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NY school districts ready for budget re-votes

Carolyn Thompson, Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- New York school districts that saw budgets fail in May will put plans up for new votes Tuesday, in many cases after making additional cuts to staffing and other spending.

Under the state's tax cap law, school districts have two chances to get budgets passed. If they fail both times, they cannot raise taxes at all in the next school year and face even more dramatic cuts.

In all, 31 of the 32 districts where budgets were defeated have scheduled re-votes. The Marlboro Central School District in Ulster County, which had proposed lowering the tax levy, instead adopted a contingency budget.

A handful of districts are putting the same budgets on the ballot after narrow defeats the first time around. They include western New York's Bemus Point, where the budget failed by 12 votes. Superintendent Jacqueline Latshaw said the board received apologies afterward from people who did not vote.

Other districts found additional spending cuts and dipped deeper into reserve funds.

In the Buffalo suburb of Clarence, where an initial 9.8 percent increase in the tax levy divided the town, the revised budget includes a 3.6 percent increase and the elimination of 29 positions, on top of the 25 included in the first budget.

Clarence was one of 28 districts whose first budgets proposed exceeding the state's 2011 tax cap and would have required a 60 percent supermajority to pass. The cap generally limits increases in the tax levy — the amount collected through property taxes — to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, but is customized for each district based on certain exemptions.

Twenty-one of the budgets that sought to exceed the cap failed in May. Only three budgets seek an override in the revote: Newcomb in Essex County, Manhasset in Nassau County and North Babylon in Suffolk County, according to the New York State School Boards Association.

Manhasset school officials have said a second defeat would force $1.5 million in additional cuts and the loss of all extracurricular programs and athletics, as well as some teaching jobs.

"This is about one thing — if we don't reach 60 percent, we take a huge hit," Superintendent Charles Cardillo said during the board's June 4 meeting.

In rural Alden, near Buffalo, the district eliminated an athletic trainer and postponed the purchase of science kits and other supplies to reduce the tax levy increase from 3 percent to 1.5 percent. Should the revised budget fail, the district will eliminate modified sports, student field trips and reduce music, art, chorus and band instruction, the district said.

On average, the more than 600 budgets adopted in May raise school spending by 2.9 percent, compared to 1.5 percent last school year, according to the school boards association, which said the increase was largely driven by a hike in mandatory contributions to employee retirement systems.