Failure to get super-majority tanks both FPBSD and Elmont budgets
Despite the fact that more than 96 percent of New York State school budgets passed on May 15, voters in both the Floral-Park Bellerose (FPBSD) and Elmont (ESD) school districts declined to throw enough support behind both proposals. And while the final tally was 1,346 in favor versus 1,299 opposed for FPBSD and Elmont had a similarly positive 1,266-937 split, both school districts failed to garner the 60 percent supermajority vote needed for their budgets to pass as mandated by the New York State Department of Education. In addition, voters failed to pass the FPBSD bus transportation initiative that proposed to spend $70,000 to provide busing for students in grade five and six who live a half-mile or more from their school instead of the current one-mile limit. It failed with 1,016 residents approving versus 1,427 rejecting.
Not all the news on the night was negative. The Sewanhaka Central High School District (SCHSD), consisting of two members from each of four elementary school districts whose student go to Sewanhaka high schools (Floral-Park Bellerose, Elmont, New Hyde Park, Franklin Square) passed its budget by a count of 4,178 approving versus 2,919 opposing (the Sewanhaka High School District’s portion was 1,276 approval versus 1,128 opposed.) Also a proposition approving a $3.4 million bond for capital projects passed 1,281 to 1,160. Incumbent FPBSD trustees David Fowler and Laura Ferone were re-elected with 1,859 and 1,817 votes respectively. Over in the Elmont School, incumbents Kevin Denehy (1,134 votes) and Patrick Emeagwali (1,067 votes) returned as trustees while Kleeve Simon became the newest trustee after getting elected to the board with 421 votes.
FPBSD residents went into the voting booth looking at a proposed budget of $27,668,799 for the 2012-13 school year. The budget called for a 4.86 percent increase in spending over the 2011-12 budget. An even larger number for residents to swallow was the 6.58 percent tax levy increase that needed 60 percent voter approval to pass.
Over in the ESD, voters faced a $78,560,346 budget for the 2012-13 school year. This was a 2.8 percent increase in spending over the 2011-12 budget. The community’s 6.9 percent tax levy increase also required a 60 percent supermajority to pass.
In Floral Park, among the proactive efforts made to present voters with an acceptable budget was the formation of the Citizens’ Budget Advisory Committee, a group of resident volunteers who started working with the board of education on budget preparation starting back in November 2011. Their unanimous recommendation was to present this budget proposal and let voters decide whether they wanted to maintain certain aspects of the current curriculum at a certain tax levy level or not. Among the recommendations was maintaining class sizes of 26 students or less, offering the current pre-K program to all 4-year-old children and the continuation of the Saturday Enrichment Program. When asked why she felt her budget didn’t pass, FPBSD superintendent Dr. Lynn Pombonyo felt much of the pressure residents felt was from the trickle-down effect of Albany tax policies.
“People were bringing their tax bills to the [budget] meetings and showing us how their yearly bills had gone up by very unpredictable and significant amounts due to changes in assessments or something in their neighborhoods having to do with assessments,” she explained. “So I think the impact on them had to do with state aid revenue that’s lower here in certain areas than in other places and the problems with how their taxes are calculated somewhat erratically and unpredictably. I think this created bills that had become very difficult for them to bear. We spend the lowest per pupil out of 56 districts in Nassau County and I think people appreciate that. I think people think their children get a good education but when their taxes seem to go up somewhat disproportionately, it becomes a big problem for them and they’ve reached that point.” (A call placed to Elmont School District Superintendent Al Harper was not returned as of press time.)
For now, voters are faced with either heading to the polls again and possibly incurring a higher tax rate or going with an austerity budget that may result in larger class sizes and the loss of certain programs. A potential revote would tentatively happen on June 19 following public hearings early in the week of Memorial Day and a board of education meeting and hearing on June 19. For Dr. Pombonyo, communication will be the key to coming away with a positive outcome.
“While everything is up in the air right now, the important thing is to get some input and feedback as to why this happened,” she said. “We did have 1300 people who did support it. We need to find out what they think going forward as well as those who opposed it, so that we might find out what might make them change their minds [and votes].”