Friday, May 26, 2006


Did the Riverhead school budget fail because voters don’t trust the school board or the administration? Some people (like Molly Roach and teachers union advocates) are banging this drum. I think it’s both oversimplification and, quite frankly, spin.

We seem to get a pretty consistent “no” vote on Riverhead school budgets, in the 1400 to 1700 vote range, according to vote results for the past 6 years. The one exception during this period was the year 2004, when the budget failed with a whopping 2255 “no” votes. In 2001, the proposed budget represented a 12.99% spending increase over the previous year.

This year, there were 1667 “no” votes. That’s right in line with the number of “no” votes in each election in the preceding 5 years.

The difference this year was the number of “yes” votes. This year, there were 1576 “yes” votes. When the budget passes, we see around 2000 “yes” votes.

This year’s vote had the lowest total voter turnout over the past 6 years. And the low turnout was among the “yes” voters.

So I don’t think the budget defeat represents a vote of no confidence for the school board or the district administration, the way some people spin it to serve their own agendas.

I don’t think it even represents any loud “enough is enough” statement on property taxes. The tax rate increase was only 2%.

If there are any conclusions to be drawn here it’s that the parents of school age children didn’t bother to turn out to vote (as they typically do) “yes” on the school budget this year. Maybe they were busy doing other things or maybe they figured with a 2% tax rate hike, it simply couldn’t fail.

I’ve compiled the voting results from 2001 through this year, showing votes, proposed budget amounts, percentage increases and total voter turnout.

Looking at these numbers, I have a few questions.

What’s the total number of registered voters in the Riverhead Central School District (registered to vote with the county board of elections)? Our voter turnout in these elections is usually in the 3000-4000 range. What percentage of eligible voters does this represent?

The budget increased from $65.2 million in 2001 to $93.3 million in 2006. That’s just about $30 million. What does that $30 million represent? Another drum people are banging is that we have exorbitant administrative costs in our district. What percentage of that $30 million is attributable to increased administrative expenses? What percentage is attributable to increased salaries and benefits for teachers and staff? What IS it attributable to? I’d like to see an analysis of that and I’m sure other parents and taxpayers would as well.

Here are the numbers:
2006 FAILED 1,667 to 1,576. $93,352,740, 6.5% spending increase; voter turnout: 3243

2005 PASSED 1,994 to 1,483. $87.6 million, 6.4% spending increase; voter turnout:

2004 FAILED 1975 to 2255. $83,901,512 , 12.99% spending increase; voter turnout: 4230
Revote : PASSED 2,864 to 2,153. $82,275,746, 10.8% spending increase; voter turnout: 5017

2003: PASSED 2397 to 1760. $74,253,460, 4.41% spending increase; voter turnout: 4157

2002: FAILED 1,741 to 1,635. $71,120,126, 9.91% spending increase; voter turnout: 3376
Revote: PASSED 1764 to 1568, $71,120,126, 9.91% spending increase; 3332

2001: PASSED 1,975 to 1,412, $65,209,167, 9.39% spending increase; Voter turnout: 3387