You’d have to go back more than 25 years to find the last time a budget was rejected by voters in the Greenport School District.
But with administrators proposing the second largest tax levy percentage increase in Suffolk County, there was a wave of uncertainty surrounding the district heading into Tuesday’s budget vote.
Then they announced the results, and like just about every year, the spending plan was approved by a wide margin.
Despite being the only North Fork District to ask voters to pierce the state property tax cap, Greenport joined each of its neighbors in having their 2016-17 budgets approved on the first attempt Tuesday evening.
“I am ecstatic,” said Greenport Superintendent David Gamberg. “I am so grateful to the people of Greenport and for what it means for the school district. It really is a statement to the community and in how much they believe in the school system.”
Greenport was one of nine districts across Long Island attempting to pierce the cap; only Elwood and Tuckahoe failed to muster enough support.
It was the second time Greenport residents elected to pierce the tax cap since it was enacted in 2011. The district’s spending plan calls for an 8.52 percent increase in the levy amounting to about a $1 million hike. The average Greenport homeowner will pay about $420 dollars more in school taxes next year.
Under the cap, the district was only allowed to raise the tax levy by 0.77 percent, or $98,320, next school year, an amount Mr. Gamberg described as “insufficient.”
The approved $17.9 million budget allows for the restoration of numerous staff positions that have been eliminated over the years, school officials have said, including converting the librarian and psychologist positions from part-time to full-time; adding a part-time social studies teacher and adding full-time teachers in math, reading, special education and English as a Second Language; as well as the restoration of aides and clerical staff.
The district also plans to create a new part-time science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teaching position for grades K-8. That teacher would work with the school garden, conduct labs and more, Mr. Gamberg said.
The proposed Greenport budget needed to receive approval from 60 percent of voters to pass. In total, 320 voted in favor of the spending plan and 160 voted against, marking a 66 percent approval.
“This district, I think, is probably the best in the country,” said school board member Heather Wolf, who along with Tina Volinski was elected to a fourth three-year term Tuesday after running unopposed. “Year after year [we receive] the support of the community with everything we ask for and I couldn’t be more grateful.”
While budgets passed and unopposed incumbents were also re-elected in Southold, New Suffolk and Oysterponds, a Mattituck-Cutchogue Board of Education race made certain the night would not be free from drama.
A seven-person race for three seats, ended with a trio of newcomers being elected to the board.
MaryLynn Hoeg (468 votes) and Barbara Talbot (365) were the top vote getters and were therefore elected to full three-year terms. Brian Mealy (310) will serve the final year of former board member Jerry Diffley’s unexpired term.
Ms. Talbot said improving educational opportunities and addressing a decline in the student population will be among the focus’ of her first term.
“We’re going to have to look at concerns about a decrease in enrollment and also look at how we can bring in enrichment programs into the district,” she said.
“I want to be as supportive as I can — supportive to the students, supportive to the staff and supportive to the taxpayers,” Mr. Mealy said after being immediately sworn in to his one-year term Tuesday night. “Hopefully I can be a part of the positive changes happening in Mattituck.”
Among the candidates the three newcomers defeated was incumbent William Gatz, who has served on the board since 2010. He fell just two votes shy of Mr. Mealy.
Mr. Gatz left shortly after congratulating this year’s winners. In an interview after the results were announced, Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Anne Smith described Mr. Gatz as a “team player” and said she’s grateful for his service and to the all the candidates who volunteered to serve.
“He’s such a highly valued board member and it’s challenging for us to lose someone with who has that history and knowledge of the goals of what we’ve been trying to accomplish over the years,” she said.
Top Caption: Greenport superintendent David Gamberg celebrates the district’s budget approval Tuesday. (Credit: Nicole Smith)
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