Contested school board races, capital projects and a dire budget situation drove voter turnout in last Tuesday’s school budget well above last year’s numbers.
In Johnstown, a proposed 35 percent tax levy hike and dire cuts to athletics and activities in the offing resulted in turnout climbing from 900 voters last year to nearly 2,300 voters this year – even with a contentious budget vote on the ballot last year as well.
Contested school board races in Saratoga Springs, Niskayuna and Schenectady school districts led to at least 58 percent more voters casting a ballot on each of those district budgets, all of which passed.
While turnout increased just over 20 percent across 36 Capital Region districts, it was primarily driven by a handful of districts. Turnout more than doubled in Saratoga Springs, Johnstown, Guilderland and Sharon Springs. In Schenectady, turnout nearly doubled: rising from less than 600 voters last year to over 1,000 this year.
The Saratoga school board race appeared to contribute the most to the bump in voter turnout. With seven candidates on the ballot, and the community jostling over whether to rearm district grounds monitors, voting surged in last Tuesday’s school election: over 3,000 more voters turned out to Saratoga polls last week compared to last year.
With a $31 million capital project on the ballot in the Guilderland school district, voter turnout more than doubled there as well, climbing from just under 2,000 last year to over 4,000.
Statewide voter turnout for school budget votes fell 43 percent between May 2011 and May 2018. Many education watchers surmise the state’s tax cap, which took effect in 2012, has fueled the decline in turnout as the law has constrained local districts from seeking the kinds of tax increases that would draw large crowds to the polls. The no votes are falling faster than the yes votes, according to an analysis by the state Council of School Superintendents.
Statewide voter turnout in the school elections has declined every year since 2013. As of Friday, the state had not yet released statewide voter turnout numbers for Tuesday’s budget vote.