Proposed school budgets for the 2021-2022 school year go up for voter approval today as districts plan for next school year amid persistent unknowns but an improving financial landscape.
Fears of steep budget cuts in the fall and winter were replaced by optimism for new investments for students in the spring after a massive federal stimulus bolstered the state’s budget and offset the need to cut state school aid. Instead of cuts, state lawmakers committed to fully fund state foundation aid over three years, the state’s core school funding formula.
As the fiscal outlook improved, many districts pulled back tax levy increases they thought would be necessary earlier in the budget process, leaving no districts in the immediate area seeking a tax cap override. Most districts are proposing levy increases of less than 2 percent; Johnstown and Stillwater, which have both struggled to balance budgets in recent years, are seeking levy increases of around 4 percent.
The budget proposals up for voter approval Tuesday do not include plans for how districts intend to utilize direct federal aid, which varies widely across districts, but in place represents a significant investment. Those plans will be detailed in the coming months.
Tuesday’s vote will determine new school board members in a litany of contested school board races around the region, creating potential consequential changes to school boards.
In Schenectady, five candidates are seeking two open seats, with Andy Chestnut the only incumbent looking to stay on the board. The outcome of that election will help shape the board’s search for a new superintendent, which will restart in full force when new board members take their seats July 1. Burnt Hills, Niskayuna, Shenendehowa, Saratoga Springs, Schalmont, Mohonasen, Duanesburg and other districts all have contested board races this year.
The election will also mark a return to normal of sorts after last year’s school election was delayed amid the pandemic and ultimately conducted as an all mail-in ballot election. Districts were required to send absentee ballots to all potential voters last year, drawing a massive increase in turnout for elections with typically low turnout. The number of voters in last year’s school election more than doubled the previous year.
District residents were allowed to cite fears over the pandemic as a reason for requesting an absentee ballot this year, but in-person voting will likely return as the method used by most voters this school election.