Long Island School Budgets Mostly Pass

Long Island Schools

Long Island voters overwhelmingly voted Tuesday in favor of their school districts’ budgets by a margin of nearly 98 percent since almost all stayed under New York State’s 2-percent property tax cap.

Voters in three districts that tried to exceed the limit—Bridgehampton, Sayville and West Babylon—failed to reach the 60 percent threshold required by state law and the Hempstead vote is reportedly being challenged for alleged irregularities. All across the Island, turnout was reportedly high, like in Syosset, where 70 percent of the district’s voters backed the proposed tax hike of 1.33 percent.

Syosset School Board member Josh Lafazan called the increase “our lowest budget-to-budget increase in 20 years.” That also happens to be the same amount of years that the state’s youngest school board member has been alive.

Now in his second year on the board, Lafazan plans to attend Cornell University this September as a junior transfer student from Nassau Community College. When he was first elected, he was still a senior at Syosset High School and told his constituents that he hoped to transfer to Columbia University, so he wouldn’t be so far away. Now, he plans to participate at all the board’s executive sessions via Skype and appear at every monthly school board meeting in person, unless an occasional test interferes.

“I will continue to strive to help improve the school district and bring new ideas to the board for financial savings, even from a distance,” he told the community in a recent email. He plans to run for another three-year term next May.

The community supported the budget Lafazan backed, but not enough of them apparently followed his recommendation that Bill Weiner replace incumbent Laura Schlesinger, who “comes from the old school board mentality of her predecessors,” Lafazan wrote. Weiner “came up short,” as Lafazan put it Wednesday morning after the final results were in.

Before Lafazan ran for the school board, the district, which has 6,500 students, had achieved some unwanted statewide notoriety because its school superintendent, Carole Hankin, had the distinction of earning the second-highest salary for that job in the state. She got $506,000 in compensation, a sum that drew some criticism in 2011 from Gov. Andrew Cuomo for its exorbitance. After serving 23 years, Hankin retired last July and was replaced by Ronald L. Friedman, the former Great Neck schools superintendent, who agreed to fill in only for a year.

This July, Thomas L. Rogers, the district superintendent of Nassau BOCES, will become Syosset’s new superintendent. Rogers will get $279,000 a year; his BOCES salary was reportedly $166,000, which is capped by the state at $166,762.

U.S. News & World Report named Syosset High School a “gold medal school” and ranked it 32nd in New York, and 194th nationwide in its recent list of top American schools. It placed 184th nationwide in The Washington Post’s latest rankings.

Lafazan had clashed with Hankin in his attempts to put the school budget online—it now is—and to promote more transparency. He had nothing but enthusiasm for Rogers.

“He’s just a rock star when it comes to the issues,” Lafazan said. “We’re in very capable hands.”

As for the rest of LI, homeowners can expect an average property-tax levy increase of only 1.57 percent, and, if they qualify, they won’t feel any pain because they’ll receive tax-rebate checks set to be in the mail right before the governor runs for re-election in November.