Opinion

Editorial: On Tuesday, support your school and vote

Each year at this time, we publish a voters’ guide to school district budgets and the candidates running for Board of Education seats. We do this for the most obvious reason: You, as taxpayers, have a right to know — and vote on — what amounts to approximately 80% of your property tax bill.

There is no larger allocation of your tax dollars about which you have a direct say. Yes, of course, you can vote on your local library budget, but those budgets don’t run into the hundreds of millions of dollars — your dollars.

We have always urged voters to approve the budgets their school boards have adopted, as a rejected budget produces a cascade of unwelcome issues within a district, from the cancellation of sports and after-school programs to a host of other repercussions for services that are critical to students’ well-being. A “no” vote also forces reexamination of a district’s budget — and compels another vote.

This is not to say there aren’t reasons to question school district expenditures. Democracies work best when we question the actions of government and all elected officials on how they spend our money. They work for us; we don’t work for them. This questioning amounts to a citizen’s basic responsibility.

Prior to a vote, we encourage residents of each district to attend Board of Education meetings during the budgeting process, examine the numbers and raise issues about how much is being spent and on what.

In Southold and Riverhead, that effort at hometown democracy comes to a head this Tuesday, May 21, when voters will go to the polls in their school districts — from Oysterponds to Shoreham-Wading River — to approve or reject the 2024-25 school year budgets and chose candidates to fill open board seats. 

As we say in our voters’ guide  “School budgets represent each district’s financial plan for the upcoming year and account for all anticipated expenditures and revenues. They also inform community members about property tax levies — the majority of which go to funding local school districts.”

Please read closely our voters’ guide for the key issues in your district, including total budget amounts, the names of the candidates running for open seats and, importantly, the tax levy and the percentage of the tax increase over last year’s budget.

It’s also informative to see the budgets from neighboring districts, which run the gamut from $5 million in Oysterponds to $201 million in Riverhead. Some ballots also detail capital improvement projects that will be undertaken if the budget is approved, from building and infrastructure repairs to security and facility enhancements.

One last thing to keep in mind: Despite the enormous commitment of time, energy, expertise and enthusiasm the job requires, participation on area school boards is strictly voluntary. So even if you don’t always agree with a district’s decision on certain issues, trust that the board members are doing their utmost to serve our communities and our children. The least we can do is show them support — by casting our votes.