The 2020-2021 Patchogue-Medford School Budget was approved by the voters of the district by a vote of 4,042 yes votes to 2,181 no votes. This year’s numbers were overwhelming compared to …
The 2020-2021 Patchogue-Medford School Budget was approved by the voters of the district by a vote of 4,042 yes votes to 2,181 no votes. This year’s numbers were overwhelming compared to the approximately 1,900 voters last year, or the average of 2,200 voters in years past, according to district clerk Dennis Logan.
This year, he said, was unlike any other year, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order changing the way school districts were able to conduct their annual budget and board of education vote. Districts across the state were required to mail out absentee ballots to every eligible voter within the district, including stamped and secured return envelopes. For Pat-Med, that meant a total of 32,000 ballots were sent out over the course of a few days. Residents were originally required to return their vote by 5 p.m. on June 9, but were then given leniency by the state up until 5 p.m. on June 16.
A team of about 30 people at South Ocean Middle School helped hand count the over 6,000 votes for about five hours on Monday, June 15, and an additional five hours on Tuesday, June 16. Votes are usually processed by machines with in-person votes, with an additional 80 to 90 mailed-in absentee votes. This year, volunteers at the middle school also managed to send out the thousands of absentee ballots versus the cost of hiring an outside company to do so, at a quoted rate of about $4 per ballot.
“We pulled it off and the staff was able to get it done,” said Logan of the large task. “Residents turned out and we had great participation. It’s an indication that voters are generally satisfied with what’s going on here and with the budget we presented.”
Judy Rohtla, a 30-year veteran of helping count the votes, said this year was an “experience.” However, she was happy to do so and even enjoyed the hands-on process.
“We had stacks of a certain amount and separated them into yes and no votes, then tallied them,” she said of the process. “We had really large numbers; the district should be proud.”
Still, according to Logan, the process confused some voters, with the biggest disqualifier being not signing the affidavit on the reverse of the envelope, in addition to incorrectly filling out the ballots or sending them back with the wrong unofficial envelope, rendering those votes uncountable. However, and thankfully, Logan said, those were few and far between compared to the numbers, which included over 6,000 acceptable and counted votes with about another 600 to 700 uncountable votes. Even though those votes were not looked at, Logan said, “They would not have changed the outcome of the vote, being that the margin was so strong.”
Due to the high margin, the over $195-million budget was accepted and rendered valid by the Patchogue-Medford Board of Education, with an anticipated tax increase of about $42.33 a year per average household assessed at $3,000 (assum- ing no decline in assessed value), with a levy-to-levy increase of 0.25 percent, or $294,988. The 2020-2021 budget reflects a total budget-to-budget decrease of just over $468,000 from last year’s 2019-‘20 budget, and according to the BOE, maintains all of the district’s educational programs without laying off any staff members and maintains healthy reserves.
Superintendent of schools Dr. Donna Jones said she is “delighted” with the outcome of the budget vote and thankful to the community for their continued support.
“The prospective concerns with the budget would be any additional costs that we will encounter as a result of responding to the most challenging reopening plan,” she said, explaining that the plan will require much thought surrounding academic strategies, socially distancing students as well as the supplies and operational logistics. “I’m also concerned about the level of state and federal funding that we will receive to support the work that will be required to do.”
As for the board of education vote, incumbents Kelli Anne Jennings and Diana Andrade were re-elected with 4,353 and 4,143 votes, respectively; contender Gerard Bringmann received 2,142 votes. Jennings and Andrade will now serve until June 30, 2023.