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Greenport looking to pierce tax levy cap with 8.52% increase

David Gamberg Greenport audit

The Greenport Board of Education has adopted its budget for next year and will ask voters to approve a spending plan in May that attempts to pierce the tax levy cap with an 8.52 percent increase.

The district’s state-mandated tax levy limit is 0.77 percent and the district’s latest proposal is higher than the initial 6.22 percent increase superintendent David Gamberg discussed last month.

The proposed hike carries a nearly $1 million increase to the tax levy, which would bring the total amount raised from property taxes next year to nearly $13.7 million. The board voted 4-1 to pass the budget, with Board President Dan Creedon voting against it, saying he supported the superintendent’s initial budget.

“I do think that’s a large number,” he said, pointing to the increase. “I’m in favor of the six percent that you proposed in your first budget … I think that’s still a substantial increase.”

Residents have voiced concerns at budget hearings saying that there weren’t enough positions being restored. The latest proposed increase will allow the district to restore a full-time math teacher and a part-time social studies teacher, as well as add some clerical and aide positions, Mr. Gamberg said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“This budget is largely restorative,” he said. “It’s making restorations so that children in kindergarten, first grade and second grade have the same support so that they, too, can in ten years time achieve at a level that the current ’15 and ’16 classes did.”

Mr. Gamberg said the district’s teaching staff has reduced from 63 to 53 teachers over the past nine years even though student enrollment has grown. The district’s student population increased from 637 students to 681 students this current school year, he added.

Since last month, the school board has been discussing a need to pierce the tax levy cap in order to restore numerous teaching positions that have been eliminated.

Mr. Gamberg has proposed converting the librarian and psychologist positions from part-time to full-time. In addition, he’s included in his tentative spending plan adding full-time teachers in reading, special education, secondary English and English as a Second Language (ESL), as well as an ESL assistant teacher.

The district is also looking to create a new position: a part-time science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teacher for grades K-8.

Mr. Gamberg said the tax levy increase is also needed because he believes the district doesn’t receive its fair share of state aid due to a formula he described as flawed. While Greenport’s high property values are factored into how much state aid the district receives, he said the district is also deemed as economically stressed since many students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Board vice president Babette Cornine described the tentative budget as “a new beginning.”

“We’re providing the seed for the school to grow,” she said. “It takes a village to raise a child, and now we have to work together to watch our children grow.”

In May 2012, Greenport was the first local school district to propose piercing the tax cap. It obtained the necessary voter support that year, and no other North Fork district has tried to pierce the cap since.

If a school district decides to pierce the tax cap, the budget must receive 60 percent voter approval opposed to a simple majority if the proposed tax levy increase is below the cap.

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Photo: Superintendent David Gamberg. (Credit: File)

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