East Quogue voters approved the school district’s revised $22.4 million budget by a margin of more than two-to-one on Tuesday, drawing subdued applause from the group of administrators, teachers and parents who awaited the results at the Central Avenue school shortly after 9 p.m. when the polls closed.
The budget, which increased overall spending by a quarter of a percent, garnered almost 73 percent approval, 698-261. The spending plan, which trimmed about $600,000 from the budget that was rejected by voters last month, is now expected to increase the tax levy by about 2.45 percent, just beneath the state-mandated tax levy cap of 2.46 percent, adjusted for exceptions and exemptions, meaning it required only majority approval.
In total, 959 people cast their ballots on Tuesday, over 100 more than the number of voters who turned out to the polls in May to vote on the Board of Education’s original $23 million plan. That budget exceeded the tax cap, meaning it required 60-percent approval for it to pass, and it fell short by seven votes.
A proposition that will modify the district’s school transportation requirements, so that buses only pick up children living a minimum of one mile from the school rather than the current minimum of a half-mile, also passed by a wide margin, 708-251. That change is expected to save the district about $57,000.
Though school officials said they were pleased with the result of the second vote, their celebration seemed to be kept in check by the knowledge that they had to make additional cuts to get the 2013-14 spending plan under they tax cap.
Board members were forced to eliminate one full-time special education teacher, four teacher assistant positions, three teacher aides, one custodian, a part-time speech teacher, a part-time psychologist and reduce the hours of the district’s technology specialist, to get under the cap. Those cuts were in addition to the elimination of two teacher aides, a part-time librarian, a special education teacher and the reduction of a foreign language teacher to part-time—all of which were made in the board’s original budget.
“To get 73 percent on any vote is extraordinary—I just wish this was the kind of result that we got on the first budget,” School Superintendent Les Black said. “But I’m certainly pleased that the community responded the way they did.”
If the second budget had failed, the Board of Education would have been required under state law to adopt a budget with a zero-percent tax levy increase, which would have forced massive cuts in educational programming and jobs. Mr. Black said that, if put in that position, the district would have had to consider cutting important programs, such as instrumental music.
East Quogue Elementary School Principal Robert Long said that while pleased with Tuesday’s results, he still described the situation as “bittersweet” due to the loss of jobs. He also thanked community members for their support.
During the Board of Education meeting held earlier on Tuesday, President Mario Cardaci thanked outgoing board members Ralph Naglieri and Joseph Tsaveras for their dedication and service to the school. Mr. Naglieri chose not to seek reelection, and Mr. Tsaveras was bumped from his seat by newcomers Dianna Gobler and Carrie Bender, who will join the board in July.
“I’ve worked with an awful lot of board members over the years. Rarely have I seen people more committed and dedicated than these two gentlemen,” Mr. Black said.” While I welcome new people coming on the board, I will tell you that they will be missed. They’ve always conducted themselves professionally and dispassionately in making some difficult decisions along the way.”
Mr. Naglieri thanked the community and the other board members, and said he has learned a lot from holding the position. “They said it is such a thankless position, but I don’t agree with that,” he said. “I think you get a tremendous amount from it … I can’t convey enough that this board really does have the children’s best interest in hand, and I was proud to be a part of it.”