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Most NY school district budgets OK'd by voters

Carolyn Thompson, Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- New Yorkers voting on school budgets for next year have approved nearly all of the proposals containing tax increases within state-imposed taxing limits.

Budgets that proposed bigger tax increases mostly failed.

More than 630 school budgets, about 96 percent, were approved around the state, a preliminary analysis by the New York State School Boards Association showed Wednesday, a day after the voting.

On average, they increase the tax levy — the amount collected through property taxes — by 2.8 percent. Spending increased by about the same percentage, in large part to cover school district pension costs, the association said.

It was the second year that district budgeting was guided by a 2011 tax cap that generally limits increases in the tax levy to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less, but is customized for each district based on certain exemptions. Districts can try to override the cap but budgets containing bigger increases must be approved by a 60 percent supermajority, instead of the simple majority required otherwise.

Of the 27 budget proposals that sought to exceed the cap, 30 percent passed, the school boards group said, compared with 98 percent of those under the cap.

The suburban Buffalo district of Clarence mustered about 40 percent support for a budget that contained a 9.8 increase in the tax levy, well over the 3.8 percent allowed under the cap formula.

It and other districts where budgets failed may hold a second vote on the same or a modified proposal on June 18, or adopt a contingency budget at current tax levels. Clarence administrators say they will have to cut expenses equivalent to 37 staff positions, about $2.4 million, to get under the cap. The district has eliminated 90 positions over the last three years.

"There's disappointment from some people. There are suggestions from others about things that can be done within the scope of the reductions," Superintendent Geoffrey Hicks said Wednesday while fielding calls from parents and others. The high-performing district has largely depleted reserve funds that helped hold down tax increases in the past.

"We had a revenue problem, not a spending problem," he said of the defeated budget, which would have increased spending by a little more than 1 percent.

The state will increase school spending by about $1 billion next year but school administrators say even more is needed to make up for previous cuts in state aid and to offset rising pension and other expenses that are beyond their control. NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi said schools will have less state aid overall in 2013-14 than five years ago.

NYSUT is challenging the tax cap championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to slow property tax growth as unconstitutional. Opponents say it hinders communities' ability to decide how much to spend on education.