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New Yorkers approve nearly 99% of school budgets

Pat Bradley/WAMC

New Yorkers approved 98.5% of proposed school district budgets on Tuesday. The New York State School Boards Association says the long-awaited full funding of foundation aid, along with federal pandemic recovery funds, has helped districts manage growing costs from inflation, increased needs for mental health services and staff, and double-digit increases in health insurance premium costs.

Ten budgets were defeated by voters including in the Minisink Valley Central School District in Orange County and Putnam Central School District in Washington County.

WAMC’s Jim Levulis spoke with Peggy Zugibe, president of the school boards association, about what led to the high budget approval rating.

Zugibe: I think largely attributed to the fact that we have the tax cap and I think that's been the trend since it's been in place since 2012. I think you've seen that.

Levulis: And when it comes to, you know, school finances, there's been, I don't know if I want to call it an influx of government aid, though, but state foundational aid?

Yeah, you're seeing the foundation aid fully funded. Then you saw the federal funding of the COVID aid. So, I think you've seen even with inflation, and the increase in health insurance, you've seen districts able to meet the inflation and the health insurance costs. It's helped budgets there because foundation aid was fully funded so there wasn't as much stress on budgets, because foundation aid was fully funded. And we still have until 2025 the federal aid from the COVID aid. So, there hasn't been as much stress on budgets. I think taxpayers haven't seen as much. I think they've been able to see districts able to help students with programs, extracurricular programs, being able to help with funding for programs for mental health services for students coming out of the pandemic. So, I think parents have been able to see more programs in place for students that they haven't been able to see in past years. There's been an influx of aid for those kinds of things and I think parents have been able to see that and it has been helpful.

And we'll just note that where budgets were defeated districts may again put a budget before voters on June 20th.

Right, and I think even some of those ones that have gone, that you've seen, some of those districts that did try for the override, had they not had to meet that burden of the 60 percent. Had there just had to have been a simple majority, they would have passed. I think that 60 percent is a very high bar to me. You can't get 60 percent of people to try to agree on anything. You know, three of the four budgets that required overrides would have passed if they only had required a simple majority. Only one of the four received 45. The other ones were 58-50 and 55. Had they just required a simple majority, they would have passed, but they require just 60 percent. They require a supermajority. That's a high bar to ask.

What's the feeling statewide for school boards about needing to meet that 60 percent threshold when it comes to the override?

That's a really high burden. I mean, just look at the polarization of society, ask 60 percent of people to agree on anything. They can't agree. That's really hard to do. For 60 percent of people to agree on anything. I just think that's really high, that's a high bar. And, it’s very hard. And I just think that's very hard to do. And we have our kids at stake. I just think it's hard. I just think it's a hard thing to do, I have been working in this for a long time and I just think kids are it's just too important. Every child only gets one shot at every year of their education, they don't get a chance to redo it. Every year that they do, that's it. They don't get a chance to redo that year, they have to move on to the next year. So, the stakes are high for every child. So, it's not a game. It's hard for kids. And it's not like it was. You hear people say, "Well when I was young," well, it's not like when we were young or you were young. It's not like that anymore. Things are moving too fast and you see with technology your computer is out of date next year, things are moving faster than when we were young and when we were in school. You can't use that analogy anymore. Kids are what we ask of kids. It's not like when we were young, so the stakes are much higher. So, we need to be there for our kids.

Copyright 2023 WAMC Northeast Public Radio. To see more, visit WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

Jim Levulis