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Mar 19, 2019 12:59 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Eastport-South Manor May Pierce Tax Cap If Community Votes To Add Armed Guards

Mickey Byrnes and Peter McGuire petitioned in December to add a proposition to the Eastport South-Manor budget ballot for armed guards in schools. They collected 625 written signatures. ANISAH ABDULLAH
Mar 20, 2019 10:30 AM

While the Eastport-South Manor School District’s proposed budget for next school year has not yet been finalized, one thing is already known: The district may pierce the state’s cap on tax levy increases.

All school districts must notify the State Education Department by March 1 if they have a possibility of piercing the cap for the 2019-20 budget. Eastport-South Manor administrators were the lone East End district to inform the state that it is possible—not because of a general increase in spending, but because residents may approve a proposition to add armed security guards to the district, the cost of which would push the district over the cap. Community members petitioned to add the measure to the May ballot.

Under tax cap law, the state allows Eastport-South Manor to ask for a 2.75 percent property tax increase from district residents in the upcoming budget. The proposed tax levy currently falls right at the limit, said Tim Laube, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and operations, when exemptions and exceptions are calculated in.

Costs are not yet finalized, but as of March 15, the armed guards proposition calls for $512,411 in taxpayer money to add six armed guards to the district’s schools, two in the junior-senior high school and one in each of the four elementary schools, Mr. Laube said. That would require a tax levy increase of 3.69 percent.

A tax cap override is allowable only if the proposition, in addition to the proposition to adopt the proposed budget, both receive at least 60 percent of the vote.

District parents Peter McGuire of Manorville and Mickey Byrnes of Manor Park spearheaded the effort to add the armed guards proposition to the ballot. In December, they said they were dissatisfied with the district’s existing security measures and felt there needed to be an armed presence patrolling every school.

Currently, the district has four to six unarmed guards patrolling the high school. They will remain employed, regardless of the voting outcome.

Mr. McGuire and Mr. Byrnes circulated a petition at the end of 2018 asking the Board of Education to add the proposition, ultimately collecting 625 written signatures from district residents. This was done after board members told the men that they refused to vote on the measure.

“I’m very happy that it’s out this way and that it’s out on the ballot,” Mr. Byrnes said. “I’m not too thrilled that it’s tied to piercing the cap, only because it takes the super-majority to get it to pass. But there’s an upside to that—that if you do it this way, they can’t take it out of the budget and use that money for anything else.”

Board members were hesitant to add the proposition, knowing the community was divided on having armed guards, but they voted unanimously last month to include it on the ballot.

“We did our homework, and, at first, we were on the fence, and I think we were convinced that the best way to do this is to let the community vote on it,” Board President Nicholas Vero said.

Looking at the proposed budget on its own, administrators are satisfied with where it currently stands, a sigh of relief after undergoing a tumultuous budget process last year that resulted in 74 job cuts. Mr. Laube said that the 2019-20 budget is balanced without dipping into the reserve funds. The way it stands, revenues cover all expenditures. A preliminary budget number stands at $96,451,050, as of March 15, a nearly $3 million increase from last year’s spending.

“We did a lot of really hard, arduous work last year, but it was necessary,” Superintendent of Schools Patrick Brimstein said. “It positioned us now where our revenues and expenditures are in line. We are positioned now to meet the contractual obligations that we have.

“We’re doing it in a very responsible way,” he went on. “But at the same time, we recognize there is a segment of the community interested in introducing armed guards to our campuses. So we’re in the process of building a proposition that will fund the addition of the armed guards on each campus.”

A big reason for the balanced budget is the low increase for health insurance premiums next year, Mr. Laube said, 2.75 percent. For the last 20 years, the average annual increase was 8 percent.

“For us, it’s been a smooth budget process this year, largely because health insurance benefits stayed flat. If that did what it does traditionally, we could be looking for $800,000 or $900,000 in cuts,” Mr. Laube said.

With or without the armed guards, the budget is expected to raise the tax rate within the district in both towns of Brookhaven and Southampton, according to Mr. Laube. If the armed guards proposition is approved, Brookhaven’s tax rate is expected to increase by $399.13 for an average home assessed at $4,000 and $429.11 for an average house assessed at $500,000 in Southampton Town. If the proposition fails, the average Brookhaven resident would see a $296.88 increase and the average Southampton Town resident would see a $319.19 increase for the same house assessments.

Linda Wygonik, president of the Eastport-South Manor Teachers Association, said that the teachers’ and community’s biggest concern with next year’s budget as it currently stands is the lack of effort to reduce elementary school class sizes, which are expected to be larger than what they see as good practices.

“Looking at the plan for next year, if we are financially sound and everything’s balanced, why are we not replacing the three elementary teachers that are leaving due to attrition, in an effort to address the community concern of large class sizes?” Ms. Wygonik said, adding that when the matter was addressed, the district administration’s response what that they will not be replacing those teachers.

Mr. Laube has several more budget presentations to make before the School Board and is still making adjustments. The deadline for a finalized budget is April 17.

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