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Letter: ‘Westbury School District Budget Woes’

For the second time in as many years, the voters of Westbury failed to approve the proposed school budget as presented on the first go around. The budget vote on Tuesday, May 17 had 642 individuals voting yes for the budget while 683 voted no. There may be various reasons for this; cynicism, oversight, or perhaps just plain indifference, since both the proposed budget and the contingency budget were just about the same, a 4.19 percentage increase over the 2010 - 2011 budget.

Westbury shares this unwelcome distinction of “failed budget” with three other school districts in Nassau County: Locust Valley, Oyster Bay and Seaford. Westbury, however, leads the pack in terms of percentage increase over these districts, whose respective increases are 2.90, 3.94 and 2.92. One might argue that this is neither here nor there since school districts’ needs vary and budgets are structured accordingly, but considering that earlier this year, Gov. Cuomo signaled his intention to prioritize the capping of local property tax growth at 2 percent or less, low budget increase could be interpreted as a practice run for when property tax cap takes effect in the 2012-13 school year. In fact, almost all Nassau County school districts with passed budget, showed increases ranging from .98-3.98 percent. The districts with passed budgets that crossed this threshold are Elmont, with 4.71 percent; Mineola, with 5.11 percent and Plainedge with 4.21 percent.

It is not clear whether or not the school board intends to rework the numbers and put the budget back up for a revote on super Tuesday, June 21, or if the choice will be to remain on contingency (austerity) budget. If it chooses to remain on austerity budget, it would not be the first time that our district would be in this position. The district had four consecutive years of austerity budgets (’93-’94 thru ’96 -’97) again in ’00-’01 and the last time in ’03-04. Some people argue that by voting down the budget it sends a clear message to the administration that the public is tired of the yearly increase in their tax bill, and that waste and inefficiencies are largely to be blamed. But it is important to bear in mind that there are consequences to being in an austerity mode in that there are some things that the district may not engage, offer or participate in while operating on an austerity budget, including extra curricular activities, some sports activities and summer school; but perhaps the most important factor is that it affects the district’s bond rating. When the budget is voted downrating agencies interpret this negatively, which likely results in down grading of the bond rating, which in turn result in a higher interest rate for any future barrowings.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the library of Westbury High School. The public will have a chance to question the school board as to where do we go from here.

Chester McGibbon