ISLIP - Long Islanders on Tuesday voted on the biggest portion of their tax bills: the billions of dollars spent educating children across the Island.
Residents in all 124 Long Island school districts voted on school budgets. The proposed increases represent the lowest numbers in years because of an expected influx of state aid. Voters also cast their ballots for members of local school boards.
Islip schools Superintendent Susan Schnebel says she did everything right for taxpayers by paying down debt and completing several capital-improvement projects in the schools. However, because of what she calls a "convoluted budget formula," her district is one of the few dealing with a negative tax levy of about 2 percent. Schnebel says that means working with about $1.5 million less than last year, and she's now instead looking to pierce the cap and increase taxes by 1.7 percent.
Islip is one of nine districts that asked to pierce the cap. Bridgehampton was asking for the highest tax hike, at nearly 9 percent. It was followed by Greenport and Shelter Island. So far, the only districts in which that proposal has failed are Tuckahoe and Elwood.
Six districts had proposed budgets with no tax hike.
School officials have said that putting together their districts' budgets was difficult. That's because the property tax cap is 2 percent or the rate of inflation - whichever is lower. The inflation rate was just 0.12 percent, meaning schools had almost no room to increase spending. Still, many schools were able to increase spending and stay under the cap because of the $155 million increase in state aid for Long Island schools - the largest since the economic downturn in 2008.
Many say the $155 million in aid helped districts expand some programs next year, but officials at some districts say they still need to make cuts. Sachem schools, for instance, is closing three schools and eliminating 54 positions.