93.5% (Updated)

Thursday, May 19th, 2011 at 9:41 am by

Two weeks ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo said “school districts did a good job of finding economies” this year.

Voters seemed to agree this week.  They approved 93.5 percent of school district budget proposals on Tuesday.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the similarities in the data districts submitted for their property tax report cards between this year and last – districts had to find economies a year ago as well.

For 2010-11, the average proposed spending increase was 1.4 percent; for 2011-12, the average is 1.3 percent.

The average tax proposed increase rose slightly, from 3.2 percent for 2010-11, to 3.4 percent for 2011-12.

The overall budget passage rates were also similar.  A year ago, 92.2percent of budgets won approval in the May votes.

Here is a page with a series of charts and tables showing historical and regional patterns for budget passage and voter turnout.

Still, I worried we could see more budgets defeated this year, for two reasons.

First, last year schools were within 100 votes of matching the all-time recorded high “yes” vote turnout.   The State Education Department began compiling actual vote counts in 2003.

Under the circumstances that prevailed a year ago, that outcome was remarkable.

As we wrote then, there were no easy choices for superintendents, boards or voters in putting together school budgets.  To achieve the low overall average spending increases, districts had to cut all other costs to accommodate surging pension and health insurance costs, and still had to ask for greater tax increases than they did the year before.

This year, the choices were even harder, because it was the third lean year for state aid, and because pension and health insurance costs have continued their steep increases.

For that reason, and because it is always a challenge to sustain any historical peak, it seemed likely we would see a drop-off in the “yes” vote turnout.

Second, it also seemed possible that “no” votes could climb.  Media advertising for a property tax cap might have inspired a larger negative turnout, while other voters might have rejected their school budgets to express opposition to proposed school closings, teacher layoffs or programmatic reductions.

The yes vote turnout did fall (by 9.0 percent), but no votes dropped even more (by 13.7 percent).

Like last year, there was less variation than usual in the passage rates by region.  They ranged from a low of 89.1 percent in the Mid-Hudson Valley, to a high of 97.1 percent in the Southern Tier.

Long Island, which has sometimes experienced low budget approval rates, achieved one of the higher  rates this time, 96.0 percent.

As usual, there were disparities in the spending plans of districts with different outcomes in the budget votes.

Districts with passing budgets proposed tax increases averaging 3.3 percent, while those with defeated budgets sought tax increases averaging 5.9 percent.

Update:  An earlier version of the post reported the statewide pass rate as 93.7 percent.  One district was mistakenly counted as having passed its budget.

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