UPDATE: Final numbers from the State Education Department: 657 budgets passed and 18 were defeated for a final pass rate of 97.33 percent.
ALBANY, N.Y. May 20, 2009 - Despite high unemployment and worries about the economy, New Yorkers showed their confidence in their public schools by adopting a record 97.2 percent of local school budgets, a preliminary count by New York State United Teachers showed this morning.
As of 9 a.m., NYSUT's unofficial count showed voters in 547 school districts passed their budgets. In 16 districts, voters rejected their school boards' plans for how resources will be allocated for students and schools in the 2009-10 school year. The NYSUT count includes about 85 percent of the state's school districts. If the percentages hold as the final counting is completed, the 97.2 percent 'pass rate' would top the record 95.3 percent of budgets passing in 2007.
"Even in these tough economic times, we see that voters recognize the importance of supporting their local schools," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "By voting 'yes,' New Yorkers are saying they understand that as our economy turns around, students must be ready."
Iannuzzi said that by adopting local budgets, voters are showing confidence in the ability of schools to turn out skilled graduates who "can and should be the mainstays of a strong work force" to fill high-tech jobs created, for example, in GE's new battery research plant in Niskayuna; Advanced Micro Devices' multi-billion-dollar chip plant in Saratoga County; and the new solar project recently announced for Long Island.
"Year after year, we see recognition that investing in education is the smartest way to prepare students for college and employment opportunities that will be a key to a sustainable economy going forward," Iannuzzi added.
Iannuzzi said this year's high passage rate is due, in large measure, to the federal stimulus package, which invested some $1.25 billion this year in public schools. The stimulus package enabled the governor and state Legislature to erase proposed state budget cuts and provide a small increase in funding. In addition, Iannuzzi said, many school boards put forward conservative budgets, resulting in the lowest spending and property tax increases in recent memory. Property Tax Report Cards revealed that statewide spending increases averaged 2.35 percent, while property tax levies edged up 1.89 percent.
NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan B. Lubin said the overwhelming support for schools - in the face of the worst economy since the Great Depression - showed voters do not need tax caps. "By supporting school budgets, voters once again said 'Yes' to good schools, even as many districts showed fiscal restraint and reined in overall costs," Lubin said.
Ironically, Iannuzzi said, voters in a few communities may have rejected their school budgets because they opposed spending cuts, including the elimination of programs and cuts to teachers and staff.
"Some school boards and superintendents used the current economic crisis as an excuse to cut academic programs, lay off teachers and other school staff, and to take a giant step backward from the progress that's been made" Iannuzzi said. "In some of those communities, parents and teachers rejected that approach, and are instead calling for their boards to use the money to restore positions and student programs."
This year's unofficial 97.2 percent 'pass rate' compares to the 92.7 percent of budgets which passed on the first vote in May 2008, but was lower than 2007's record 'pass rate' of 95.3 percent. In 2006, voters approved 88.7 percent of school budgets on the first try, higher than the 83.5 percent budget approval rate for 2005 and the 84.9 percent of budgets winning passage in 2004.
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents more than 600,000 classroom teachers and other school employees; faculty and other professionals at the state's community colleges; State University of New York and City University of New York; and other education and health professionals. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.