Four LI districts change dates of budget vote to avoid conflict with Jewish holiday

Joie Tyrrell for Newsday

March 25, 2021

Originally published in Newsday on March 25, 2021.

Four Long Island school districts in Nassau County will hold their annual budget vote a week ahead of time on May 11 as the statewide budget date of May 18 falls on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.

Great Neck, Lawrence, Hewlett-Woodmere and West Hempstead have received permission from the state to hold the budget vote a week earlier.

Lawrence Superintendent Ann Pedersen said the district has had to change the voting date before, in 2009, due to a conflict with the holiday.

"We are looking to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate," Pedersen said, adding the district also translates the budget materials into Spanish as well. "We are respectful for the needs of the community and are responsive ... to all stakeholder groups."

Shavuot, know as the Feast of Weeks, begins on Sunday, May 16 and ends the evening of Tuesday, May 18. No work is permitted for observers of the holiday. The Feast of Weeks is celebrated in May or June, depending on the year.

Originally, it was a spring harvest celebration, but later a commemoration of the revelation of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

Pedersen said the Board of Education voted in October to request the change and officials received word from the state in January that it was approved.

West Hempstead school officials said they will soon send information regarding the proposed budget and trustee election to the community.

"While most school districts in New York State will hold their votes on May 18, it is important that our entire West Hempstead community be able to vote in our annual election," said Superintendent of Schools Daniel Rehman. "We are hopeful that by changing the date to Tuesday, May 11, all residents can participate."

According to the state Education Department, any change in the date for a district's annual budget vote and board of education elections due to a conflict with religious observances must be requested and approved by the commissioner. All other districts statewide will still hold those votes on the third Tuesday in May.

Districts have until March 31 to request a date change. Other districts statewide receiving approval to change the date include East Ramapo, Kiryas Joel and Suffern in upstate New York.

Last year during the pandemic, school districts statewide sent ballots to registered voters within their boundaries but in-person voting will be permitted this school budget vote with safety protocols due to COVID-19 in place, Pedersen said.

Election dates are dictated by state education law and requires that elections be held the third Tuesday in May and provides an opportunity to move the election to the second Tuesday should there be a conflict with religious observances

Great Neck superintendent Teresa Prendergast said the district received approval March 16 to move the date to May 11.

"Our district values the voice of every voter and we strive to make the school budget process as transparent and accessible as possible," she said.

In September, Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and Assembly members Missy Miller (R-Atlantic Beach) and Judy Griffin (D-Rockville Centre) sent letters to the West Hempstead, Hewlett-Woodmere and Lawrence School Districts about making the change.

"Voting and religious observance are two sacred rights we enjoy as Americans. I commend these school districts for working with us to change the date of their school board elections, which will undoubtedly increase civic participation," Kaminsky said in a statement.