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School budget voter turnout continues fall

School budget voter turnout continues fall

Thousands of voters approve billions in school spending
School budget voter turnout continues fall
People vote on the school budget in Johnstown on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Turnout in annual school budget votes continued to fall Tuesday as fewer residents in many districts approved increased school spending and the taxes to pay for it.

In the Schenectady City School District on Tuesday, just 569 voters turned out to approve or reject the district’s $194 million budget proposal. Last year, over 1,100 voters turned out and 1,200 voters turned out the year before. Voters approved the budget.

Scotia-Glenville was the only Schenectady County district to see an uptick in voter turnout Tuesday – climbing from just over 1,000 last year to nearly 2,000 this year. A handful of other districts also saw more voters pull the lever on Tuesday, but many more continued a yearslong slide in voter turnout on school budgets and school board elections.

Some education watchers think the slide in voter turnout may be a result of the state’s tax-cap law, which constrains districts’ ability to lift local taxes each year. With districts less likely to ask voters to support massive tax hikes, voter interest in the elections may have waned.

“It essentially put a lid on the issue that would motivate a lot of voters if tax rates were going up really significantly,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for improved voter access in all elections.

Horner also pointed out that voter turnout in school elections has been low for a long time. He said the mid-May vote also comes out of nowhere for people and sits in a confusing time between other election days, all on its own. He said school district residents can choose to not vote, but said state education officials should look at the reasons driving the slide in voter turnout. If its an issue of access or awareness, he said, officials should do more to facilitate voting.

“It’s everyone’s money, so you want to create a system where everyone can participate if they want to,” Horner said.

While voter turnout has slid, the school budget approval rate has climbed since the tax-cap law went into effect. The average budget approval rate since 1969 has been around 86 percent, according to the State School Boards Association. Since 2012, when the tax-cap law first took hold, budget approval rates have hit nearly 98 percent.

The downward turnout trends on Tuesday mirror what’s happening across the state since the tax-cap law went into effect. School budget voter turnout last year was down 43 percent compared to 2010, the only year in in the past decade that saw an uptick in voter turnout.

The long-term turnout numbers in Shenendehowa schools appear to reflect what is happening in the state: In 2010 and 2011, turnout neared or topped 6,000 voters; by last year, turnout had fallen to nearly 3,200 voters and on Tuesday it had fallen to less than 2,200 votes.

Voter turnout also dropped in Schalmont, Duanesburg, Gloversville and other districts across the region.

In Saratoga Springs, however, voter turnout jumped from 1,955 last year to over 2,800 on Tuesday as the district asked voters to support a $15.6 million capital project to make improvements at a pair of school district-owned community parks.

The Greater Johnstown School District, the only district in the region that failed to win voter approval for its proposed budget Tuesday, also saw an increase in turnout, with 900 voters registering their voice, up from 534 last year.

Horner said low voter turnout in school elections appears to be the norm unless voters are motivated by a particular issue that stirs passions or, in the case of large tax hikes, fuels outrage.

Some Mohonasen voters on their way out of the polls Tuesday said they have long lived in the school district and attempt to vote on the school budget as often as they can. They pointed out that the district drives a large share of their taxes and cited the importance of a well-operated school system.

“That’s the most important thing there is,” said Vincent DiCocco after he voted on the school budget. “I care about the taxes; I care about what they are trying to do.”

Bill Bushee, who has lived in the Mohonasen district for 40 years and had two kids come through the schools, said it was important to vote on the school budget so that an organized group -- of people who don’t want to swallow a tax increase, Bushee pointed to as an example – tip the vote one way or another.

“You want to make sure enough people show up, so one group doesn’t swing the vote,” Bushee said.

On Tuesday just over 1,000 residents turned out to vote on the Mohonasen budget, down from nearly 1,150 last year and over 1,400 two years ago.

Horner also pointed to the risk that low voter turnout could open the door to interest groups – including parents, teachers or tax-increase resisters – filling the void and driving their desired result. And if residents continue to tune out of school votes, Horner said, the result could be a public less involved in its school system.

School election results

District 2018-19 budget Yes No Board members elected
Albany $249,447,555 2,329 909 Ellen Roach, Tabetha Wilson, Damarise Alexander-Mann
Amsterdam $72,918,824 489 194 Gavin Murdoch, Jackie Marciniak
Ballston Spa $91,888,841 1,085 277 Chrstiane Farnan, Michael O'Donnell, Jason Fernau
Broadalbin-Perth $36,647,500 373 228 Paul Chizek
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake $68,082,518 1,090 389 Lisa M. Morse, David Versocki
Canajoharie $22,780,035 182 65 Jennifer Field
Cobleskill-Richmondville $41,611,718 631 299 Aimee Yorke, Dominga Lent
Corinth $21,845,805 251 57 Arthur Lozier III, Cheri Sullivan, Andy Kelley
Duanesburg $17,150,000 318 174 Shayne Mitchell, Joshua Menzies, Teresa Wood-Irvin
Edinburg $3,568,035 80 25 Michael Evans, James Lowerre
Fonda-Fultonville $29,327,099 264 37 Michelle Isabella, Frederick Hidde, Domenic DiNatale
Fort Plain $20,500,000 167 40 Mary Beth Hudyncia, Kim Keane
Galway $21,500,482 261 127 Joan Slagle
Gloversville $64,494,134 261 117 Edward Sturgess, Kelli DeMaio, Jennifer Pomeroy
Guilderland $100,925,515 1,402 566 Seema Rivera, Christine Hayes, Sean Maguire, Benjamin Goes
Johnstown (Rejected) $35,750,076 461 439 Kathryn Zajicek, Ronald Beck, Susanne Fitzgerald
Mayfield $18,769,500 209 67 Vanessa DiNitto
Mechanicville $27,013,421 603 248 Michael Raucci, Daniel O'Connor
Middleburgh $22,169,182 307 197 Pamela Standhart, Becky S. Binder
Niskayuna $84,193,846 1,186 525 Howard Schlossberg, Noney Grier
North Colonie $111,108,452 1,434 489 Sandy Pangburn, Michelle Dischiavo
Northville $11,691,582 241 145 John P. Sira Jr., Carolyn Wilcox Adamczyk
OESJ $19,189,342 198 120 Neil Clark, Chad Barnes, Shellie Walrath, Jeremy Brundage
Mohonasen $53,065,000 698 368 Patrick Ryan, Pamela Young, Wade Abbott
Saratoga Springs $125,980,236 2,327 479 John Ellis, JoAnne Kiernan, Patricia Morrison
Schalmont $48,636,823 517 257 Angelo Santabarbara, Kate Kruk
Schenectady $194,437,849 458 111 John Foley, Mark Snyder
Schoharie $23,822,954 251 133 Bill Kuehnle, Maureen Bernhardt
Schulyerville $35,540,449 469 166 Robert Thivierge, Matthias Donnelly
Scotia-Glenville $55,989,676 1,480 493 Hal Talbot, David Massaro
Sharon Springs $9,483,555 112 23 Laura Jackson
Shenendehowa $173,682,956 1,575 543 Robert Pressly, Christina Rajotte
South Colonie $102,196,466 1,019 297 Colleen Gizzi, Stephanie Cogan
         
Stillwater $24,842,337 265 118 Tim Hems, Jon Mueller, Paul Lilac
Troy $111,893,389 481 139 Elizabeth Poleto, Stephanie Fitch, Matthew Flowers Jr.
Waterford-Halfmoon $21,098,966 99 27 Marcia Ricci, Jack Catanzarita, Carolyn Bell
Wheelerville $4,437,539 98 28 Mike Frasier
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