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Opt out supporters gain ground in school board elections

Photo by Eileen Buckley

Almost 98 percent of school budgets were approved in statewide voting Tuesday, including the majority of school districts asking for overrides of the state’s mandatory property tax cap. Meanwhile, school board candidates who support opting out of standardized tests saw success across the state.

Only a small number of districts attempted to get the 60 percent supermajority they need to override the tax cap and increase their spending. But of those 36 districts, more than three-quarters succeeded.

The tax cap is based in part on the rate of inflation, which is near 0 percent this year. The New York State School Boards Association’s Tim Kremer says the schools had health care, salary and other costs that increased by more than that.

“These were districts that felt, ‘We just can’t live within our cap, because it’s too tight,’ ” said Kremer. “To what extent that other districts would be compelled to roll the dice, I’m not so sure.”

But he says it shows some voters are willing to say that the cap is “onerous” and predicts more communities may opt to spend more on their schools and forgo a small rebate check that they receive when their district stays within the constraints of the cap.  

School board elections also were held Tuesday, and Kremer said many seats were won by those who support boycotting Common Core-related standardized tests, along with more teachers who are also union members. The teachers and their union have been upset over the tests that were to be used to evaluate their performance. The State Board of Regents have imposed a three year moratorium on linking the exam results to teacher performance.  

“That doesn’t mean that they are going to completely change the agenda,” Kremer said. “But it does mean that we’re going to have to be attentive to some new ways of thinking.”

The school boards association does not have exact numbers yet on how many students opted out of the tests this year. Those numbers will be posted by the State Education Department this summer. But he says he expects the rates were comparable to last year, when 20 percent of students skipped the tests.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.