Restaurants have been doing it with great success for years.
Now school districts are doing it.
An a la carte menu.
Give the public specific spending options, then let them decide if they want to pay for them.
Scotia-Glenville Superintendent Susan Swartz on Monday pitched not one, but several budget options to the school board, which could help the board decide whether it should try to exceed this year's state-imposed 1.78 percent cap increase on the local tax levy.
In order to pay for such items as a new time-out room for Sacandaga Elementary School students, school field trips, a reading teacher, an art or music teacher, and a middle school program for special needs students, the district would have to push the limit of the tax cap, and could exceed it if some or all of the initiatives are funded.
So what are voters willing to pay for? If they want to see their school district have all of those initiatives, then they'll muster the 60 percent of votes needed to override the tax cap.
A year ago, 1,145 people in the Scotia-Glenville school district voted on the school budget, and 915 voted in favor. In order to muster a 60 percent super-majority of that many voters, the school board would only need 687 votes. In last month’s defeated land purchase referendum, 1,447 people voted. Sixty percent of that is 868, still less than 915.
It's a calculated risk for the board. If board members present items that voters are willing to pay for and provide ample justification for exceeding the tax cap, they could easily reach that threshold. On the other hand, if they anger voters by even attempting to exceed the tax cap, no matter how little they go over, they risk the entire budget being voted down in protest.
This is where the school board needs to create various scenarios and combinations involving the optional items and list their respective tax cap impacts. Be as specific as possible so voters know exactly what they’d be paying for.
This is also where residents need to come in and let the school board know their priorities. Are a new reading teacher and field trips important enough to pay an extra X-percent in taxes next year? Are music and art worth the expense? A combination of some or all of them?
Obviously, the tax cap should serve as an incentive for school board members to go back and pare the budget to ensure that they don't exceed the cap. That's the whole purpose of the cap and the safest route for the board to take.
But if the board truly feels it has a case to be made for the additional spending, then it needs to show voters a specific list of their options.
All school districts considering a tax cap override can take a lesson from this.
Letting voters know exactly what's on the menu will make their choice of whether to exceed the tax cap more clear, and perhaps more appetizing.
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