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Residents Go To Polls For Budget, School Boards May 15

Local districts face first voting year with 2 percent tax cap

Long Island residents will go to the polls on Tuesday, May 15 to vote on the proposed school budgets and school boards for the 2012-13 school year. This marks the first year district will need to get under a 2 percent tax cap.

The Elmont School District (ESD) is proposing a $78,560,346 budget for the 2012-13 school year. The budget calls for a 2.8 percent increase in spending over the 2011-12 budget. A 6.9 percent tax levy increase is reflected in the budget, which requires 60 percent voter approval to pass.

“We are very optimistic that the Elmont community will continue its traditional posture of supporting the children,” Superintendent Al Harper said. “We put together a very fiscally sound and responsible budget that includes no cuts to the academic program.”

The district could reduce the budget by $2.5 million if it fails after the first vote. Elmont would have to slash the budget by an additional $3.4 million if it were to fail a second time, but deep program cuts would be required. A total fail of the budget could include teacher layoffs, which would increase class size and possible increases in school lunch prices and the elimination of full-time kindergarten and after-school/summer enrichment programs.

“If the budget were to fail twice, it would be devastating to our school district and to our community,” Harper affirmed.

Concerning state aid in 2012-13, ESD’s help totaled at $18,606,457, a $5,594 decrease from last year. Harper stated further that mandated increases ($1,742,285) for medical insurance and pension rate increases continue to hold back the district. The budget also requires an additional $3.1 million in funding for special education services.

“We’re bound by state mandates and have expressed our views to our local legislators and received a lot of positive feedback and cooperation in working toward remedying the situation,” Harper said.

The Franklin Square School District (FSSD) is proposing a $34,433,029 budget for the 2012-13 school year. The budget calls for a 1.5 percent increase ($506,309) in spending over last year’s budget. 0.9 percent of the budget-to-budget increase is due to state mandate increases in retirement costs and 0.6 percent in operational costs (program, transportation, facilities maintenance, technology and salaries).

The proposed budget calls for an allowable 2.11 percent increase in the tax levy. The district will hold the line at 2 percent, according to budget projections. The annual tax increase per household if passed, would be $60.

The FSSD received $6,050,616 in state aid for next year, a 2.58 percent increase from 2011-12.

“Our budget is in compliance with the tax cap legislation,” District Superintendent Patrick Manley said. “We will be at 2 percent. We have gotten great feedback from the community and we feel the budget will pass on Tuesday.”

The West Hempstead School District is proposing its 2012-13 budget at $$55,188,693, a 1.46 percent budget to budget increase from 2011-12. The budget calls for a 2.58 percent tax levy increase. The district’s allowable tax levy increase was 3.06 percent.

West Hempstead had to close a $2.4 million budget gap last year, which led to staff and program cuts as well as increase in class size.

Regarding the reason districts can exceed the 2 percent cap, West Hempstead Deputy Superintendent Richard Cunningham said the misconception is the cap applies to individual property taxes. The cap is on the tax levy.

“The cap has to do with the levy,” Cunningham said. “The 2 percent applies to a clause of an adjusted tax levy equation. The equation backs out exclusions (capital projects and expenses, payments in lieu of taxes—PILOTS, etc.), which is multiplied by 2 percent or the rate of inflation if it’s lower. Then you add in exclusions and PILOTS which could push the number over 2 percent.”

The budget includes a $250,000 partial roof replacement at West Hempstead High School. That alone is 0.5 percent of taxes in West Hempstead and is considered an exclusion to the tax cap, according to Cunningham.

“We had a drop in state building aid,” Cunningham stated. “There wasn’t much of a deduction there so it pushes our allowable tax cap up. The school board did feel based on the economic climate, residents would not support a levy increase of more than 3 percent.”

In terms of state aid for West Hempstead next school year, the state has allocated $7,830,728 for 2012-13, a 2.17 percent increase from last year, according to recently released state aid runs.

“The reason we’re positive about this budget is because we now find ourselves in the position where we aren’t cutting programs and staff,” Cunningham said. “We’re able to address some identified needs in the area of student learning and also we’re able to do some things to help build up our [cash] reserves; we are in a good financial position.”

Residents of the ESD and FSSD will also be voting on the proposed 2012-13 budget for the Sewanhaka Central High School District. The proposed budget for Sewanhaka calls for $167,033,832 in spending, a 2.94 percent increase over the 2011-12 budget. The proposed budget calls for a 2.26 percent increase in the tax levy.

Sewanhaka will receive $26,282,863 in aid in 2012-13, a 4.73 increase from last school year.

“We’re very pleased that we’re able to present a budget that is under under the tax cap legislation,” District Superintendent Ralph Ferrie said. “More importantly, this budget has no negative impact on student programs or staffing.”

The district levy is .26 percent over the 2 percent tax cap, but according to Ferrie the allowable tax levy could not exceed 2.28 percent, making the district just shy of needing majority budget voter approval.

“No, we’re not in danger with that,” Ferrie stated. “That’s another good thing for us.”