes, yes, yes, Kowalsky and Zoeller. No, yes, yes, yes, Kowalsky and Santos.” There were more and more no votes each time. In the end, there were 17 yes and 17 no votes for the budget.

The final tally was, Budget: 1,002 yes; 1036, no. Proposition 2 (for permission to use capital reserve funds to renovate the third grade bathrooms at Vernon; and replace fencing at the high school for no more than $250,000) was passed by 1174 to 781; Proposition 3 (to add the acquisition of needed high tech equipment to the capital reserve fund requirements) passed with yes-1,038, to 875-no. The library budget ($1,983,846) passed with 1239 votes to 677 nos. Robert Goldman won the library board seat with 972 votes.

Keith Kowalsky received 786 votes; Maryann Santos received 1210 votes; Donald Zoeller received 605 votes; and Steven Zbodula received 833 votes. Mr. Zbodula was not present for the vote count.

Board member Dr. Michael Castellano said, “I was afraid this was going to happen: that it would not pass. And, I feared that it came in too high.” He had not voted for the budget as proposed.

As to what to do next, Mr. Castellano said, “Don’t go back to the drawing board. Go straight to the contingency budget. It costs money to vote again.” But he added, “It’s the board’s decision.”

Ann Marie Longo said, “Here we go. I’m not sure what we’ll do. We’ve got to come down. We’ll discuss a re-vote. We have to bring the budget close to 2 percent.”

Dr. Phyllis Harrington said she has learned not to take the failure of the budget personally. She said, “We tried to do what the community wanted. We listened to the voices of the parents who said they would support it. It didn’t pass.” [She had presented the board with two options that were lower.]

At a recent budget meeting trustee Donald Zoeller said there were 6,000 registered voters in the district. About 2,038 people voted for or against the budget. 

Board President James Robinson said of the board’s next decision on how to handle the budget, “We’ll discuss our next step at the next board meeting on May 31. It was a very close vote.” As to a re-vote, he said there was no decision. “Clearly it’s not decided tonight. We have a lot to talk about,” he said.

Dr. Harrington added, “I’m very disappointed. I was optimistic that the community would support the budget.

“We had heard loud and clearly from the community. We’ll have to cut $1 million from the budget which translates to teachers, special programs and use of facilities. My responsibility is to keep moving forward with this ship facing in the right direction.”

She said, in her opinion the Mr. Tweed issue wasn’t a cause for the budget defeat. “I give people more credit than that,” she said. “It was close with just 34 votes. Usually the first machine calls it,” she commented.

 A Farewell

Dr. Harrington said to Mr. Zoeller, Esq. “I’ll miss you. We need your voice.” He was saying his goodbyes too. He said he still has other voluteer activities that will keep him occupied. He said, “I’m active in the Korean War Veterans Association; and the Financial Industries Regulatory Association.” He will continue to do good for the community at large. Mr. Kowalsky was not at the election count, but his wife Laurie was there.

Christopher Van Cott, OBEN assistant superintendent for business and grounds said, “There are three choices now: put up the same budget; tweak the budget; go to a contingency budget.”

Ms. Santos said of her win, “I’m very excited and pleased to serve the community and I appreciate everyone’s support.” She had said while campaigning that she would find places in the budget to cut. “The community has spoken. A 3.94 percent increase is not acceptable. We have to see where we can cut to where the community can accept it,” she added.

Mr. Santos said, “Now I’ll be Mr. Maryann Santos. Before everyone was calling her ‘Bob’s wife’. Now, this is my last year doing baseball. It’s been 10 years.”

His sons are done with Little League. They will be playing on the school teams. “As long as the budget holds,” he added. Mr. Santos sees sports as a very important part of a child’s school career. He said, “Kids who never talk to each other - talk together over sports.”

Mr. Santos added, “The sheer number of people who didn’t vote on the budget shocks me. I moved to a small community where I can make a difference. Now you can see that one vote has a large impact.

“We are Americans and we all have a vote.

“We proved it tonight, every vote counts,” he added.