As local budgets made their way to the chopping block last week, hundreds of registered voters flocked to the polls to exercise their right to vote. These hundreds of voters sent varying messages throughout Western New York; while most budgets passed, residents of the Alden, Bemus Point, Lewiston-Porter, Niagara Wheatfield and Wilson school districts conveyed a message of communitywide dissatisfaction in failing to pass the budgets. However, the above list is missing one district that lacked the 60 percent support required to pass its budget: Clarence. The primary reason for this is the fact that voters in Clarence did not turn out in the hundreds, but rather the thousands. A record-shattering 8,234 residents showed up at the polls to voice support or, the more popular selection of the night, opposition to the proposed budget.
The commotion in Clarence garnered national attention after being featured in a Wall Street Journal article on the statewide budget vote. Specific ramifications are yet to be seen, despite the dismal predictions for Clarence’s liberal arts-based curriculum. With a mandatory $2.44 million funding drawback, the future of performing music ensembles, art courses, family and consumer sciences, select junior varsity sports and several Advanced Placement courses looks grim, and current students and alumni have been publicly voicing their feelings of shock and apprehension.
Prior to the vote, propaganda garnished front lawns and sidewalks throughout Clarence. Campaigns opposing the budget focused on tax figures – specifically, the 9.8 percent tax increase that accompanied passage – while efforts in favor of the budget relied much more on student enterprise. In the weeks leading up to the May 21 vote, students involved in art, music and athletics alike rallied together in a door-to-door movement in favor of the budget, culminating in a roughly seven-hour picket at the voting site. The sign-holding students lined the sidewalks surrounding Clarence High School. The approximately 50 participants encouraged voters to say yes in the name of the students who were too young to vote.
Sophomore Hannah Cox encouraged approval of the budget on behalf of the orchestra department.
“Symphonic orchestra was there for me when I was at my lowest low,” she said, “and Mr. Shaw brings me up and makes me feel better whenever I reach that low.”
Senior Cailey Martin, a member of the high school Wind Ensemble, said, “Instead of doing research and finding out why money was needed, people seemed to see the tax hike as something evil, going against conservative ideology. Education should never be a liberal versus conservative issue. Sadly, that’s what this became.”
In an effort to highlight why the budget failed, Clarence High School alumnus Jordan Bianchi (class of 2011) created an online survey through surveymonkey.com, in which residents could anonymously explain their thought processes in voting. Most of the responses in favor of the budget revolved around the worthiness of Clarence’s art and music departments. Conversely, responders who voted down the budget were much more scattered in their reasoning. Feedback from the opposition ranged from “it is selfish for the families of students to expect elders and those living on fixed budgets to endure a 10 percent tax hike” to “the administration does not manage money properly, so why should we give them such a significant increase to manage?” The survey is still up and functional for those looking to voice their opinions.
So what happens now? As is the case with every other school district whose budget failed, the Clarence School Board will have to convene and create a new budget at the local tax cap, roughly 3 percent. A series of budget meetings began on Tuesday.
Senior Kieran Coffey defends Clarence’s music department on the basis of educational merit beyond the classroom.
“The merits of performance ensembles extend beyond simply learning to play an instrument, chief among them is the work ethic created through constant practice,” Kieran said. “The need to better oneself musically demands practice, which translates into academic study habits.”
Bianchi has also launched a Facebook page in support of the new budget titled “Keep Clarence Schools Great – Generations of Excellence.” Despite the fact that his time in the Clarence Central School District is done, Bianchi feels obligated to support a budget that would provide younger generations with the quality of education he received during his younger years.
“Diversity is one of the most exciting things in life! The more classes that are offered means there are more chances for inspiration to blossom in the minds of students,” Bianchi said, “and as members of the community of Clarence, it is our civic duty to promote the diverse, liberal arts education system that our district offers.”
As the district prepares a final budget, students and alumni alike fear for the worst.
“The community definitely let the students down the first time,” Kieran said, “and education is an investment in the future.”
Alumni Nick Ader and Hayley Arnold voiced their support of any forthcoming budgets that will preserve the current state of Clarence’s education.
“You cannot put a price tag on good education,” Ader said. “However, good education does require the funding of enthusiastic teachers, challenging academic programs and engaging extracurricular activities. It saddens me to think of what might be lost after this vote.”
“I’ll give up my iPhone or whatever you want, if that’s what it takes to let my sister stay in band,” Arnold said.
The next vote for the Clarence Central School District budget will be held June 18 at Clarence High School.
Danielle Grimm is a senior at Clarence High School.