Editorial: The will of the people

05/17/2012 7:00 AM |

The message is simple and the results are unfortunate, but the people of the Oysterponds School District have spoken.

Taxpayers went to the polls Tuesday to vote on operating budgets and other propositions in 124 Long Island school districts. Only nine spending plans fell to defeat. The Oysterponds district was one of the nine, and the only one on the North Fork.

But it wasn’t about the money.

Under the proposed budget, overall spending was to fall by close to 5 percent and the tax levy increase was to be half that, 2.5 percent. Since the numbers came in under the state tax cap, only a simple majority was needed for approval, not the 60 percent required in districts that pierced their specific cap limit.

That’s about as good as it gets. The tax levy hikes for the North Fork’s four other districts ranged from 2.19 percent to a whopping 15 percent. That big number is for New Suffolk, an anomaly in a district that usually has an exceptionally low school tax rate.

But look at neighboring Greenport, a community nowhere near as affluent as East Marion and Orient, where the $14.91 million budget raises taxes 6.96 percent. Since that pierced the cap, a 60 percent “yes” vote was needed, and the budget passed easily with 68 percent.

No, the Oysterponds results are not about taxes or educational programs. The election became a de facto referendum on the school board’s handling of the touchy subject of where students in the K-6 school should continue their education when they reach seventh grade.

In short, the board received an unmistakable “F” for its efforts.

The district has strong historic ties to Greenport, where Oysterponds students have continued their studies for as long as anyone can remember. Responding to concerns that Greenport’s offerings are not all they could be, the Oysterponds board added Mattituck to the mix. (Southold was not interested.)

While the idea of choice seems reasonable, offering the two options would have serious financial consequences for both Oysterponds and Greenport. Oysterponds’ superintendent said the move would set a precedent that could cost the district as much as $100,000. Greenport could lose a significant amount of tuition revenue but wouldn’t know how much until after its budgets were in place. The Oysterponds board seemed to be catering to a few people dissatisfied with Greenport schools while passing the cost on to the many.

The board’s first order of business should be to scrap the Mattituck idea entirely and work out an equitable tuition agreement with Greenport. Then, and only then, it should schedule a new vote on the same proposed budget — and pray that residents are in a forgiving mood.