Sachem residents green-lighted a 2012/13 school on Tuesday, giving the $291.36 million proposal the 60 percent supermajority it needed to pass.
The spending plan, over the state's new tax cap, received 60.2 percent of the vote, 5,031-3,323. With 8,354 votes cast, the budget required 5,013 votes for it to be put into effect.
"I mean this, I've been here 30 years and I have never, ever once been disappointed by the people in this community and I can continue to say that," Superintendent James Nolan said after the votes were tabulated.
Incumbent Douglas Duncan won the single contested Board of Education seat handily, defeating Jeff Vinci and Jon Siegel for another three-year term. Duncan received 3,406 votes, Vinci tallied 2,159 and Siegel received 1,435 votes. Incumbents Rob Scavo and Michael Isernia ran unopposed to hold onto their seats.
The approved budget represents a 1.2 percent spending increase over the current year and a 4.2 percent hike in the school tax levy. The tax hike is above the 2.8 percent allowed under the tax cap, thus the budget needed the 60 percent super-majority in order to override that cap.
The scene at Nokomis Elementary School as the results rolled in was as tense as can be. School officials gathered around a screen showing the numbers, which hovered around 58 percent approval as the first several schools reported figures.
With 11 of the 12 elementary schools reporting, the approval figure was at exactly 60 percent. That left Grundy Elementary School, election district #12, as the make-or-break polling location. When Grundy reported a margin of 447-273 (62 percent approval), the main office at Nokomis erupted in applause, hugs and congratulations.
"As long as the 60 percent is in play, it really changes the game entirely," Nolan said. "Most definitely we have an incredibly supportive community, but that 60 percent, all I kept thinking was even if the community comes out and supports it at 59 percent, no good."
The slim margin the budget passed by "was way too close for comfort," said Scavo, the current school board president.
"We haven't experienced this close of a race since the EXCEL bond [in 2008], which passed by 24 votes and to sit there and have to think about going back and making cuts that are going to affect children always sits in the back of your head," Scavo said. "And that's the last thing you want to have to do so we are grateful for the community. We are grateful for the people who came out and supported the budget."
Officials have called the now-approved budget a "rollover budget, minus five teachers." The district will lose 30 teachers to retirement next year, but under the new budget, the district expects to replace 25 of them.
While school officials were relieved with the outcome of the vote, Scavo said the board, hopeful of further restorations in state aid to the district, would "work diligently [next year] to try to get to that cap so we don't have to experience anything like this again."
Despite the rainy weather, turnout was up 7.4 percent from last when 7,779 votes were cast.
Sachem was one of 17 out of 124 districts on Long Island to propose a budget over the tax cap. More than 90 percent of school budgets on Long Island were approved Tuesday, but seven of the districts, Three Village, that attempted to override the tax cap saw their budgets defeated, according to Newsday.
Duncan, Scavo and Isernia Re-Elected
Duncan cruised to a third term on the Sachem Board of Education, receiving 48.7 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
Vinci tallied 30.8 percent of the vote and Siegel, a former BOE trustee, collected 20.5 percent.
Incumbents Scavo and Isernia ran unopposed with Scavo re-elected to a third term and Isernia securing his first full term on the board after being appointed to the board in 2010 and winning a one-year term last year.
Duncan, who was first elected to the board in 2006 at the age of 18, said Tuesday's victory, in a race that turned particularly heated in the last couple of weeks, was the most satisfying of his three wins.
"This definitely tastes the sweetest," Duncan said. "The nice thing about this is the Sachem community overwhelmingly rejected negative politics, slander, personal character attacks and it's nice to know that this community can see through that."
Siegel, reached via email Tuesday night, said that while he "disagreed with the district exceeding the state's tax cap with such a surplus being left this year, I respect the democratic process and the community voted accordingly.
"As for the board seat, I knew a three-way election was going to be difficult as the incumbent has the advantage and it played out that way. Nevertheless my next goal is getting a district petition finalized for at-large elections for next year, so there are no more three-way elections," Siegel said. "Congratulations to all of the board members."
Vinci could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.