All 15 schools in the Hamilton Fulton Montgomery BOCES region saw their budgets approved by voters Tuesday, as did 92 percent of district budgets across the state.
Included in that figure is the Broadalbin-Perth Central School District, whose budget was approved by voters by more than 100 votes despite a potential 14 percent tax levy increase and a potential 17 percent tax rate increase in seven of the nine towns in the district.
According to the latest statewide property tax report card, school districts across the state have held proposed spending increases to an average of 1.4 percent for 2010-11.
The report card also shows the average statewide property tax levy will increase by 3.2 percent under the proposed budgets, despite the five-year average levy increase of 4.8 percent.
New York State School Boards Association Spokesman Brian Butry said while B-P’s budget approval was “not a rarity, it certainly wasn’t the norm, either.”
“In a quick review of the results, clearly the school districts that saw approval did have lower tax levy increases than those rejected. While B-P had the highest tax levy increase of approved budgets in the state, it wasn’t the only one with double digits,” Butry said.
Other districts across the state that saw double-digit tax hikes include the Cheektowaga Central School District with an 11.5 percent tax levy increase, the Holland Central School District with 13.4 percent, and the Sag Harbor Union Free School District with 11.5 percent.
Butry did admit, however, that there is a higher number of budgets with double-digit tax increases that were rejected than approved.
“In the communities that approved budgets with double-digit increases, voters saw the writing on the wall and are now hoping the state does its part.”
Butry said it should be noted the majority of districts with double-digit tax levy increases are probably more dependent on state aid.
“Because the governor is proposing to cut $1.4 billion in aid, some may be feeling the effects more than their neighbors. Increasing the levy is the only way to make up for significant cuts in aid.”
If the governor’s proposal is approved by the legislature, B-P stands to lose $1.744 million in aid. If the district’s budget was defeated, another $487,395 would have to be chopped from the budget to meet contingency guidelines.
The district already cut seven full-time teaching positions from its proposed budget. Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson has said the next cut would have been the district’s athletics program. Other things on the chopping block included more teaching positions, and college-level courses in the high school.
Tomlinson did not return phone calls for this story.
“If 92 percent of budgets have been approved, voters are indicating to lawmakers in Albany that school districts have cut their budgets as far as they can go,” Butry said.
This appears true of the B-P community, based on the efforts of district residents, students and teachers who worked to increase awareness about the effects a defeated budget would have.
Enter high school Junior Jake Samples, who created a Facebook student page urging people to educate themselves about the budget process and vote. Samples himself said he attended the district’s budget forums and school board meetings, which is how he learned about the crisis facing the district.
Samples said he was concerned about his future at B-P, and that concern dominated conversations with his peers both in and out of school.
“It kind of came down to are we going to consider early admission at [Fulton-Montgomery Community College], or stay here and take classes and not play sports,” he said.
The Broadalbin-Perth Teachers Association also did its part to encourage voting, purchasing some signs with the help of some district residents that were observed on Main Street and Second Avenue in the village of Broadalbin. B-PTA President Phil Meashaw said this is the first time the association has used signs to encourage voting.
This year, 1,755 people voted for the B-P budget — record number of voters. That’s 200 more than the first vote for the 2009-10 budget carrying a 14.3 tax levy increase that was shot down by voters.
“If the budget was shot down, it would have had a dramatic effect on the students. There were some members of the faculty that would have had layoff notices if the budget failed, beyond what was already cut,” Meashaw said.
District parent and volunteer Christine Maier said she and her husband, Jim, created “user-friendly” fliers using the district mailer to portray the impact of a passed budget versus a failed budget. The fliers were distributed throughout the community, including the Broadalbin Youth Commission and other organizations.
The Maiers also took it upon themselves to start an e-mail circulation “that started as a group of friends and concerned citizens” that grew by word-of-mouth.
“We did organize a couple of meetings to find out how to get the community involved in a more positive way. Everything has been so negative in the past with people concerned about their taxes. Our main goal was to get people to vote, to care. We know they care. It’s just in our very busy daily lives, we get so complacent. But it’s been really rejuvenating to see people come out and show their support. It wasn’t one single thing that got the budget passed. It was rallying everything together. And now we can have renewed faith in the district.”