School District Budgets Up for Election

New York is one of only eight states that places school funding decisions in the hands of the voters.  This year the state-mandated school budget election will be on Tuesday, May 19th (many districts will also elect school board members on that date).  It is not always an easy decision, in part because of the numbers involved.  The Oneonta City schools, for example, will cost about $34 million for the next year.  Cincinnatus in Cortland County -- probably a typical upstate rural district -- forsees an estimated 2009-10 budget of $14 million.

A perusal of the New York State Department of Education website provides complete returns for school budget elections for the last 40 years and reveals that -- contrary to popular belief -- voters do not habitually reject their local school district budget.  In districts where a "no" vote may occur on May 19th, the law provides for a re-vote on June 16th.  Another of the common misconceptions concerns voter turnout.  This exercise in direct democracy may draw only a small portion of registered voters in a school district -- in 2008 13,098 people in the Town of Vestal cast votes for County Executive while only 1,506 bothered to come out for the school budget election.  But in Trumansburg in 2006 1,049 voters expressed their views on the school budget (it passed) while an election for village trustee drew only drew merely 320 residents.  

One impression frequently cited but generally unproven is that elderly voters dominate school budget and school bond elections, voting in opposition because their children are no longer in school (and, the myth would suggest, caring less about their grandchildren).  The state's Enhanced STAR School Tax Relief Program includes a school property tax rebate program and a partial property tax exemption from school taxes, which may give the impression that people who vote for the budget are not necessarily the ones to pay for it.   

To explain the school budget-making process, including the role of state aid and this year's infusion of Federal relief funds to school districts, WSKG Radio's COMMUNITY CONVERSATION invited a group of educational experts and welcomes particpation by listeners across the region (the station is heard in over 80 school districts).  Given the present economic slowdown and reductions in all areas of the New York State budget, school districts are seeing the need to drastically reduce their own budgets.  Some state aid funding may be replaced by federal stimulus dollars.

Mr. Robert J. Mackey, superintendent of the Unadilla Valley Central School District , which serves the New Berlin and South New Berlin areas of Chenango County.
Ms. Douglas Ann Land, regional director for central New York of the New York State School Boards Association . Since 1991 she has been a member of the Trumansburg School Board and for 12 years a member of the Executive Committee of the Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) , serving as president for six years.
Mr. Allen D. Buyck, district superintendent of the Broome -Tioga BOCES. He was formerly an executive with IBM and a member of the Susquehanna Valley school board.