The lion's share of our residential tax money goes to the public school system, but this doesn't seem to inspire wide participation in the decisions behind it.
Elections are Tuesday for on the school board – returning candidates Mimi Godwin, Craig Laub and current president Joseph Lillis. Then there's that .
“We are trying to make sure people understand the importance of coming out to vote,” said Tarrytown Union Free School District Superintendent Howard Smith. Yet, despite many public meetings leading up to elections, documents made available in the library and elsewhere, and a newsletter recently mailed to all citizens outlining the budget, Smith said he suspected turnout would be low. “That's our fear,” he said.
“Outside the school world, it's just another Tuesday in May,” Smith said. “For us, it's very important.”
While there's no set requirement of getting a certain number of voters to participate in order for the budget to pass and candidates to be elected, “it's just kind of scary,” said Smith, “that a small number of people have a say in the state of public education. It shouldn't be that way.”
Smith said of the approximately 8,000 registered voters we have here between Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, about 2,000 have historically voted in the school elections (which is about how many tend to participate in general elections as well). In an uncontested election, perhaps this year would be less, he said.
District elections are on Tuesday, May 15 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tarrytown residents vote at and Sleepy Hollow residents vote at .
While you do not have to be a registered voter for the county to vote in school elections, you do have to have been registered already (by the May 10 deadline) to vote for the schools. There will however be a table at each school for last-minute registrations for those who are already registered in the county.
The budget recap:
Total proposed: $66,827,609
Budget increase: 3.2%
Tax Levy increase: 2.42%
Tarrytown tax rate increase: 1.97%*
Sleepy Hollow tax rate increase: 3.12%*
(*As the run-down in TUFSD newsletter notes, “tax rate estimates are based on changes in equalization rates for the towns of Greenburgh and Mt. Pleasant. Rates will change between now and August due to the impact of ongoing tax certiorari settlements on total property valuation in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.”)
There's also a note in the recent TUFSD newsletter headlined “Failure to pass budget would require major budget reduction.” Under the new tax cap law, a budget defeat on Tuesday would go to a second vote. If the budget fails the second vote as well, the allowable tax level is “frozen at last year's level,” which would translate into a budget reduction of $1,250,000 – only achieved, apparently, by “reducing personnel...larger classes and reduction of programs and services for students.”
Here's a brief rundown on the candidates:
Mimi Godwin, has been past President of the Board School and has served on it since 1996. She has two daughters who have graduated from Sleepy Hollow High School. She is active in the Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, and the LIFE Center, among other organizations.
B. Joseph Lillis, is a banker and current President, has served as school Trustee for 25 years. He has three children who were/currently are in our public system.
Craig Laub, at 45 is the youngest and newest member of the Board, seeking his third three-year term. He is a wealth manager, the father of three children in the system, a former Village Trustee, and a soccer and basketball coach.
Together, they offered this statement on what they would like to achieve going forward:
We believe that understanding, experience and commitment will be important throughout the upcoming term to ensure that TUFSD is able to meet the challenges that face public education given the economic climate and new political realities. Specifically, this will require strengthening advocacy for our children so that they are afforded the resources and opportunities to achieve their potential as lifelong learners. We need to remain hopeful, open-minded, and persistent in our goal to simultaneously close the gap and raise the bar for our heterogeneous student population.
Once candidates are elected, they are sworn in and vote for President and Vice President of the School Board in July.
How do you feel about the budget and the candidates? What are the issues most important to you? Vote (and let us know in the comments).