Three Village budget passed by narrow margin, voters discuss decisions

As votes were counted in the Three Village Central School District for budget approval and the Board of Education on the night of May 17, the race for the budget was tight.

Ultimately, the 2022-23 budget of $224 million passed by 66 votes, 2,584-2,518. The new budget is $3.8 million more than the contingency budget of 220.2 million from last year, an increase of 1.72%. The proposed tax levy is $165 million.

Last year, although 57.7% of taxpayers voted in favor of a budget of $222.6 million — 2,286-1,677 — it did not pass. The proposed budget for 2021-22 exceeded the 1.37% cap on tax increases, requiring supermajority approval, or 60% of the vote.

TBR News Media asked readers how they voted on May 17 regarding the TVCSD 2022-23 budget.

Those who approved

Ian Farber, of East Setauket, and a member of the district’s budget advisory committee which was formed earlier this year, said he voted “yes”. He said he believes the district “has made a good faith effort to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the use of our tax dollars.” He added that he thought the committee had helped facilitate that.

“Although there is still work to be done, voting ‘no’ would yield no positive results,” he said. “Some in our community believe that we operated in an unplanned way last year with no impact on students and teaching staff. Although we fared better than other districts in emergencies, some classrooms could not be expanded and teachers who were previously dedicated to a specific school had to float between multiple buildings. The district has also been prevented from returning money to reserves, which puts us all at increased tax risk.

Farber said he believes if the district operates on an emergency budget for consecutive years, it will erode the district’s educational establishment.

Shoshana Hershkowitz of South Setauket also voted ‘yes’, saying that ‘the difference in taxes between the proposed budget and the contingency budget is minimal, and I think our schools have done a great job over several difficult years. “.

She said tackling rising costs and making other changes is not at the district level.

“If we’re going to deal with rising costs on Long Island, the way to do that is to look at issues like the lack of affordable housing, job-related health care benefits, and the fact that Long Island has over 120 school districts, which increases both costs and segregation,” she said. “Defunding our public schools, as some have advocated, is not the way to reduce the cost of living in our region.”

She added that passage of New York’s health care law would mean that public sector benefits would no longer be part of school budgets.

Anne Chimelis, of Setauket, said this year like last year she encouraged people to vote “yes”. She said that having taught and lived in other school districts, she has witnessed when budgets are voted on and she thinks it does not help students. Voting a lower budget is short-sighted, Chimelis said, and there are other ways to fix it.

“The reality is that your tax bill doesn’t really change much when you vote against a budget, and things only get worse for your kids, for the district as a whole,” she said. “So that’s not really the way to make changes in my opinion. There are many other ways to make changes.

She applauded the formation of the Budget Advisory Committee this year.

“I think having administrators, teachers and others from the school community involved next year is a great idea, and I’m sure that by working together they can continue to find ways to spend money more efficiently without just summarily dismissing a budget,” she said.

Chimelis said she was not thrilled that 4.5 nursing positions were cut with the 2022-23 budget. The district’s decision said nurses were no longer needed due to declining COVID-19 infection rates. However, she said she would not vote against the budget for one question.

For Farber, he would like to see the STEM curriculum brought back to elementary schools and expanded to STEAM to incorporate the arts.

“No budget is perfect, and 3V can still improve,” Farber said, despite his “yes” vote.

He added, “Continuing and developing collaboration is how we improve.”

A “no”

David McKinnon, who ran for school board in 2020 and 2021, was also a member of the budget advisory committee, which he says made the process more transparent to the community, but was not set up. to limit costs.

The East Setauket resident said he was troubled that the teachers’ union, New York State United Teachers, was injecting itself into local school district elections. According to NYSUT’s website, the “statewide union has a political fundraising arm called VOTE-COPE.” The nonpartisan fund was established to coordinate “voluntary membership contributions and supports NYSUT-approved candidates and campaign committees that are supportive of public education and labor.”

McKinnon said that while he supports teachers and other workers, the campaign means more money is being spent asking residents to vote “yes” than “no.” NYSUT has not returned inquiries regarding the amount of funds invested in the TVCSD election.

He said he believed “most people in the district want accountability for education and spending” and that it would be best if residents’ decisions weren’t affected by a group of lobbyists.

“Ideally, decisions about schools would be made by the local community without outside interference,” he said.

McKinnon added that he believes NYSUT gets involved that teachers can have a stronger voice, when “there are multiple stakeholders,” students, parents, teachers, administrators and staff. He added that he believes the opinions of students and parents should be heard and balanced with the needs of teachers and administrators.

“Our school district is currently funded close to the highest level in the nation on a cost-per-student basis, taking into account economies of scale related to school size,” he said. “Given this already very high level of funding, the fiscally responsible position is to keep the cost per student reasonably stable in real dollar terms.”

McKinnon said with more than a decade-long decline in enrollment in the district, there should be zero budget increase.

“Instead, the budget has increased dramatically over the past decade, except for the last year,” he said.

Barbara Rosati, represents parents and educators through the Three Village Parents Alliance group, which has a Facebook page, a mailing list of nearly 200 residents, and a website. She is also married to McKinnon. She said she voted “no” and thinks just because she and others did it doesn’t mean they don’t support the district or education.

Rosati said she and others believe the district’s core academic programs, especially at the elementary level, can be updated and improved. Although she knows of parents who have supplemented their children’s education through out-of-school tutoring or enrichment programs, she said it can be costly and, for children, tedious.

She and other parents have also started a conversation with the district about “excessively early school start times,” and members of the TVPA group are also concerned about rising property taxes, which they say are due excessive administrative costs.

“Yet none of the tax increases in this year’s budget are intended to address that,” she said. “After advocating for these issues and closely monitoring district financial decisions, it would appear that this does not reflect a lack of funds but rather a lack of political will.”

She added, “Last year’s 0% tax increase budget could support all existing programs, additional teaching and non-teaching staff required by COVID, as well as adding a few narrow interest programs. .

Marlo Dombroff of East Setauket also voted “no,” and said she felt the recommendations made by the budget advisory committee had not been followed.

“When I assessed why the budget needed to increase again, I could not find a clear explanation of how the additional funds would directly benefit students,” she said. “The budget continues to increase each year and it is almost imperceptible where these funds are going. As a parent, I see no improvement in education. I had a kid who graduated last year who went through K-12, and now I have a kid who’s in grade 10, who’s been here since kindergarten too.

As someone who has attended every school board meeting, she feels that the changes and improvements suggested by parents have not been “implemented, despite intense lobbying by parents.” Dombroff said examples of needed improvements are in elementary math classes and starting foreign language teaching in elementary schools.

District Declaration

TVCSD Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich, who is retiring at the end of the school year, said in a statement that the district is “grateful to the community for participating in this year’s annual budget vote.”

“We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with all of our stakeholders to ensure the district maintains the strong and supportive educational program it provides for all students,” she said. “In recent years, particularly in the latter years of the pandemic, we have been able to maintain and grow our practices to achieve this goal.”

Pedisich listed the district returning students to school full-time and in person during the 2020-21 school year and implementing “initiatives designed to support learners at all levels – from the youngest to our seniors – while reducing costs through the consolidation of administrative positions and other operational efficiencies” among the achievements of the district to achieve its goals.