Turnout for the Clarence school re-vote is steady but not as high as when the first budget was defeated a month ago.
More than 3,900 voters had cast their ballots as of 6 p.m., the second-highest vote total in the history of the district.
But that was still 1,500 fewer voters at that same juncture on May 21, when the original budget and its 9.8 percent tax hike was defeated amidst long lines at the polls.
And what a difference a month made in Clarence High School gymnasium, where thousands of voters will cast their votes until 9 p.m.
Long lines stretched out of the gym one month ago and officials were admittedly overwhelmed by the turnout.
But the gym this evening looked much different, resembling more of a typical Western New York school election.
No one camped out the high school gym all day, as happened last month. Few political signs appeared in the school parking lot. And many people cast their ballot without even waiting in line.
“We ordered more machines this time,” said Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks, who was making no predictions about the result.
“I have no idea how it is going to turn out,” he added.
After the original budget was defeated, Clarence reduced the tax levy to 3.62 percent and cut an additional 29 staff positions.
Many voters at the polls decried looming cuts to the district’s arts and music programs.
Maureen Reed, 30, voted this morning accompanied by her 6-month-old daughter, Rose. A 2001 graduate of Clarence High School and music teacher in a neighboring district, Reed said she voted yes on both budgets.
“Some of the programs they cut were programs I was involved with and I’m really sad that she won’t have the opportunity for that even with this new budget,” she said of her young daughter.
One district resident said he voted against the revised budget and its predecessor. John Roba said while he’s not opposed to a “sensible” increase in taxes he opposed the way the district cut programs for students and didn’t look elsewhere for savings.
“Until they look at the big picture including teachers’ salaries and everything – not only teachers’ salaries but the whole program – I’m not going to vote for it,” he said.
Diane McMullen, who voted in favor of the new budget, said one of her sons was enriched by the Clarence schools music program but worries about the impact of cuts on her younger son – a seventh grader.
“His vocal groups have been cut; his sports have been cut,” she said.
“He’s looking at a pretty wide-open schedule next year. I came out to support this one so it doesn’t get worse.”
Anneke Ieda said her son’s class size will jump from 18 kindergartners to 25 first graders at Harris Hill Elementary in the fall as a result of cuts.
Her husband is a music teacher in the district and his workload will increase by 30 percent, she said.
“We have teachers who are teaching things now that are not in their subject area, in their specialty area,” said Ieda who lamented to loss of two choir directors.
Graduating Clarence senior Sam Bonk voted yes along with his mom, Nancy.
“It’s sad to see everything be cut for future students,” he said.
Polls are open until 9 p.m. in the Clarence High School gymnasium.
Clarence is the largest district in the area conducting a re-vote today, but five other districts are also asking residents to go to the polls again.
Alden and Clarence in Erie County; Lewiston Porter, Niagara Wheatfield and Wilson in Niagara County; and Bemus Point in Chautauqua County are among 32 budgets across New York State that failed to gain passage May 21.
This time, all the districts are staying within the tax cap. Both Clarence and Lewiston-Porter put up budgets in May with tax levies above the cap. Under New York State’s tax-cap legislation that took effect last year, districts are required to seek approval from 60 percent of voters if they want to exceed their cap. Budgets that call for increases under the tax cap need 50 percent of the vote plus one to pass.
The consequences of failing a second time would likely mean more cuts.
For Clarence, that equates to $1.5 million in cuts on top of the $1.6 million already made, a scenario some parents have called “a disaster.”
School districts have two chances to pass a budget under the state tax-cap law before they must adopt a contingency budget, which cannot raise taxes a penny more than was collected in the previous year.