East Quogue School Board Remains Undecided On How To Proceed After Budget Failure

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East Quogue School District officials will meet this week to decide whether to cut additional jobs in order to squeeze their budget under the tax levy cap, or take the more risky path of asking voters a second time to approve a spending plan that pierces it.

Last week, district voters rejected the Board of Education’s $23 million spending plan for 2013-14 that exceeds the state-mandated tax levy cap, which required a super-majority, or 60 percent approval, rather than just 50 percent. The budget garnered only 59 percent approval and failed by just seven votes.

Voters will be asked to approve a second budget on Tuesday, June 18. If it fails a second time, the district will be forced to adopt a spending plan with a zero-percent tax levy increase, which would result in massive cuts to programs and jobs, according to district officials.

Under the rejected plan, the district’s tax rate was expected to climb about 4.7 percent, from $10.37 per $1,000 of assessed value to $10.86.

School Superintendent Les Black said on Tuesday that he feels the board will come up with a second spending plan that falls below the cap.

“It’s far too risky to propose the same budget and need 60 percent,” he said. “Because if it fails, the end result is devastating.”

That decision isn’t final, he added.

Board of Education President Mario Cardaci declined to elaborate on which route the board would take, stating a decision would be made later this week.

“Are we willing to gamble or not? That’s the question,” he said.

District officials attributed the rejected budget’s 2.9-percent increase in spending to steep hikes in pension costs and employee health care benefits. That budget eliminated two teacher aides, a part-time librarian, a special education teacher and reduced a foreign language teacher to part-time.

District officials have said in the past that proposing a budget that comes in under the cap would require the slashing of an additional six or seven positions.

“I feel terrible for the people who will be impacted by this,” Mr. Black said. “It’s through no fault of their own. Some terrific people are, unfortunately, going to have to be let go.”

The board intends to adopt a second budget during an emergency meeting that is open to the public on Monday, June 3, at 7:45 p.m., at the East Quogue Elementary School on Central Avenue. On Tuesday, June 11, also at 7:45 p.m., the board will hold a budget hearing to explain its decision and discuss the second budget.

The polls will open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. on June 18 in the gymnasium at the East Quogue Elementary School.

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