Tuesday, May 15th, is the annual school budget vote and school board election day. New York is one of only a few states that require citizen approval for each year’s school budget.
Why vote? First and foremost, this is how your local school district finalizes its budget. No other level of government depends on this form of public involvement. You can’t vote on your town, county, or state budgets. But when it comes to the education of children, the entire community has the unique opportunity to have a say on the direction of their district’s future.
To put this year’s budget together, local school leaders have had to deal with fundamental changes in how state aid is allocated, with the new tax cap law, with specific budget items like health care and pensions where the obligatory costs rise far faster than inflation, and with planning for expensive new operating and curricular initiatives mandated by new state laws. They have had to decide to draw down their reserve funds to maintain their priorities. The goal has been to develop budgets that will continue to provide high quality programs and services despite the problems created by multiple years of frozen and reduced state revenues.
Sadly, despite all this hard work, many people question the value of voting, or just ignore it. But the results from the ballot box drive numerous subsequent events.
The annual vote lets you help shape your district’s future for years to come because this is when school board members are elected for all suburban, rural, and small city school districts. These unpaid volunteers establish district policies, hire the superintendent, and oversee the finances. The board sets the expectations for the operation of the entire organization, determines the quality of the programs provided to the district’s students, and, ultimately, affects whether the community is regarded as a desirable place to live Board members devote hundreds of hours a year to their duties.
Many school board races are contested this year. If you are concerned about your district’s future, become informed about who is running and what they believe in, and then vote.
The budget vote also influences how state leaders assess peoples’ attitudes towards public education. Our Albany representatives regularly have to make choices between competing needs. Legislators will look at school budget votes to learn what thousands of voters in their own communities are thinking. A large affirmative turnout makes a strong statement to state representatives about what their constituents’ value.
So May 15th is approaching and the school board has done the best they can. Now they need the community to do their part and vote.
Sometimes budgets fail because a community opposes the proposal. Then the board must make changes in response to the community’s message. But it is an outrage if a budget fails because not enough people bothered to vote. And the only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is for each citizen to take the time to vote.
If you forgot to read the district budget newsletter and already recycled it, the information it contained is still readily available. Your district’s website has budget, candidate, and poll location information. So does your public library. You can link to your district website from our own MCSBA website, www.mcsba.org, by clicking on Member Districts.
In a democracy, the people who show up to vote get to make the decisions. Be a part of making good decisions for your school and your community. Vote on May 15!
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Some facts about the budgets here in Monroe County districts:
School board members are taxpayers, too, and since long before the tax cap law they have been striving to ease the burden on local taxpayers.
The four-year average of the annual increase in the tax levy for our 18 suburban and rural member districts is 1.91% per year.
The four-year average of the annual budget growth for our 18 suburban and rural member districts is 1.6% per year.
All of the districts have proposed tax levy changes lower than or equal to the permissible limit on the increase in the property tax levy as calculated by the new tax cap law.