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School budgets: Votes rarely bring surprises

If attendance at recent public hearings is any indication, this year’s school budget votes ought to look a lot like those of 2021. Last year, turnout was far from impressive, but those who do show up usually approve a spending plan that increases spending and taxes.

Participants at the polls also will decide on school board members who face opposition and some districts may have additional propositions for the purchase of buses or capital improvement projects. With 18 school districts in Chautauqua County, there’s a lot of funding at stake each year.

According to the Empire Center for public policy, the proposed spending plans would collectively raise New York state’s highest in the nation per-pupil expenditure by 4.3%, and per-pupil school tax levies by 3.2%. Among the 672 districts that submitted data, more than two-thirds — 454 — proposed tax levies that are over, at or within 1% of the cap level beyond which budget votes become statutorily subject to a super-majority approval requirement, according to budget data included in the Property Tax Report Card disclosures districts recently submitted to the New York State Education Department.

Inflation is to blame for some of the budget increases, but little is done to create savings at any educational institution. Consider the downward spiral in enrollment that has been well documented for the last 10 years in our region. It has not led to fewer costs.

We urge residents to vote on Tuesday in their district election, but we believe the time has come to discontinue budget votes with one exception. That would be if the spending plan exceeds the state tax cap. Then, and only then, would residents decide.

History has shown that budget votes rarely in this state and region rarely fail. Why must we continue this charade?

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