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Hudson Valley News

Voters To Decide Fate Of NY School Budgets

This is a picture of a school desk
Courtesy of EduBirdie
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The fate of New York’s school district budgets is in voter hands tomorrow. Voters will also pick Board of Education representatives.

Voters in New York head to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to approve their school districts’ 2016-2017 budget proposals. Executive Director of the New York State School Boards Association Tim Kremer predicts most will pass.

“Most districts all but 36, are putting forward budget plans, tax levies, that are at or below their tax-levy limit,” Kremer says. “Our expectation is that 99 percent of those are going to pass. If you look at the percentage passage rate for the last, well, since 2012 when we had the first tax-cap vote, if you stay at or below your cap, 99 percent chance you’re going to  pass that budget.”

However, he sees this playing out differently for certain districts.

“If you try to pierce the cap — those 36 that are attempting to exceed their tax-levy limit —  the chances of them doing that are more likely in the 50 percent range,” Kremer says.

This 36 figure is double the number of districts that tried to exceed the tax cap last year. Kremer says there’s a reason for the higher number.

“There’s an interesting twist here with these 36. Twenty of the 36 actually have a negative tax-levy limit. They are actually, based on the calculation of their tax-levy limit, supposed to lower their levy,” says Kremer. “And, so, if I’m in that position, I’m thinking to myself, hey, what do I got to lose, let’s  try to exceed it, see what happens, we know that we could come back with a second budget vote in June, if need be.”

He says near zero inflation is the reason as the Consumer Price Index is the biggest component of the formula used to determine a school district's tax cap. The state comptroller says the rate is .12 percent this year. Kremer points out that districts seeking to override their cap need a 60 percent supermajority voter approval to pass their budgets.  Billy Easton is executive director of Alliance for Quality Education. He agrees that the property tax cap being so low is a big difference this year.

“It was sold to people as a 2 percent cap but this year it’s barely above 0 percent. And so that means that the passage of these budgets  is incredibly vital because the schools are essentially being starved in terms of local contribution,” says Easton. “But the fact is that most of the funding, almost all the funding, that’s being added in spending this year is a result of state aid and not of the local property taxes.”

Kremer says by the time a second vote was held, all but two school budgets passed last year. In addition to school budgets, a number of school board seats are on the ballot. Kremer says about 1,500 school board seats are up for election, many for uncontested seats, resulting in the likelihood of some 500 newly elected school board members, a figure he says is the norm.

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