Your voice counts in school budget decisions


Tuesday, May 21 is an important day — not just for our local school districts, which are busy putting together their budgets for the upcoming academic year, but for the future of our communities as well.

That’s the day when we head to voting booths and cast ballots not only to express our opinions on how our districts are spending money, but also on the school board trustees who will manage it.

It’s a valuable opportunity to have your voice heard, because our local schools are just that — local and ours. Unlike any other government spending plans, school budgets aren’t final until the people tasked to fund them decide they’re final with their votes.

Some may think voting isn’t necessary anymore because the property tax cap limits increases, and no local district wants to exceed its cap. But our voices are always necessary, because the budget isn’t just about how much money is raised for our schools, but how that money is spent. What programs will remain, what will go, and what new ones might begin — all of those decisions are in the hands of every one of us.

The May 21 vote isn’t just about spending, either. There are contested school board races in many districts. The people who win will make decisions that affect the entire community. The people who are elected will be the ones who keep the “local” in local decision-making.

But there’s one vital caveat: understanding what you’re voting on when you cast your ballot.

If you’re concerned about how much money your district plans to spend, find out what’s in the budget before you vote. You can typically find that information on the district’s website, or through the reporting here in the Herald.

However you vote, understand that your decision has an impact. We, as a collective society, should have a say in which direction our society takes, and that largely begins in schools.

In Rockville Centre, for example, annual school taxes are expected to jump $260 — a little over $20 per month. But those funds will be used to improve the district’s facilities, enhance cybersecurity, and create new classes in coding and robotics. The spending plan also avoids layoffs, introduces new sports teams, and appoints a new security director.

In Glen Cove, the district’s budget is focused on safety, intended to help parents send their children to school without worry. At the middle school, the public address system will be repaired for $1 million, as will the fire systems and clocks. And the spending plan will allow the district to hire more teachers, so students at the middle school can take more arts and language programs.

If a majority of voters reject a budget, the district must either hold a second vote — offering the same spending plan or a revised one — or adopt what is called a “contingency budget.” It’s also described as an “austerity budget,” and the tax levy issued with this spending plan can’t be larger than the previous year’s levy. The portion of the budget that is devoted to administrative costs cannot increase from the lower of either the previous year’s budget or the just- defeated budget. On top of that, any non-contingent expenditures must be removed from a contingency budget.

Whether you vote “yes” or “no” on school spending plans, it’s important to understand the implications. As the voting day nears, make sure you know where to go to cast your ballot. Contact your school district or visit its website.

School district elections and the budget referenda are extraordinarily important. It’s your money. Take your responsibility seriously, and be an informed voter.