A new low

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 at 12:41 pm by

Last week’s 95.3 percent passage rate for school budgets was achieved with a record low voter turnout.

The State Education Department began compiling district-by-district vote counts in 2003.  Both the yes and no vote totals this year set new lows for that time span.

Yes votes were down 13.2 percent from a year ago and 13.4 percent below the average for the prior 10 years.  No votes were down 9.9 percent from 2013 and 29.8 percent below average.

Here is a collection of tables and charts giving some historical perspective on the results.

Failing to vote in a presidential election can be faulted as a dereliction of civic duty.  But with school budgets, it seems a good number of people very purposefully vote by not voting.

Some vote only when dissatisfied, to oppose their district budget.  A smaller number seem to turn out to vote for their school budget only when moved by compelling circumstances.

The high water mark in no votes – 442,000 in 2005 – is 81 percent greater than this year’s low of 245,000.  The high-low swing in yes votes is smaller – 29 percent.  But the high yes turnout came in two years when schools absorbed cuts in state aid (2003 and 2010 — only 35 votes separated the total statewide yes vote turnout for those two years).

In a prior post, I noted the fall-off in tax cap over-ride attempts from last year – 53 in 2012, 28[i] this year; and the even steeper drop in the success rate for those efforts – 64 percent last year, only 25 percent this year.

As was the case a year ago, turnout was very high in districts seeking voter approval to over-ride their levy limits.  Compared to last year, no votes more than doubled in districts which had over-ride requests rejected.  Yes votes were also up in those districts, by 23 percent in total over 2012, and 30 percent above average.

Pass rates were over 90 percent for all of the 10 regions the Council uses in finance reports.  Notably, for the first time in memory, budgets for all Long Island districts won support from a majority of voters.  But six Long Island districts had budgets rejected because they were seeking to over-ride their levy limits and fell short of the 60 percent super-majority required for approval.

Both the yes and no turnout was down from last year and below average for all but one region.  No votes were up in Western New York, essentially due to a surge in one district — Clarence, a Buffalo suburb where nearly four times as many residents showed up to vote compared to a year ago.

In prior posts, I speculated that one reason for the lower number of over-ride attempts this year could be that district leaders took lessons from last year’s variance in success rates between districts proposing  tax increases within and above their levy limits — 64 percent vs. 99 percent.  That variance  grew dramatically this year — to 25 percent for districts seeking over-rides and 98 percent for districts staying within their levy limit.

I also noted that both last year and this year, high need rural districts were least likely to attempt over-rides and proposed the lowest tax increases on average.

[i] In the prior post, I said 27 districts attempted over-rides this year; a subsequent review by SED identified a 28th district.

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