Voters in 37 school districts in Erie and Niagara counties will get their say today on school spending.
And this year, like last, the tax cap loomed large in the way districts crafted their proposed budgets.
All except two school boards in the two counties have proposed spending plans for 2013-14 that would keep the proposed tax increases at or below the state limits for each district. For those seeking to exceed the cap – Clarence and Lewiston-Porter – voter turnout for the typically quiet school elections could be higher than usual.
“I think we’re going to have an increase in the voter turnout just because of the nature of the beast of what we’re asking for,” said R. Christopher Roser, superintendent of Lewiston-Porter schools, where the proposed budget would reduce spending but increase taxes to make up for lost revenue. “I don’t know if that’s going to be more negative votes or more positive votes.”
In Clarence, where voters will be asked to approve a 9.8 percent increase in the amount of taxes collected, allegations of sign stealing and vandalism surfaced ahead of today’s budget vote in a community that has seen active campaigning for and against the budget proposal.
Many districts took a cue from last year’s school board elections, when 99 percent of the districts across the state that proposed budgets within the cap passed, compared with a 60 percent passage rate in those that sought to exceed it.
“What we’re seeing is that, by and large, districts are coming in under the cap,” said David Albert of the New York School Boards Association, which has calculated that 96 percent of the school districts across the state will present school budgets to voters today that are within the state-imposed tax cap.
Though the state’s tax cap law, which took effect last year, includes a base 2 percent cap on increasing taxes for school districts, the actual limit for almost all districts in Erie and Niagara counties is above that amount because of exclusions allowed in the formula used to calculate the cap for each district. Next year, payments for teacher pensions will increase dramatically for school districts as the Teachers’ Retirement System makes up for losses during the recession. That increase is factored into the tax cap calculation.
All except two districts in Erie and Niagara counties have proposed budgets that would increase the amount of taxes collected, with the average tax increase across the districts at 3.3 percent. Two districts – Lackawanna and Cheektowaga-Sloan – have proposed budgets that would keep tax revenue flat or decrease it slightly.
Districts that have proposed budgets that exceed a state-imposed cap require at least 60 percent voter approval to pass. All other districts will require at least 50 percent voter approval to pass.
If a budget fails, a school district can submit the same proposal or a new proposal again to voters in June. If the second budget proposal fails to pass, the district must adopt a contingency budget that would not increase the tax levy.
For a complete district-by-district list of poll locations, hours, budget proposals, propositions and candidates, visit buffalonews.com/schools. The News will offer results at BuffaloNews.com after polls close.