Voters across the region overwhelmingly pushed through school spending plans Tuesday night, but unseated incumbents in several communities.
All 37 school budgets in Erie and Niagara counties were approved, with almost all passing with more than 60 percent of the vote.
• A 19-year-old University at Buffalo sophomore won a seat on the Frontier school board.
• Springville voters reversed a recent decision to downsize the school board.
• Two Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda candidates who campaigned together with the support of the district’s teachers union unseated an incumbent.
• Holland, the only school district to propose a budget that exceeds the state’s tax cap, saw its budget pass with a 63 percent approval rating.
Thirty-seven school districts in the two counties had reported that their budgets had passed.
The budgets presented to voters Tuesday were, in many communities, less controversial than in recent years, when school districts pushed through deep cuts to staff and popular programs. Across the region, spending plans for the 2014-15 school year would increase property tax revenue by an average of 2.47 percent as many districts sought to stave off more cuts to classrooms while remaining within the state’s tax cap.
In Clarence, where a proposal last year to increase tax revenue by nearly 10 percent ignited a community debate over school spending, voters on Tuesday strongly passed a $72.6 million budget that raised tax revenue to the cap.
“We’re grateful for the support of our community,” Clarence Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks said. “We look forward to maintaining the excellent programs that define the Clarence School District.”
While interest in school board elections was strong in some areas – particularly in Ken-Ton, Hamburg and Lackawanna – turnout appeared in line with most annual school board votes. In Clarence, for example, about 3,530 people cast votes – above average, Hicks said, but well below the 8,232 that turned out last year.
In Holland, where the school district sought to override the state’s tax cap, a collective sigh of relief went up from the handful of district officials and residents when it was announced that the 2014-15 district budget passed with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Holland was in the unusual position of needing a supermajority to override the state’s tax cap. The district cut spending by 2 percent, producing a $17.6 million budget, but administrators had said a 2.5 percent increase in tax revenue was required to maintain existing programs.
Superintendent Cathy Fabiatos said she was confident heading into decision-day that district voters would support the spending plan. She noted that Holland has made difficult cuts in previous years.
“I’m not saying there isn’t room to trim and we’re certainly looking for ways to share and be frugal but the bottom line is there wasn’t much to cut,” Fabiatos said. “There are a few things to put back to ensure our kids get a good education.”
While budgets passed across the region, an undercurrent of concern over school taxes remained palpable at the polls. “I’m a taxpayer and I wanted to vote ‘no,’” said Christopher Julian, a Lackawanna resident who noted that tax revenue would have remained flat if voters had forced the district to return to a contingency budget. The budget approved Tuesday night in Lackawanna would increase tax revenue by 4 percent, while cutting spending and special education programs.
Voters also unseated incumbent school board members in some communities.
In Ken-Ton, Jill Y. O’Malley and Annemarie Gibson, who campaigned together with support from the Kenmore Teachers Association, both won three-year terms, displacing incumbent board member Jeff Rickan.
The candidates and their families erupted in cheers as the results were read in Hoover Middle School’s gymnasium.
“I am honestly just so grateful that so many people came out and believed in what we were doing,” said O’Malley, a biology professor at Erie Community College who is also founder of the Ken-Ton Parent Alliance and Ken-Ton Closet. “From the questions people were asking throughout the day today I knew they were informed. They were asking very specific questions.”
“I am overwhelmed by the support that was shown to us tonight,” said Gibson. “People were enthused and knew who we were.”
The teachers’ union support played a big role in propelling the pair to victory. Rickan, who placed third in the vote total, did not seek the union’s endorsement.
“I’m very pleased that the community came out and supported two candidates that have a strong commitment to the district, to kids and to supporting public education,” said KTA President Peter Stuhlmiller. “I think the vote speaks for itself. It’s wonderful.”
Voters across the region also pushed through a variety of propositions that will allow school districts to buy buses, start construction projects and sell buildings.
In Springville-Griffith, voters approved a measure to increase the school board from five to seven members a year after it was downsized. But they voted down another proposal to increase the terms from three to five years.
“If I don’t like somebody, I want an opportunity to get rid of them,” said Springville resident Jon Hebden, who voted against both propositions.
In an interesting twist in Lancaster, where five candidates were running for three seats, district officials said they would not release any vote tallies Tuesday night for write-in candidate Beverly Shamblin. Instead, officials from the Erie County Board of Elections will convene at Lancaster High School at 9 a.m. today to hand-count the write-in votes.
“I’m shocked,” Shamblin told The News when asked about the developments. “I don’t understand why.”