North Bellmore district lowers budget by $75K for revote

Original budget failed to get supermajority support on May 15

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North Bellmore School District officials on June 19 will present voters with a budget that contains $75,000 less spending than the one that failed to pass at the district’s May 15 regular election.

The Board of Education met Tuesday night, and decided to use a $40,000 reduction in insurance premiums and $35,000 reduction in Nassau BOCES facility rental charges in order to bring the budget down before the revote.

“We had something come our way, which is delightful,” Superintendent Marie Testa said, according to a video broadcast of the meeting.

A majority of voters initially supported the $57.2 million budget, but that wasn’t enough for it to pass.

Because of a voter-petitioned ballot item that would have expanded busing for public school students — at a cost of $610,000 — the spending plan would have pierced the state property-tax cap. The district’s proposed budget alone was within the tax cap, with a tax levy 3.4 percent larger than the current year’s.

Even though the transportation measure failed to pass, the budget still needed a 60 percent supermajority’s support to pass, according to Mark Schissler, the district’s assistant superintendent for business. It received 51.8 percent.

On June 19, the district will hold a second vote on the budget, as per state law. This time, the budget will be the only item up for a vote, and will need only a simple majority to pass.

If the second vote fails, the district could be forced to adopt a contingency budget, which would levy no more taxes than the current year — roughly $37 million.

Jo-Ann Erhard, co-president of the Mepham High School PTA and a former president of the North Bellmore Coordinating Council of PTAs, said on Friday that the budget would likely pass, given a second round of voting.

“I’m not really concerned,” Erhard said, “but crazier things have happened.”

According to Erhard, in trying to be transparent for voters, district officials might be putting too much information in their budget newsletters and on the ballot — “People are seeing so much information that some people don’t even know how to process it.” Still, Erhard said that she had "full faith" in North Bellmore's administration and Board of Education, and hoped the community would support the budget (See Erhard's Letter to the Editor).

The $610,000 bus expansion was not alone on the ballot. A second, voter-submitted proposal looked to cut transportation for students living more than two miles from their school, saving the district roughly $450,000. A third proposal, submitted just in time to appear on the ballot, looked to provide more busing for private school students.

In an attempt to simplify the vote, district officials placed a fourth measure on the ballot that called for transportation in the district to remain the same. That proposition passed. In the district’s budget newsletter, voters were even given a chart, instructing them how to vote if they, for example, wanted to expand public school busing and support the budget.

Still, voter Daniel Cirino, 42, said that the three separate busing propositions on the ballot made the budget vote too confusing.

“The budget proposition was so convoluted I’m surprised it even got 51 percent,” Cirino said. “The way it read, it seemed a ‘yes’ vote was for breaking the [tax] cap . . . Not that I think busing kids in grades three to six is a problem from the same distance, but the cost to do so was very prohibitive.”

Voter Mary Latham Goedel, meanwhile, said that she was disappointed in the budget vote, and that the district had few options when it came to presenting the dueling transportation propositions.

“The district wrote the ballot with state education department guidelines,” Goedel said. “They did their best to explain the options. It’s disappointing and worrisome, since a failed budget does not benefit anyone, and only hurts our children and community.”

Erhard said that she remained optimistic, and hoped voters would support the budget this round.

The revote on the North Bellmore School District budget will be held on Tuesday, June 19 at Newbridge Road Elementary School from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.