Westfield, Gowanda superintendents reflect on past budget votes

On Tuesday, local residents will head to the polls to support — or reject — their school districts’ proposed budgets for the 2019-20 school year. It’s safe to say that all superintendents strive to put forth a budget that district residents will find acceptable, while also maintaining current programs and being prepared for the future. However, voters’ approval is no guarantee, which the superintendents of Westfield Central School and Academy and Gowanda Central School know all too well.

Last May, four area school districts’ original budget proposals were defeated by voters. Ripley’s budget was turned down by one vote in May, and failed to gain voter approval in June, too. Clymer was voted down (238 to 237) after failing to receive a supermajority, which was needed to go above the tax cap. Westfield’s budget was turned down, 295 to 196, and both Gowanda’s capital project and budget were failed by votes of 332 to 494, and 391 to 442, respectively.

For Gowanda Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson, this is his first year overseeing the budget vote as the district’s official superintendent. Last year, he transitioned from high school principal to interim superintendent when former superintendent James Klubek left the district mid-year. According to Anderson, Klubek’s departure, a proposed $31.1 million capital improvement project and tax levy increase of 1.98% created challenges. “All were not popular, especially combined, and the outcome illustrated that,” he said of last year’s vote.

Westfield Superintendent David Davison also noted the unpopularity of a proposed tax increase last year. The proposed $16,716,034 budget showed an overall increase in spending of $834,384 or 5.25% compared to 2017-18. “For those people who objected to the proposed 2018-19 budget in May, the two main reasons were the budget-to-budget dollar increase and 2% tax levy increase were too great,” Davison told the OBSERVER.

This year, both superintendents approached the 2019-20 similarly by putting the focus on maintaining educational opportunities and being responsible to their communities. Anderson added that he and the Gowanda Board of Education put forth their best efforts to “provide more information and rationale and provide additional opportunities for conversation and feedback throughout the budget development process.”

This year, both districts have put forth budgets with 0% increase to taxes–a decision that both superintendents agree is much more appealing to taxpayers. Davison noted, “Anytime we can put forward a budget with no tax increase and maintain programs, it is more favorable to voters than a budget with a tax increase or one that slashes programs or both.”

Strong voter turnout, however, is key. Davison observed that voter turnout has seen a downward trend since the state’s implementation of the tax cap. “Typically we have seen voter turnout numbers in the 200s,” he said. “When we had a voter turnout of about 495 for the May 2018 vote and about 850 for the June 2018 vote, that is a good turnout for a district of our size. I anticipate this year’s voter turnout will be strong due to having three candidates for two board positions.”

Anderson is confident that Tuesday’s vote will draw large numbers to the polls in Gowanda. If December’s capital project vote — which brought nearly 1,000 district residents to the polls — is any indication of voter turnout on Tuesday, the superintendent has good reason to be optimistic.

Both superintendents are looking forward to accomplishing important goals for their districts next school year. Continuing the current level of programming and building on the success of past years are important to Anderson, as is providing quality instruction through a rigorous curriculum. Davison is looking forward to continuing K-12 curriculum work, maintaining extra-curricular activities and the important work of campus security. In addition to their current K-12 programming, Davison is pleased to maintain the district’s two full-day and two half-day PreK classes.

To view detailed PowerPoint presentations on the school districts’ proposed budgets, visit their websites at ww.gowcsd.org and www.wacs.wnyric.org.

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