By now, you’ve probably received a text, call, or visit from the “Vote Yes” brigade. You’ve definitely seen the signs littering the town to simply “Vote Yes”. The case for simply going along with what the district recommends seems like the path of least resistance, and one that most feel requires little to no explanation. The case for voting “No”, however, requires a deeper justification.
Based on all literature and talking points disseminated by the District and the Teacher’s Union, the reason to “Vote Yes” is because you should simply trust what they are doing. We have granted them stewardship of our taxpayer dollars, over $70 million, and they demand more. If you disagree, they claim that you hate children, and the school, and want to see the community fail. It’s fear, not facts. So trust them, or you are the problem.
The reason why people voted against the budget the first time, and the reason why I and others are against this budget is because that trust has been lost. It did not happen in a day, nor can it be regained in a day. The facts are clear and incontrovertible – the District loses students but increases its budget every year. The school buildings are at 45% utilizations, meaning that it can fit more than twice the amount of students that it has. Not only that, but full time staffing has increased during this time. When given ample opportunities to explain this, the go-to response is out of district transportation costs rising. They rarely acknowledge that most of those expenses are paid by the state. They put forward edge cases of one student that goes to one school that they claim costs nearly $60,000 per year to transport. It is not indicative of the real costs of the district, and people can see through it.
The trust has been lost.
Last year and this year, West Hempstead was the only school district budget in Nassau County to fail in the first round of voting. In 2022, the District acquiesced slightly by reducing the budget by around $200,000. Then they made sure to campaign heavily for the vote to turn their way. This year, they didn’t even make the cut, they are just doing the campaigning.
As a part of that campaign, School Board President Karen Brohm and District Assistant Superintendent Joel Press sat down for an interview with the West Hempstead Echo. (For the record, I can appreciate that they have a hard job to do and still disagree with them. This is not an attack on them personally.)
During the interview, both Brohm and Press said some ridiculous statements about the nature of elections. “We can’t take 1,300 [no votes] as the sole representative of the 13,000 people who live in West Hempstead and have the ability to vote,” Brohm said. We have to remember that, even though they didn’t come out and vote, that’s not a “No” vote.” Press went further after agreeing that this is about “complacency” of the community and added that, “the overwhelming majority of people who showed up [to Board meeting] was that the budget was responsible as is.”
So, according to the two people in charge of the budget, the 50 or so people who show up to the Board meetings – who are a self selecting group of people who agree with them in the first place – have more weight on their decision-making than the 1,300 people who showed up to vote “No” on May 16th. Why should they believe that? As Press himself said in the interview, “By all objective measures, this is a responsible and reasonable budget.” If that were true, why is there so much opposition?
The campaign now is far more aggressive now than it was a month ago. They are claiming that there will be “financial chaos” if they lose, highlighting the fear campaign. Yet there seems to be more money and more effort put into this campaign. This is simple – West Hempstead is the ONLY vote in the entire county, so all the efforts from the unions are being put into this vote.
The unions have a vested interest in keeping the tax burden as high as possible on the communities. More taxes means more hirings, which means more union members, which means more union dues. Even if the hirings are not necessary, as in West Hempstead. Since 2014, the district has LOST nearly 600 students. In that same time period, the District has ADDED 20 new full-time employees.
Joel Press said the opposite to the Echo, saying that “staffing has decreased over time.” As can clearly be seen by the forms filled out for Bond applications, Staffing has risen in administration, teacher, maintenance and monitors. The only decrease has been in office staff.
The budgeting process itself allows for up to 4% of the budget to be held in a “general fund”, a.k.a. A reserves fund for the future. That general fund is usually a few million as a cushion. This year, it is projected to exceed $20 million (that information is not publicly revealed until June 30th, ten days after the Re-Vote). For 6 of the past 7 years, the district has OVER-BUDGETED, taking money from the community that they do not need. Remember, if the budget fails this year, the district needs to account for, by their own admission, $960,000 that they were expecting from the tax levy increase. The notion that there will be “financial chaos” if there is $960,000 less from a $73 million budget is ridiculous.
This cannot be reiterated enough, but it has to be otherwise the personal attacks will come. This is not an attack on those who make or approve the budget. This is a debate, in a democracy, about the needs of the community. The community is more than the 1500 students that attend the public school. There are an additional 1500 students that do NOT attend public schools. Having a large number of homes who either do not have children at all, or send to nonpublic schools has a financial advantage to the public school students. It costs the district a fraction of what they pay for a public school student to provide the services that are both required by law and, for many of it, funded by the state.
In the Echo interview, the claim was insinuated that it would cost the district the same to educate a Yeshiva Har Torah student in the public school as it does to send them to YHT. That statement is contradicted by the numbers that they discuss in that same interview. Even if we granted the premise that a general education public school student costs between $13,000 and $15,000 per year to educate (a far cry from the $40,000+ average that we’re paying), it costs a fraction of that to transport! The claims don’t add up. Aside from that, this obfuscates the reason why hundreds of parents are choosing other schools.
Parents choose to send their children to nonpublic schools for a variety of reasons. In West Hempstead, it is not because there is so much wealth that they might as well spend the extra money. Nonpublic schools, especially Jewish parochial schools, provide an environment that is simply not allowed in public schools by law in the state of New York. They teach classes that, by law, are not allowed in the public schools in the state of New York.
To do this, they operate on barebones, no-frills budgets that require endless fundraising on top of tuition costs, which exceeds over $10,000 per child per year. A family with 3 children easily spends nearly half a million dollars just to get their children through high school in an environment of their choosing while funding the public education system. So when the attacks of not caring about children or being cheap regarding the tax raise inevitably come during this time of the year, it’s not only hollow, it’s insulting. The stories of sacrifices that parents make for their children would fill so many books we’d need to build a new library to contain them all.
So while the armies are coming around telling people to Vote Yes with zero context, simply to trust the people who are in charge, understand that there is a context for those who want to Vote NO.
Make sure to VOTE on June 20th.