Next Tuesday, May 16, is the day that eligible voters across New York state can vote on school district budgets; on referenda that will direct money to capital projects or set aside funds to do so in the future; and for board of education trustees.
Do not waste this valuable opportunity to have your voice heard.
But there’s one vital caveat: Please understand what you are doing when you cast your ballot.
If you are concerned about how much money your district plans to spend, find out what the budget consists of before you vote. You can typically find information on the district’s website, or through reporting here in the pages of your local newspaper.
However you vote, understand that your decision has an impact.
Recently, a few parents in the Hewlett-Woodmere school district, along with parents in a couple of Suffolk County districts, were upset about personal questions, and some about politics, their children were being asked in classrooms. Some Hewlett-Woodmere parents threatened to vote “no” on the proposed fiscal plan. That, of course, is their choice.
If a majority of voters reject a district budget, however, the district must either hold a second vote, offering the same spending plan or a revised one, or adopt what is called a contingency budget.
At one time, a contingency budget — then called an “austerity” budget — was restricted to a 4 percent spending increase.
Contingency budgets typically trim what is known as “low-hanging fruit” — funding for student activities such as sports, the arts — from music to theater — and clubs. Administrators, teachers, custodians and other district employees with union contracts are unaffected. The students — the ones mandated by law to attend school and receive an education, in the hope that they will become productive members of society — are the ones most severely impacted by a budget failure.
Are we saying don’t vote “no” on a school budget? In a word, no. But understand the implications of both a yea and nay vote.
Review the district literature. Read the local media. And remember that board trustees are elected. Connect with them and ask them questions — the ones running for re-election as well as the candidates who are challenging them.
Remember, a key factor in this equation is that it’s your money. Your dollars, and those of other taxpayers, support the schools.
Do all you can to hold the trustees elected to represent you accountable, and to make sure they are holding the people they hire — superintendents, principals and other administrators — accountable as well.
When considering whom to vote for in contested — and even unopposed — trustee elections, learn about the candidates. How long have they been on the board? What have they done? What has a challenger done to illustrate his or her interest in this unpaid, volunteer position? What are the candidates’ views on important issues?
Know where you should go to vote. If you don’t, call your district, or consult its website.
School district budget votes and board elections might not attract the attention of elections at higher levels of government, but that doesn’t make them any less critical. In the days remaining before next Tuesday, do your part. Be an informed, intelligent and responsible voter.