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Take the time to vote on your school district’s budget

Are you going to vote on Tuesday?

Long Islanders’ annual May trip to the polls – to vote on school budgets and school board members – is one of the clearest ways residents can make their voices heard in their local communities. Voting directly on how your money is spent is important; School funding is the largest component of property taxes. Also critical: selecting community members as your representatives to make important decisions about your children’s education.

All in all, 373 candidates in 124 districts will compete for the votes of residents this Tuesday. And nearly $16 billion in school spending is at stake.

In six counties — Port Washington, West Babylon, Sachem, East Hampton, Springs and Amagansett — voters will decide whether to break the state’s tax cap. In Port Washington, the proposed budget would increase taxes by 4.55%, while in West Babylon it is a 4.99% increase. On the East End, those numbers are even higher. Amagansett’s tax levy would increase by 7.77%; in Springs it is 10.8%.

Lifting the tax cap would require 60% of voters to agree, now or in a vote next month. Two rejections of the proposal would mean a tax freeze.

Other districts are proposing layoffs or program cuts, sometimes signaling the end of COVID-19 relief funds. That’s a particularly frustrating argument, because everyone knew the aid would end. Why is a district like Riverhead facing a “budget cliff” of nearly $20 million while pandemic aid, which was about the same amount, is declining?

The May school votes are also an opportunity for districts to seek voter approval for other major changes, bonding or other needs. That includes large-scale capital improvements, which voters will often see as a referendum on bonds, and more specific efforts, such as Harborfields’ attempt to liquidate a capital reserve fund to help pay for two Child Victims Act lawsuits, or the sale of district property by South Huntington to cover the cost of replacing boilers at the high school.

As voters make their own tough budget decisions, they must also determine who should make such decisions in the future. While some districts have unopposed candidates running for office, others roiled by fiscal issues or controversial cultural issues — such as the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts — are running have become the core of heated campaigns.

While the need to address divisive social issues is not new, it is unfortunate that ugly rhetoric and partisan politics have permeated our school boards, to the point where other elected officials, including city supervisors and members of the state Assembly, police unions and local political leaders , made statements of support or provided money. Voters should consider their choices carefully.

Tuesday offers Long Island residents an opportunity to determine the best path forward for each school district. That starts with taking the time to research the district’s budget details, bonding requests and board candidates.

Then please vote. Newsday’s school voter guide.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL are experienced journalists who provide reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.