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District asks residents to override tax cap in budget

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The Wantagh community is currently at a crossroad.

The current version of the 2021-2022 Wantagh School District budget presented to the public is valued at about $83.5 million, a 2.82 percent change from last year’s budget. And the estimated tax levy to support this budget is approximately $64.1 million, representing a 4.80 percent change from the current tax levy.

However, the allowable maximum tax levy under the state tax cap is currently around $60.7 million, meaning that the 2021-2022 tax cap is negative at a year-over-year change of 0.61 percent.

The district would need to override the tax cap with a supermajority of voter approval. If this budget is not approved, the district would have to look at all additional programs in an effort to reduce costs. 

It’s important to keep in mind that Wantagh’s current tax levy, about $58.8 million, has a lower tax levy than seven school districts of similar sizes in Nassau.

“It’s a challenging budget right now,” said Wantagh School District Superintendent John McNamara. “We have some rising expenses.”

Rising expenses, McNamara said, include salary adjustments and increases in cost for benefits, transportation and special education.

“On top of that we have some loss revenues,” McNamara said. “We are anticipating that our state aid is going to be down for next year and [we’re] no longer using reserves to offset any of our expenses in our budget. Those two factors really make about a $1.2 million loss in revenue, so those two factors are really what’s driving our levy, at this point in time, so high.”

The district, as of March 15, was able to bring down the budget-to-budget increase from 4.3 percent on March 1 to 2.82 percent, along with reducing the tax levy increase of 7.88 percent to 4.88 percent.

One change between the March 1 and March 15 budget presentation was that the federal government passed its $1.9 trillion relief package, which included substantial relief to local governments and school districts.

As a result, the state aid figures were increased by $450,000, but it’s still unclear how exactly the state will distribute the federal aid.

In addition, the Board of Education approved an agenda item that closed out prior capital work, freeing up money in the debt service funds and creating a $155,000 revenue.

The district was also able to reduce expenditures by about $1.2 million by cutting 19 full-time employees, increasing elementary class sizes by one student, cutting 10 non-mandated classroom aides and health office aides, combining seventh and eight-grade athletic teams and reducing BOCES support services and subscriptions.

Budget development is still ongoing, with adjustments made everyday, said Anthony Cedrone, the assistant superintendent for business.

“Knowing that we were facing some challenges, some revenue shortfalls, concerns about state aid and a whole host of other things, it was decided to just put a budget that was not necessarily saying this is the final product, but one that recognized those constraints and said what would it look like if we kept everything we had in tact,” Cedrone said.

There will be budget forums on April 7 at 7 p.m. and April 8 at 1 p.m.. The budget vote will take place on May 18 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Wantagh Elementary School, Forest Lake Elementary School and Mandalay Elementary School.

For more information about the budget, visit wantaghschools.org/administration/assistant_superintendent_for_business/2021-2022_budget_information.