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SM Residents Question Proposed School Budget

Elmont superintendent holds town hall meeting at SMCC

In a bid to answer the many questions surrounding the proposed 2012-2013 budget for the Elmont Public School District, Superintendent Al Harper keynoted a town hall meeting at the Stewart Manor Country Club on Wednesday, May 30. Harper requested the meeting, following a May 15 vote that shot down a proposed budget that would increase school taxes by nearly 6.9 percent, exceeding the state’s 2 percent cap on property tax increases.

“I am indebted to you for giving me 20 minutes of your time,” Harper told the standing-room-only audience. Under a law approved by the state last year, an increase in annual school taxes beyond the state’s tax cap requires at least 60 percent voter approval. The May 15 vote fell short of that supermajority, yielding nearly 57 percent approval, Harper said, adding that nine out of the last 10 years, the Elmont school budget passed with more than 60 percent voter approval.

Harper outlined budget considerations, such as state-mandated costs that include a 15 percent increase in the New York State retirement system, an 11 percent increase in health insurance premiums and an unspecified percentage increase in special education costs, which “will increase our operating expenses by 2.3 percent alone,” Harper said. He also noted cuts in state aid, which the district has to make up.

To many audience members’ dismay, Harper affirmed that the revote on Tuesday, June 19, will propose the same budget. Audience members vehemently questioned the lack of compromise on the district’s end.

“Most people in this room would agree [that] we are looking for a compromise,” said one resident. “We are looking for your appreciating what we’re going through, we’re appreciating what you’re going through. We need to work together. There needs to be a compromise so that we can then jointly present it to state legislators that we are not getting what we need from the state. But if you act arrogantly and say, ‘No, we’re not going to reduce it. We don’t care … we usually get 60 percent vote,’ taxpayers will remain unhappy,” she said. “Right now, you are telling us everything that you need to spend and pay for, but … there are a lot of repairs that we as homeowners cannot go forward with. It is the economy. Let’s work together. You have to show us some kind of a compromise.”

In a turn of events, the seven-member Elmont School Board held an executive session on Saturday, June 2, followed by a public hearing at the Elmont Road School. The board voted unanimously to revise the 2012-2013 proposed budget, shaving about $1 million from the original proposal of $78.6 million.

The 10-month school period will remain intact, according to school board president Michael A. Jaime. Capital improvement projects were cut by $500,000, summer enrichment programs were eliminated, which saves $350,000, and the board cut $120,000 across the budget.

The revised budget proposal would yield a 4.9 percent tax increase, about 2 percentage points lower than the original proposal.

Registered voters can vote at the Stewart Manor School, located at 38 Stewart Avenue, between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., on Tuesday, June 19. Qualified residents who are not registered may go to their designated school and register Monday through Friday during school hours until June 12; evening voter registration will be held on Tuesday, June 12, from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Elmont Road Administration Building, located at 135 Elmont Road. Voter registration inquiries should be directed to the Office of the District Clerk at 516-326-5500, ext. 42002. Absentee ballots can be picked up from the district clerk’s office at 135 Elmont Road; call 516-434-2002 for additional information.