More than a third of the area's districts, 46 in all, had budgets rejected in the first round of voting, reportedly the worst setbacks in 15 years. (To put this in context, usually 90 percent of the school budgets are passed each year, according to an article in Newsday). However, the Port Washington taxpayers approved a school budget of $99,833,944 in a vote of 2,905 to 2,375. This represents an 8.55 percent increase over last year's budget.
How did this happen in our current economic climate of reassessment and growing enrollments?
Someone has likened it to a good divorce; each side feels that they've given too much, yet both sides resign themselves to living with it. The pro-budget forces gave up the director of creative arts, a kindergarten section, a technology position, four nurse teacher positions (to be replaced with R.N.s), five elementary teachers, among other things. Of those who oppose increased spending, some believed that their efforts did have an impact on the final figure, because the original proposed budget for next year was $103,949,244, initially. This almost $l.4 million number also did not include requests for staffing additions, which the board did not grant this year. This would have added 18 teachers, which carried a price tag of $1,485,000. And, these requests were not granted despite a projected enrollment increase of 76 additional pupils. "They did do more with less," said one voter.
One reluctant yes voter did so because she felt the board had heeded the strong anti-tax message the community recently delivered when it voted down the library budget and roof bond. She remains skeptical however, commenting that she wants to see how the teachers contract is negotiated next year.
Tax control activist Frank Russo offered a somewhat different view. When asked to comment, he responded:
"I wasn't surprised to see the budget pass as the big spenders were (1) far better organized, (2) motivated by the failure of two recent votes, (3) unduly concerned about implied, but perhaps exaggerated, "calamities" from a defeated budget and (4) supported by nearly 800 family members of school district employees."
Mr. Russo added, "If the 3/4 of the community who didn't vote were half as organized, the budget would've been defeated and the cuts easily achieved with improved efficiencies at Schreiber alone."
As a point of information, the number of eligible voters in Port is approximately 22,230, according to the county registration rolls. This does not include the new voter registrations for this year's budget vote, which reportedly were high.
Furthermore, this year's voter turnout surpassed the past three years by about 1,500. Specifically, this year's tally is 5,280; '03-'04 was 3,766; '02-'03 was 3,023 and '01-'02 was 3,770.
As one person commented, "They came out of the woodwork this year."