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United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport

Superintendent Robert Banzer speaks about the three propositions on the ballot for next week’s budget vote at last Thursday’s board meeting. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport-East Northport residents must support or deny three major proposals next week: a $161 million budget,  $2 million in capital improvements, and reducing the amount of board members from nine to seven.

The 2016-17 budget includes an American sign language elective at Northport High School, an elementary special education program and the purchase of a new school bus.

“This really emphasizes what this budget and what this school is all about,” Vice President David Badanes said at the May 5 meeting. “At the end of the day, it’s about students — there are students who are great in robotics, students who are great in music, students who are great in foreign languages. From A to Z, students in this district continue to shine.”

Northport proposes collecting $140.9 million in taxes, a 0.55 percent increase to the tax levy from last year’s budget, which will raise the average home’s taxes assessed at $3,800 an additional $56.40. This budget meets the state-mandated tax levy cap of 0.55 percent.

The second $2 million proposition on the ballot includes boiler replacements and a new gym ceiling at Northport Middle School, with funds taken from the 2008 general construction/electromechanical capital reserve and the 2012 capital reserve fund.

The district’s Athletic Facilities Citizens Advisory Committee first introduced many of the capital projects in a presentation led by trustee Regina Pisacani last December, after the committee conducted tours of the district’s facilities to see what improvements were needed.

Members of the United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport presented a petition at a school board meeting last June, with more than 300 signatures, asking for the board size to go down by two members.

Armand D’Accordo, a member of the United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport who presented the petition at that meeting, said he’s seen a number of issues with the current board size.

“I have gotten the sense at board meetings, both through watching and interacting, that it seems a bit dysfunctional, due to the makeup of how many members and how long they’ve been around,” D’Accordo said.

According to the district clerk’s office, if the proposition passes, it will go into effect in next year’s election. Trustees Pisacani, Donna McNaughton and Jennifer Thompson will all be up for re-election next year, and only one of the three seats would be open.

Board members have said they disagree with the proposal, arguing that a larger board size means more representation for the district.

“I’ve always liked the idea that the community has this degree of representation with nine members,” trustee Julia Binger said in a phone interview.

Trustee Lori McCue echoed her sentiment: “The downside for the community is a lack of representation,” McCue said in a phone interview. “I don’t feel this would benefit the community.”

The Northport-East Northport budget vote will be held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. next Tuesday, May 17 at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School, Fifth Avenue Elementary School and the William J. Brosnan Building.

Northport Superintendent Robert Banzer and Board President Andrew Rapiejko discuss how to handle the vote that could lead to a decrease in board member size. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Northport residents will officially have a chance to reduce the size of the Northport-East Northport Board of Education this spring.

The board passed a resolution at Thursday night’s meeting that will add a proposition to the budget vote this spring to decrease the membership of the board from nine trustees to seven.

The United Taxpayers of Northport-East Northport came to the board with a petition in June saying that nine members have made the board less effective.

In their petition the United Taxpayers stated “statistical and anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that school districts operate in a more effective and efficient manner when the composition of the board is limited to no more than seven board members.”

Armand D’Accordo, a member of the group, backed up its sentiment.

“I have gotten the sense at board meetings — both through watching and interacting — that it seems a bit dysfunctional, due to the makeup of how many members and how long they’ve been around,” D’Accordo said in a previous interview.

He also said the organization became interested in this idea after reading a study by Nina Dorata, titled “School District Boards, Audit Committees, and Budget Oversight: Seeking a Formula for Good Governance,” published in the March 2013 issue of the CPA Journal, which exposed the correlation between school district budget increases and tenure of board members.

“I do feel confident in the public,” D’Accordo said of the resolution passing. “There is a general sense I have been getting while collecting signatures for this petition that the public wants a smaller school board.”

Trustees have said they do not think this is a necessary step.

“We have a large and diverse community with a lot of different areas to represent,” Vice President David Badanes said in a previous interview. “The more people that participate gives you more eyes for each issue. The statistics are speculative and so far the arguments do not convince me.”

After the vote, Trustee Jennifer Thompson asked if the district would be held responsible to inform the public on this issue.

“Since this proposition came from the community and not the board or the district, how will the community be informed of the pros and cons of it?” she asked at the meeting. “Who is responsible for disseminating that information?”

Trustee Lori McCue suggested that at one of the upcoming budget meetings, the board give the factual information, and discuss how, if this proposition is successful, the members would be dwindles down from nine to seven.