Today is election day in my community. For what you ask? It is the day when taxpayers vote on the local school district budgets, and also get to vote on the slate of candidates for election to their school boards as well as other district related spending proposals.
New York has about 677 school districts and in case you wanted some idea about how transparent the state is about the activities of those districts, I challenge you to ask yourself any 3 questions that taxpayers should have access to answers regarding their schools, and then go to the New York State Department of Education website and see how easy it is to find out such answers. I had to click through at least 4 sites in order to find a single spreadsheet containing spending per student information for each school district. And of course the most recent data for this is … 2008-2009. Never mind that we are voting today on the 2011-2012 budget.
Back to the voting. Virtually no one votes in these things, and they are merely rubber stamps for any spending that school districts want to do. It is almost unheard of for school budget votes to be voted down, and in the event that they are voted down, the district either adopts a contingency budget (which locks in increased spending from the year before at basically the rate of inflation) or they get to propose a new budget to the voters. And in some years, there is actually no reason to vote. For example, my district of Pittsford is asking for approval of a $111.6 million budget. If it gets voted down, they’ll have to make due with $111.5 million. Last year they spent $109.7 million. I guess I can show up to vote no just to make believe that I have any say in the matter. And as for school board elections, both candidates this year are running unopposed.
You might reasonably ask why the votes happen in May and not on election day when everyone is aware of the timing of voting. You might also reasonably ask why taxpayers only receive mailings about the pending budget vote and summary documentation a mere 4 days before the vote. My paperwork showed up on Thursday. That means that I pick it up after work that day, and have Friday to mull it over, the weekend, and a Monday. That sure does provide me and other opponents lots of time to ask questions (but we could have gone to the public hearings) or to raise awareness about the vote and to promote opposition to the budget among similarly minded people. I am SURE the answer from the district will be something like this:
(1) The state mandates when the election takes place
(2) It takes a lot of time to get the budget ready … so …
… we are powerless to do anything about it. And as to why the election does not take place in November, I am sure we will be told that it is just too far in advance to make budget plans a year out.
Just a reminder about the district I live in. The median home price is $240,000. The median income is over $100,000. The public schools spend $18,500 per student. The Catholic schools spend roughly $10,750 on grades 7-12 and roughly $5,000 per student on grades K-6. And student outcomes across the sectors are identical, if not better in the Catholics. The publics are spending $18,500 of other people’s money (even as I do recognize they are reasonably well run). The Catholics are spending a little more than a third of that, and it is all their own money. My best guess is that there are about 10,000 families eligible to vote today (maybe more, maybe less – the entire town has about 30,000 residents, and the district educates about 6,040 kids). Maybe 500 will show up to vote. I’ll be the only no vote, so the remaining 499 people will be deciding to raise taxes on my by about $55 this year, and summed over all the taxpayers expect to raise taxes by only $1.58 million this year. That’s about $3,166 per yes vote.