Voters Reject a Pair of Tax Cap-Breaching School Budgets

Votes on school budgets for the upcoming year proposing an average increase in per pupil spending of 4.3 percent were held state-wide yesterday, with balloting taking place in 672 individual school districts.

New York’s public schools spent a collective $25,919 per pupil in 2019-20, more than any other state and 89 percent above the national average of $13,494, according to annual U.S. Census Bureau data released just today.

Local property taxes are the primary revenue source for the state’s public schools. Since 2012, a statutory tax cap generally limits the annual growth of the tax levy imposed by each school district to the lesser of two percent or the rate of inflation. For the 2022-23 school year, the growth limit is two percent, as modified by district-level factors that typically lift the threshold higher. While a voting majority is sufficient for adoption of school budgets at or under the cap, a 60 percent super-majority is required to approve budgets exceeding the cap.

The vast majority of the 687 school budgets voted on around the state yesterday proposed to spend either at or slightly below the cap level—evidence that the budgets are devised with an eye on the cap.

Fifteen districts around the state, however, did seek to raise their school tax levy beyond the local cap limit. While 12 of those 15 votes succeeded, two others failed to secure the 60 percent support required for adoption.

Just half of 628 voting residents supported the Garrison Central School District budget — a blueprint for the Putnam County district’s upcoming school year that would raise the tax levy by 9.2 percent to help finance spending of $57,508 per pupil.

The proposal of Newfield Central School District in Tompkins County for a 14 percent increase in the district tax levy also failed to gain 60 percent super-majority support. In a 151-134 vote, only 53 percent of voters agreed to the plan to spend $31,568 per pupil.

Barely succeeding by a four-vote margin was the tax cap override vote for the Schenevus Central School District in Otsego County. It was adopted in a 193-122 vote, with 61 percent of voters endorsing the plan to spend $37,833 per pupil next year.

The largest district by far to propose a cap-breaching budget was the Ithaca Central School District, where a super-majority of 70-percent of residents voted by a 2446 to 1069 margin to adopt a $148.9 million budget raising the district property tax levy by 7.21 percent to finance spending of $26,910 per pupil.

New York school districts whose budgets were defeated yesterday can hold a re-vote in June on the same proposal or a modified one. If those votes fail, a district’s tax levy remains at the current level.

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