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Voters Reject Wainscott School Budget for Second Time

Tue, 06/20/2023 - 20:43
Christine Sampson

The Wainscott School District failed to get the 60-percent approval it needed on Tuesday to pass an over-the-tax-cap budget, throwing it into "uncharted waters," its superintendent said.

The budget plan was for $6.14 million, representing nearly a 50-percent spending increase over this year and about a 95-percent increase in the tax levy. The revised plan was about $17,000 less than the original proposal, which was narrowly defeated last month.

The district, by law, is not allowed now to increase its tax levy next school year unless the State Legislature can intervene in some way. Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. "is next on my list to call," the superintendent, Deborah Haab, said Tuesday night after the votes were tallied.

Otherwise, she said, "based on everything we know today, that levy is not going to be sufficient to cover our costs."
Because the budget exceeded the state-imposed tax-levy cap, it needed approval from a supermajority of voters.

The tally Tuesday night was 79 in favor and 67 opposed, or 54 percent voter approval. Unlike the May vote, in which the margin of failure was three votes, the budget fell 10 votes shy this time around.

Ms. Haab also said she plans to reach out to the East Hampton and Sag Harbor School Districts, where Wainscott students go after aging out of the kindergarten-through-third-grade schoolhouse, to explore options for those students' tuition. An unexpected enrollment boom of 20 students in the fourth grade and up — some with special education needs, which cost a lot more than general education programs — led to a shortfall of about $1 million in the current year's budget. Assuming they all continue to live in Wainscott, that money had to be built into next year's budget.

Ms. Haab was joined by Norma Bushman, the district clerk, and two election inspectors in counting the paper ballots after polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The sounds and smells of a custodial crew cleaning the classrooms formed the backdrop of the count. Ms. Bushman wrestled with a letter opener to reveal 21 of the 24 absentee ballots; three were deemed invalid because they lacked the necessary voter's signature on the envelope.

By 8:17, it was clear the budget was not going to pass.

"We have more 'no' votes now than we did the last time," Ms. Haab said. "When people say 'no,' they tend to come back and say 'no' again. That's been my experience."

The school board was to have met Wednesday night to discuss next steps.

This story has been updated since it was first published.


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