June 2012 Issue
May 21, 2012

Minority rules in some districts

Author: Betsy Sandberg
Source: NYSUT United

Even though more than 59 percent of New Paltz voters said "yes" to their school budget, the will of the minority prevailed.

That's thanks to the state's tax cap law pushed by Gov. Cuomo that says if a district wants to increase the tax levy amount by more than 2 percent, 60 percent of voters must agree. The New Paltz budget, which actually had a $170,000 decrease in spending, sought a 4.4 percent increase in the tax levy.

"It's a shocker for all of us because our budgets always pass," said Bernadette "Mimi" Koonz, president of the New Paltz Educational Support Staff, who together with New Paltz United Teachers educated members and the public about the importance of keeping educational programs intact.

"It failed by 18 votes and now our district will consider cutting back on sports and clubs and increasing class sizes," Koonz said

New Paltz is not alone. Eighteen other districts that attempted to override their spending caps got a majority of votes, but not the 60 percent required.

On Long Island, 41.25 percent of voters "robbed nearly 59 percent of the community of the opportunity to educate our children," said Beth Ziff- Dimino, president of the Port Jefferson Station TA. Just over 30 votes separated budget approval from failure in the Comsewogue schools.

"Where else does the minority get their way?" asked Rick Lombardini, Elmira TA president, after more than 54 percent voted "yes" but the budget failed.

"This is wrong," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. "We have communities where clear majorities want to invest more in their students, in their schools, in their communities, but the say of the minority rules."

This undemocratic requirement was one of the reasons NYSUT fought the property tax cap law, which also doesn't allow districts to accommodate local needs based on weather-related expenditures, enrollment changes or to establish any economies based on multi-year contracts.

NYSUT is considering a legal challenge of the law because preliminary analysis shows voters in richer schools overrode the cap when given that option, while voters in poorer schools did not. Delegates at the Representative Assembly directed the union to seek reforms in the tax cap law. (See related story.)

Districts with override budgets, as well as districts that stayed within their cap but did not get a simple majority of yes votes, have one more chance, June 19, to get a budget to pass. If a second budget is defeated, districts may not increase the tax levy above the previous year's levy — a zero percent tax cap.