GERMANTOWN–The Board of Education met Wednesday for the first time since voters defeated the 2012-13 school budget proposal May 15, and a survey of voters Election Day gives some clues to voter sentiment about a budget plan that called for a tax increase more than twice the rate set by the state property tax cap.
The $13.6 million proposal called a 1.9% decrease in overall spending compared to the current budget, but it came with a 5.2% increase in the tax levy and it was rejected at the polls 514 to 415.
The school board now has the options of putting a new budget or the same budget to a public vote June 19 or immediately adopting a so-called contingency budget, which limits spending in most categories to current levels. If a second vote were to fail, the district would be required to impose a contingency budget.
A contingency spending plan would permit no tax increase regardless of increased costs and would curtail extracurricular activities.
Those who voted on May 15 were offered the opportunity of filling out an optional anonymous survey. Of the 929 people who voted, 434 filled out the survey. Results were compiled and posted on the district website (germantowncsd.org). Presumably the board will analyze these results and consider them in a new round of budget discussions.
The survey generally suggested multiple-choice answers to its questions. Of those who filled it out, 229 reported voting Yes on the budget, 176 No and 29 left that question blank.
Of those who voted Yes on the budget, the greatest number–178, about 41%–said they did so because “I believe in education.” Another 117 agreed with “The budget meets the needs of our students,” and 105 checked “I am pleased with the quality of education provided by Germantown schools.” Eighty-six agreed that “the projected tax rate increase is reasonable.”
Of the No voters, 143, or almost 33%, chose “the projected tax rate increase is unreasonable” as their reason. Another 79 said, “I want to support it, but I cannot afford the cost.”
Regarding staffing reductions proposed for the 2012-13 year, 155 survey respondents thought there should be fewer, 116 thought the reductions were “appropriate, considering enrollment trends and budget constraints,” 70 wanted more staff cuts, and almost as many, 67, had no opinion.
Most of those who took the trouble to respond did not have children attending school in the district. The children of 194 people were past high school age, and 105 had no children. Of those who had children in the district, the greatest umber–43–were elementary school parents/guardians.
If Superintendent Patrick Gabriel were running for president, he would be in a tight race: 172 respondents were “pleased” with his leadership, 197 were not and 53 left the question blank.
Most respondents–245–said their best sources of news and information about the district came from “conversations with friends and neighbors.” In contrast, 67 cited the district website, 100 said Board of Education meetings, 19 PTSA meetings and 241 various newspapers.
In addition to Germantown, the district serves Livingston and Clermont and parts of Ancram, Gallatin, Taghkanic and Tivoli. Most of the survey respondents (260, almost 60%) lived in Germantown. Livingston was a distant second with 77, Clermont third with 53.
Respondents were a relatively mature group: 154 were age 51-64, 134 were 31-50 and 117 were 65 and older. No surprise then that most of the respondents–237–had lived in the district for more than 20 years, and another 105 were district residents for more than 11 years; thus almost 79% of those who took the trouble to respond had many years in the district.
Analyzing the answers to these detailed questions could help the board decide what to do next. The survey did not correlate age with vote. If, for example, the 31-50 age group, which is most likely to have children in the district, voted against the budget, then the board has a tough row to hoe. If that group voted for the budget, then it’s a matter of persuading older voters that the budget serves them by providing for the district’s children.
At this point the clearest message is that 33% of “no” voters found the projected tax rate increase “unreasonable.” Presumably, the board will work from there.