(See our Voter Participation Map below!)
Last week’s school district elections on May 18 were marked by a particular event that didn’t even happen in Westchester County: a fire under the Metro North tracks which effectively brought train service in and out of Manhattan to a virtual standstill. That said, the elections continued, and in the aftermath this is what we see.
Voter participation rates for school budget/board seats are abysmal.
This year, only an estimated 7% of Westchester County voters went to the polls to vote. (38,825 people voted out of an estimated 423,980 eligible voters). School District Voter participation rates ranged anywhere from 2% (White Plains) to 24% (Bedford – which we’ll get to in a minute). We intend to compare this month’s voter participation rate with the voter participation rate for the Presidential election in November. We can’t do a straight comparison because school district boundaries are different from the municipal boundaries used in the Presidential election, but my bet is that the differences will be quite striking anyway.
School budgets had some relief.
The school administrators most likely cried “good riddance” to the elimination of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), which was introduced in the 2010-11 school year to help close New York State’s budget deficit. In a nutshell, the elimination of GEA restored state aid to most NY school districts. A most likely result, only one school district in Westchester, Bedford (which includes Mount Kisco) attempted to go above the tax cap. A budget that goes above the tax cap requires a supermajority, 60% of the vote, to get passed.
Controversy brings the voters in.
The Bedford school district faced a $8 million funding gap as the election approached, and with that gap came protests about staff cuts, questions about school leadership, and contested Board seats. It’s easy to conclude that the controversy brought in voters, despite the Metro North train accident that prevented many people from getting to the polls. Bedford, by our estimates, was the school district with the highest voter participation this year (24%) which was more than three times the Westchester County average. That said, it failed by 54 votes to get to a supermajority.
Just like last year, contested Board Seats is not a guarantee of voter turnout.
From what we could gather, about 17 school districts out of the 39 school districts that held a vote (Yonkers doesn’t hold one.) had contested board seats.
School districts don’t necessarily post vote results on their website.
Last year we noted that it is not standard practice to post candidate statements on school district websites (This year, we only saw one school district that did this). This year we noted that some school districts did not post election results on their websites (although they may have on Facebook). In some cases, it was profoundly difficult to find the results. It seems especially odd, when school districts carve out entire portions of their website to a proposed budget, only to make it difficult for people to find out whether or not the proposed budget became reality. We think that anything that helps busy citizens make informed decisions, such as posting statements on the website or Facebook page, is a very good idea.
*NOTE: Last year, we calculated voter participation rate by dividing the number of total votes by the estimated population over 18. This year, we changed our methodology and calculated the total number of votes by the estimated number of US citizens in that school district.
Katie, thanks so much for your comment! We are investigating several courses of action to encourage the posting of election results on school websites, but I think we can all agree that the voices of parents and school district residents play an integral part in bringing action to this issue.
Absolutely. But a little nudge from a prestigious CBO doesn’t hurt!
An important and valuable blog. Have you (and WCA) considered making a specific request to each school district and/or municipal office to report results of the vote on their website?