CLIFTON PARK -- Voter turnout at the Shenendehowa Central School District’s May budget referendum increased from last year’s numbers, falling in line with what was a slight uptick in voter turnout for budget votes this year across the region, according to data released by the school district.
An exit poll the district conducted at its May 21 budget vote showed 2,221 voters for this year’s budget compared to last year’s 2,118, or a 4.6 percent increase.
Statewide, voter turnout for school budget votes fell 43 percent between May 2011 and May 2018. Many education experts believe 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.
But Shen has seen some spiking turnouts over the last few years for various reasons.
Two referendums dealing with the sale of 37 acres of vacant district land, first to developer BBL, which failed, and the town of Clifton Park, which passed, saw high turnouts, with 7,765 voters and 3,258 in those situations, respectively.
After the land referendum vote however, voting turnout numbers returned to normal.
A majority of Shen’s voters in 2019 reported that they live in Clifton Park, at 67 percent.
The next greatest number of respondents, at 19 percent, were residents from Halfmoon. Other voters lived in Malta, Waterford and Ballston.
The highest number of respondents in the 2019 budget vote reported being in the range of 31 to 50 years old, according to district data.
Along with analyzing turnout numbers, the exit survey provided voters with the opportunity to write in their own comments about the district.
Issues that were of the greatest importance to voters were maintaining quality education for students and employing well-trained staff, which have been top voter concerns since 2011, followed by keeping a tight control on district spending, according to the data.
Comments repeated by dozens of voters reflected concerns about the district’s lack of full day kindergarten opportunities, as well as a desire to see the district purchase land in Halfmoon to build an elementary school.
The Board of Education addressed the prospect of purchasing land in Halfmoon at a recent board meeting, as buying land in the town for a new school was one recommendation made to the board by the Shen Futures Committee. That committee is tasked with assessing the potential impact of shifts in the demographic and economic conditions within the school district, and using those assessments for future district planning.
“I am very disappointed that Shen still does not have all-day kindergarten," one comment read. "This should be a priority, and in fact should have been years ago.”
“While this is no longer of relevance to my family," said another, "please give strong consideration to implementing full-day kindergarten (whether it be at each home elementary school or at a separate kinder-learning facility). It is unfortunate that our Shenendehowa kindergarten students are unable to partake in the rigor, relevance, and joy of arts education because of the limitations half-day scheduling. Additional space and staffing would be supported in my future budget proposal votes.”
In May, after the budget passed, District Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said that the vote is a good way for the school district to gauge how taxpayers feel about the district’s intended path forward.
“For me, the vote is the voice of the community, and that’s why it’s important for people to come out and vote, and that’s why we’re really trying to push the civic responsibility piece,” Robinson said.
The entire exit poll survey can be viewed here.