As Long Beach residents head to polls to vote on a proposed $122.1 million school budget Tuesday, many issues loom large: ongoing upgrades to district-wide facilities, contractual negotiations, debates over class sizes and heterogeneous classrooms, transportation costs, as well as a collective 16 percent tax increase in the City of Long Beach’s proposed budget.
Voters will cast ballots on the school district’s 2012-13 spending plan representing a 3.7 percent or $3.5 million increase to the tax levy, the cost for paying a long-term bond on a preservation plan that voters approved in 2009. Some residents see these costs as the price for paying their children’s education.
Among them is Carolyn Ejnes, who has a 12-year-old child at Long Beach Middle School and a 10-year-old at West School. “It is disappointing when taxes go up, but this is what we have to do to maintain good programs in our district and I will support it,” said Ejnes about the budget.
Resident Ely Marrero has a daughter who transferred from the middle school to Long Beach Catholic Regional School, in part because the district eliminated honors classes. Marrero will still vote to approve the budget to provide resources she believes will benefit other kids and hopefully her own.
"Maybe they can look into providing some of those benefits for kids who go to private school, who are Long Beach residents and could benefit from our tax dollars in after-school programs,” she said. “... It would be great if [my daughter] could participate in some of the extra curricular activities since we do pay for it."
Other residents, such as Bill Roth, a West Ender whose children have graduated from Long Beach schools, correlate passing the budget with better schools and a boon to real estate. For this reason, Roth will give the budget a thumbs-up. “A good school district encourages people to move to Long Beach,” he said. “The better the school district, the value of homes increase tremendously."
But there are others who, if they don’t oppose the budget outright, they are at least especially concerned with its tax burden on homeowners. East End resident Richard Boodman believes educators are not facing the realities of rising salaries and pension and health costs, which he called “out of control,” and that school-generated taxes harm the housing market. “High taxes have caused home values to go down and tenants rents to go up,” he said. “[That’s] a recipe for financial disaster.”
Boodman, who doesn’t have children, sees corrective solutions in consolidating school districts, closing the East School and slashing salaries and benefits coupled with creating educational alternatives for parents.
“Renegotiate all contracts to reflect the taxpayer’s ability to pay, not the educator’s desire to live large and retire larger, and bring in charter schools to create competition for the privilege of educating the children,” he said. “This taxpayer rip-off has to end if Long Beach is to remain a viable community.”
At last Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, resident Kevin Heller predicted that the budget would be voted down. When addressing the trustees and administrators, Heller zeroed in on the budget’s high pension and health care costs, among its costliest expenses. “This is the heart of the matter,” he said. “ … That’s not sustainable.”
While Heller said that he didn’t want to see students suffer from budget cuts, he noted that some neighboring school districts do more with less, such as Rockville Centre, which not only but also has a high school that is No. 2 on U.S. News & World Report ‘s Best High Schools in New York rankings.
Resident Steve Marshall, though, sees no sense in voters failing to pass the budget. "It does not make any sense to vote it down because it costs more money, time and aggravation to hold a second vote,” he said. “That could be money going to the schools."
If the budget fails Tuesday, the district would face the prospect of a contingency budget. Under the new state-mandated tax levy cap, the percentage of contingency budget’s tax levy drops to zero. For Long Beach, that means about $3 million that is already approved to pay the bond on district-wide upgrades would have to be removed from the operating budget and thereby short programs and services.