Fails to reach threshold to override cap
Voters rejected a budget proposal by the Garrison school district on Tuesday (May 17) that would have raised taxes by 9.18 percent, far above the 2.2 percent allowed by a state tax cap.
Because the $12.36 million in proposed spending for 2022-23 exceeded the cap, state law required at least 60 percent of voters to approve. Instead, the vote was a tie, 314-314. The 628 ballots represented a 30 percent turnout among 2,123 registered voters and were 2.5 times the number cast in 2021, when the budget passed with 75 percent of the vote.
The Garrison school board, which ratified the results at its meeting Wednesday, can adopt a contingency budget or present the same or a revised budget for a second vote on June 21.
The board will consider its next steps at a meeting on Wednesday (May 25).
“There is disappointment,” said Superintendent Carl Albano on May 17. “It was a high ask. I know that people were surprised by the [9.18 percent] proposal.”
Albano said that a contingency budget, which allows for no tax levy increase, would require sharp cuts. He said he expected to have a proposal to the board within a week to 10 days. He added that a revised budget would have to be completed by June 14 for a public hearing in advance of the vote.
“We don’t want to end up in contingency,” said Sarah Tormey, the board president.
Garrison was one of 15 districts that attempted to override the state tax cap for 2022-23. Last year, five school budgets of 675 statewide were defeated but all five districts organized a second vote, according to the New York State School Boards Association.
Garrison voters did approve, by a 511-112 vote, a measure that will allow the district to contract for two to five years to send its high school students to the Highland Falls-Fort Montgomery school district, rather than annually.
Voters returned Kent Schacht and Sarah Tormey to the seven-member board for three-year terms. Both ran unopposed. Schacht was elected last year to a one-year term and Tormey will be serving her second full term.
Joey Asher contributed reporting.
Over the past few months this community has heard from school administrators, 30 years of elected school board trustees and current faculty about how dire the school funding issue is and while unpalatable, how necessary an affirmative vote was in the face of the inflation facing the school district to maintain programming and keep our school in a sound place.
We’ve also heard from a litany of community “educational experts” who have spoken out against anything beyond the three R’s being in the curriculum, have made numerous inaccurate claims about the actual contents of the budget (citing bloat when the discretionary budget has in fact dropped) and that carry the continued misguided belief that combining school districts with Haldane is a possibility that would somehow result in lower taxes for the already rock bottom Garrison resident rates.
Interestingly, this cohort will also remind you of what a special “hamlet” Garrison is as a community, don’t seem to acknowledge that seniors or combat veterans do in fact currently appreciate property tax relief and will remind you of their years of support for the school (and its unsustainable yet wallet-friendly tax levy). This group will also deride the district for not having saved for a “rainy day” as it emerges in a stronger place from what were an exceedingly expensive rainy last two years of keeping the school open during COVID.
I would strongly encourage that this second group speak out about what increased levy they would support in the face of the challenges the school is facing. Is the number the 2.2 percent that is standard in the most flush of times and sticks its head in the sand during uncontrollable periods of inflation? Where does “supporting our school” go from something you claim as a badge of honor to something you are actually willing to sacrifice for?
So 35 percent of voters turned out, and half voted against. As it stands then, 17.5 percent of the total eligible voters in our town who voted against the budget and currently are setting the pace for the community are saying this community is either explicitly for or is OK with:
– Elimination of busing for the 70 percent of Garrison families that live within 2 miles of the school. This is a slap in the face to families with two working parents and insane considering the lack of sidewalks and ever increasing traffic on Route 9D.
– Firing tenured faculty members who have sacrificed a lot over the past two years to keep the school open during the pandemic and did not get to work from home. Do we treat other first responders with such disregard? If you worked somewhere where your customers actively told you they didn’t support your product and your peers were fired, would you stick around? That’s what we seem to expect of our teachers.
– Losing high school choice and severing the historical tie of Garrison students attending Haldane as it is not financially viable to do so.
– That they are unwilling to support the increase in spending that goes along with needing to provide costly special education resources to our communities’ most needy students. Or more so, that the district should “tighten their belt” and choose between budgeting to support those students and providing a competitive and rounded curriculum to all students.
– That programs like the arts or leveraging our school forest by supporting formal curriculum that makes our students stronger at STEM and more connected to our environment are frivolous.
– School sports being eliminated and worth discarding (while the Rec center actively cancels sports seasons due to lack of funding and adequate resources to maintain our parks). When The Current comes out with local sports results, or if you have driven by the local fields and seen Garrison blue on the girls’ softball team and felt a sense of pride in our community and our young student athletes, shelve that. Tighten your belt and cut sports.
– That somehow Garrison will be such a hamlet that it can have a declining school (and when you are cutting transportation, firing teachers and reducing curriculum, your school is declining) but because of low tax rates will keep steady property values? And in the mean time we will have boundless resources for developments and projects that support people visiting our community versus those that actually live here full time?
The spirit of a people is disclosed in the education of their youth. I would strongly encourage that the board run back the vote, our non-voters to turn out at a revote and our no voters to reconsider what they want our community spirit to reflect.