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Voters Approve Record 97 Percent of School Budgets

(Submitted by the New York State School Boards Association.)

Voters throughout New York State approved a record 97.3 percent of school district budgets on Tuesday, May 19, according to an analysis by the New York State School Boards Association.

Initial statewide results gathered by NYSSBA early Wednesday indicate voters have passed 611 school district budgets. The number of budgets defeated was 17.

“School boards were faced with gut-wrenching budget decisions this year,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. “But it is clear that parents and taxpayers understood that districts worked very hard to keep taxes down while trying to maintain programs and provide a quality education to students.”

“Even in the most difficult economic climate of our generation, residents across New York never wavered in support of their public schools,” he added.

Last year, voters approved 92.5 percent of school budgets. The average passage rate since 1969 is 83 percent. The previous record was 95 percent in 2007.

Unlike years past, school districts and taxpayers were left to absorb cost increases on their own when this year’s state budget agreement provided no operating aid increase. Thanks to $4 billion in stimulus funds over two years from the federal government, districts were able to avoid many layoffs, dip into their reserve funds when necessary and obtain concessions from employees.

“School boards understand the effect the economy has had on the state and their neighbors,” Kremer said. “The fiscal crisis has led board members to become even more diligent when making spending decisions.”

The average statewide tax levy increase of 1.89 percent for the 2009-10 school year is a decrease from the current year’s average of 3.37 percent. In fact, for the past five years, the proposed average tax levy has consistently gone down: from 6.89 percent in 2005 to 5.91 percent in 2006, to 3.91 percent in 2007, to 3.37 percent in 2008, to 1.89 percent this year.

The average district spending increase also dropped sharply this year. Statewide, the average proposed spending increase for 2009-10 is 2.35 percent, compared to 5.29 percent in 2008, 5.97 percent in 2007, 5.96 percent in 2006, and 6.16 percent in 2005.

In school districts where the budget failed to pass, a second vote may be held on June 16. School boards may also forgo a second vote and instead adopt a contingency budget. Under state law, the contingency budget this year limits spending to 4 percent above the previous year’s budget, though certain areas of spending are exempted.

On Tuesday, voters also filled vacancies on their local school boards and voted on separate propositions to fund such needs as school construction or bus purchases.

“Congratulations to those newly elected to local school boards,” added Kremer. “They have become part of the state’s largest group of elected leaders and will help shape the future of education in New York. This will surely be one of the most challenging, yet satisfying, experiences of their lives.”

The New York State School Boards Association represents nearly 700 school boards and more than 5,000 school board members in New York.