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After budget fails, District 13 makes $803k in cuts, seeks another vote

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After Valley Stream Elementary School District 13 voters narrowly defeated its roughly $55.3 million 2020-2021 budget proposal on June 16, district officials are returning with more than $803,000 in cuts to increased spending, and are seeking to put the revised budget to another vote.

On Tuesday, the District 13 Board of Education formally adopted a proposed budget that features nearly $400,000 in cuts to increases in teacher and employee retirement and health insurance spending, more than $108,000 in cuts to its summer recreation program and holds off on equipment, textbook and classroom furniture purchases, as well as the hiring of two part-time instructors among various other cost-saving measures.

“We heard the public, we got the message and we’re coming back with a budget that we hope the community will support,” District 13 Board of Education President Dr. Frank Chiachiere said.

The revised $54.4 million budget reduces additional spending and tax revenue by roughly half, and would raise expenses by 2.51 percent and taxes by nearly 1 percent. Originally, expenses were set to increase $2.2 million or roughly 4.2 percent over the current year, and taxes levied against property owners 1.99 percent.

Should the revised budget fail to pass, the district would be forced to automatically adopt a contingency budget that features a tax freeze and across-the-board cuts to expenditures except those, “considered essential to maintain an educational program, preserve property and assure the health and safety of students and staff,” according to State Education Department guidelines.

District 13 was one of three school districts on Long Island in which voters rejected their proposed budgets. In particular, it was the 4.2 percent increase in expenditures at a time of deep economic uncertainty amid the coronvirus pandemic that had become a flashpoint in the year’s the school board election and budget vote.

The 2020-2021 budget failed to pass with a final tally of 1,353 votes for and 1,522 against, and challengers Anthony Bonelli and Bill Freda, in their unsuccessful bids to unseat incumbents Chiachiere and Patricia Farrell, had made it the centerpiece of their campaigns.

“I am completely shocked by how disconnected the current school board is with its proposal to raise spending,” Bonelli told the Herald in the lead up to the race.

Freda said the original budget showed “utter contempt for the financial stress residents are experiencing.”

The budget vote also featured two propositions, both of which passed, to approve the spending of roughly $400,000 in capital reserves to renovate the libraries at the Willow Road and Wheeler Avenue elementary schools, and roughly $160,000 in reserves for the installation of Smart Boards and air conditioning in classrooms throughout the district.

District officials said, however, that those propositions could not go forward until they are able to pass a budget. They expect a budget revote to take place on either July 21 or July 28. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, has yet to announce an official date.