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Status quo vote

 

Some said this would be the year when taxpayers revolted against high taxes by voting down school district budgets. It did not happen.

True, the percentage of annual school budgets passed last month was lower than the year before, but a 92 percent approval rate-versus 97 percent in 2009-is closer to a rubber stamp than rebellion. Locally, only Greece voters rejected their school district spending plan.

Some voters no doubt were impressed that school officials exhibited a bit of spending restraint. On average, the proposed spending increases statewide were in line with the rate of inflation forecast for the next 12 months. Typically, the spending hikes are twice the inflation rate or more.

But for taxpayers, a more relevant yardstick is the per-pupil tax levy change. That statewide average, the Empire Center for New York State Policy found in its annual analysis of school budget proposals, was 4 percent-nearly twice the 2.2 percent inflation forecast.

The average proposed per-pupil tax levy increase in Monroe County was even higher: 4.6 percent. However, Greece’s 9.2 percent proposed hike was a contributing factor-and no doubt a reason why that district’s voters just said no.

As noted here more than once, school spending continues to rise even though many district enrollments are declining. Another Empire Center study released this spring showed that from 2000-01 to 2008-09, New York schools added 14,746 teachers and 8,655 non-teaching professionals; at the same time, statewide enrollment fell by 121,280 pupils.

Those who oppose true spending restraint warn that belt-tightening will hurt graduation rates. This supposed correlation between spending and student performance is mysteriously absent when you examine the data.

The truth is that some districts at the low end of per-pupil spending are near the top in graduation rates; some with higher spending have lower graduation rates.

Since most New Yorkers pull the "yes" lever whenever given the opportunity to vote on their biggest tax bill, it seems the best hope for limiting the burden is enacting a property tax cap statewide.

But once again school budget voters have not exactly sent lawmakers a clear message in favor of it.

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