James: Budget Passed by Largest Margin In Last Decade

Commack voters approved a $171 million school budget by 63.34 percent, the highest passing percentage since 2000.

Commack School District's 2012-13 school budget was passed by one of the highest margin within the last decade, according to Superintendent Donald James.

Commack voters by vote of 2,977 to 1,723, or 63.34 percent, on Tuesday. By comparison, last year Commack's budget passed by a fraction less - 62.83 percent. This is the school district's strongest passing percentage since 2000, which James claimed is due to the diligent outreach to the community and development of a budget well under the state's tax levy cap.

"Throughout the budget development process, the Board and I took great pains to listen to stakeholders representing various view point in an effort to align the budget and future education programs with the community's expectations," James said.

During the course of the budget development, James and Commack's Board of Education had meetings with each of the eight PTA executive boards, two special community input sessions at Burr Intermediate School on March 28 and Sawmill Intermediate School on April 16. The superintendent said he and board trustees also met with several community-based organizations including Commack Soccer League, Commack Youth Organization, Commack Little League and Commack Youth League prior to the budget's adoption.

"We heard from many people, and what resonated was their desire to maintain Commack School' level of academic excellence, as recognized in U.S. News and World Report with Commack High School being named as one of the 'Best 100 High Schools in the Nation,'" James said.

The superintendent also credited the school board's ability to come up with budget at a 2.6 tax levy increase, well under the district's allowable 4.1 percent state tax levy cap for the strong public support.

Other districts didn’t fare as well. Residents of the to pierce the state cap and managed to garner only a 54 percent approval. getting 58.7 percent of the yes ballots, only 33 individual votes shy of the needed 60 percent super-majority.

Commack's Board of Education election was decided by a slim margin, as challenger Daniel Fusco lost to incumbent Deborah Guber by less than 10 percent - 2,012 votes to 2,453.

Fusco offered his personal congratulations to Guber and hoped that through his campaign, he encouraged residents to take a greater interest in getting involved in the school district, attending Board of Education meetings and a new light to issues.

"I would like Ms. Guber to move forward with conveying a message to the rest of the BOE [Board of Education] making sure that our children always come first. All of the children's programs should remain in tact and not fact the budgetary axe each year due to contractual raises," Fusco said in a statement.

He also hopes the Board of Education will continue to negotiate with the district's three employee unites whose contracts are up this June, fighting for hard pay freezes.

Guber could not be reached for comment on her re-election by the time of this article's publication.

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ITS ALL ABOUT THE SPENDING May 17, 2012 at 06:58 PM
WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE IF NEWSDAY EXPRESSED THIS OPINION ON MONDAY!!!!!!! So far, the new tax cap seems to be doing its job, controlling the budget and tax increases of school districts. Tax hikes averaged only 2.6 percent on Long Island this year, the lowest regional increase in 15 years. Voters in 92.7 percent of the 124 districts approved their budgets Tuesday. The failure rate was much higher for districts that tried to exceed the cap on property tax increases than those that did not: Budgets in seven of the 17 districts that tried to go beyond the cap were defeated, and only two budgets that did not were rebuffed.
ITS ALL ABOUT THE SPENDING May 17, 2012 at 06:59 PM
The new law holds down taxes in two ways. Districts know they need 60 percent approval to break the cap -- which limits tax increases to 2 percent, plus a bit more for exceptions like increased pension costs. But they also know if they lose that first vote, and then a second plan is rejected, their budgets will be frozen. That's a far cry from the "austerity budgets" that used to kick in after two "no" votes. Those austerity budgets often included significant tax increases. There's no shortage of money in the school districts of Long Island. Average spending per student in the region is around $24,000, one-third higher than the statewide average, and the state is among the highest in per-student spending and teacher salaries nationally. Think about what that means: The 25 students in a typical classroom have about $600,000 devoted to their education each year, yet when budget time rolls around we're often told by district administrators and the education establishment that it isn't enough.
ITS ALL ABOUT THE SPENDING May 17, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Districts spent freely for years on teacher contracts and administrators, as well as for benefit packages that far exceed the ones most employees in the private sector enjoy. Those costs have to be brought under control, and the only way is to control the flow of money. So the tax cap is working, but not just because it generally controlled costs. It also allowed voters in 10 Long Island districts to override the cap and devote more money to their schools. That's their right, and it should be possible. It just shouldn't be easy. And thanks to a well-designed tax cap, it no longer is.
ITS ALL ABOUT THE SPENDING May 17, 2012 at 07:09 PM
Youre so right GM. As a guy with an MBA in finance, I just dont understand how people just check yes year after year. I try to rationalize it. Is it parental guilt? Fear of retribution within the community? Are people just ill informed? As an advocate of fiscal sanity, I do not espouse draconian measures ala "Chainsaw" Al Dunlap, but I do not think it is unreasonable to want to align the disposition of more than 170 million taxpayer education dollars with the methods in place in the real world. Maybe one day more than 50% of the electorate will come to their senses and agree. Until then GM, keep "visible" so that we may coordinate a better effort next year.
ergodic May 19, 2012 at 03:57 AM
From a slightly different perspective. The cost of a 12 year education (per pupil) in the Commack S.D. - as of the 2012-13 school year - will be $283,920. This is more than 75% of other NYS districts with at least than 1000 students.


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