Editorial: School board elections carry a lot of weight

The price you pay for not voting is higher than you think

There’s an election on Tuesday that will determine about 60 to 80 percent of your property tax bill.

There’s an election on Tuesday that will help determine the type and extent of educational and extracurricular programs that are provided to our community’s young people.

Tuesday’s election could very well determine whether kids ride on new buses, or whether aging school buildings get necessary upgrades, or whether the local high school football field gets lights for night games. It could determine whether your local school offers kids the opportunity to play football or softball or take music and art classes.

It will determine how much money your local school district has to attract and pay teachers and administrators. It will determine whether special needs students get the attention they need. In one local district, voters who show up at the polls on Tuesday will vote on whether to pay an extra tax to support the regional library.

In districts where there are races for school board, Tuesday’s election will determine who in the community is empowered to make decisions that affect you and your neighbors.

There’s no plainer or more recent local example of the impact school board members can have on a community than the recent land vote in Clifton Park.

Voters in the Shenendehowa school district last month voted to override a school board decision to sell a 34-acre parcel of excess school land to a developer for a shopping plaza or office building.

Board members who supported the sale wanted to take the proceeds, perhaps $2 million or more, and set it aside to buy land for district expansion elsewhere, rather than divert tax money from other areas of the budget to make the land purchase.

But many people in the community wanted that 34 acres set aside for a town park instead. Petitions were signed, a special election was held, and as a result, town and school officials have now been forced to reopen discussions about preserving that land for a park.

That example not only proves that you don’t have to have a child in school for the school district to have an impact on your life, it also proves that exercising your power to vote in school-related matters can have a real effect on your community and your lifestyle.

Despite the fact that a lot of the school curriculum and programs are mandated by the state, school boards do have flexibility in how your tax dollars are spent.

In evaluating school board candidates, one might ask how they feel about teacher evaluations or students opting out of state tests. How do they feel about having kids say the Pledge of Allegiance before classes? How do they feel about whether kindergartners should attend school all day or only part of the day? How do they feel about starting school later or providing kids with more recess time?

One might ask them what type of leadership the school district should have. Board members hire the superintendent, remember. They determine whether you get a tax break for being a veteran or a firefighter. They decide on a lot of important matters that have a widespread impact throughout the district.

Don’t let the fact that school board members aren’t part of the traditional political establishment sway your opinion of their importance. There are no Democrats or Republicans in school party politics, no big money contributions fueling campaigns. In fact, many school board members don’t even get paid. School board members wield a lot of power. Their job is significant. And who sits in those seats is vitally important to a community.

Finally, in the long run, as students graduate and take jobs and leadership positions in the community, Tuesday’s vote will help determine the future of the place in which you live.

So a lot is at stake, and you’ve got a chance to make a tangible difference in the outcome.

Despite all these reasons for going to the polls on Tuesday, many people are not going to participate in the election. Not a lot of people do.

Voter turnout in school elections in New York, even compared to the pathetically low turnout for general elections and village races and special elections, is pretty small. And with the state tax cap limiting property tax increases school districts can impose, turnout has been dropping over the past few years.

Low turnout is good news for the few people who do vote in Tuesday’s school elections, since the power of the percentage favors you. If half the eligible people don’t vote, it means your vote effectively counts twice. That means you’re getting extra power to set the taxes and select the board members and set the direction of your local educational system.

If you don’t vote, you’re giving that power to someone else. And in elections with few voters, that power is significant.

Whether you value our children’s education or the quality of life in your community or simply the amount of money that comes out of your wallet through school taxes, voting in school board elections should be important to you. The opportunity shouldn’t be overlooked.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the election so far, you still have an opportunity to learn about the issues and the candidates. Almost all school districts post information about voting times and the budget and school board candidates and ballot propositions on their websites. Just google the school district you live in. Many also mail out flyers or booklets with that information. Don’t throw them out. Take a few minutes to read them. 

The bottom line is that by voting in the upcoming school elections, you’ll be doing a lot for yourself, your community and our kids.

The price you pay for not voting is higher than you think.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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