The Powerlessness of the School District Budget Process

On Tuesday, voters defeated most of the proposed school district budgets in Dutchess County. The New York State Education Department, however, said that state-wide, most voters approved the school district budgets. Except that department only gives the approval in terms of a percentage of budgets passed: 88.9%. This leaves some unanswered questions.

What was the margin of victory? How many voters of how many eligible cast ballots? How many school board seats were contested?

The vast bulk of our property tax is from the school district. However, because of State law and contracts, we have little discretion in terms of spending. Further, the law puts the budgets before the voters only twice before a contingency budget goes into effect. This contingency budget, in combination with the mandatory and contractual expenses, reduces the power of the voter. Those who disapprove of the spending plans see the tax increase itself as a fait accompli. The only question is how large it will be.

So why is the margin of approval obscured?