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Hot issues energize turnout as 98 school districts go to polls in WNY

Residents in 98 school districts across Western New York weighed in on $3.4 billion in school spending Tuesday.

While hot local issues drove higher-than-normal turnout in some districts, those watching the polls expected statewide turnout to remain relatively low as most districts proposed budgets that stayed within a state-imposed tax cap.

An increase in state aid compared to last year and a drop in teacher pension contributions also helped buoy budget proposals for 2015-16.

“This year there was a significant increase in state aid, which made it easier for districts to meet the cap – but not too easy,” said David Albert of the New York School Boards Association.

The number of voters casting ballots in the annual May school elections dropped in each of the first three years after the state imposed a tax cap on school districts that limits their ability to raise property taxes, according to the School Boards Association.

Some local districts have seen the same voter turnout trend.

“Since the tax cap, it kind of dwindled,” said Cheryl A. Connors, clerk of the Orchard Park School District.

All but two of the 98 school districts in the eight counties that make up Western New York sought to stay within their tax caps for 2015-16. The two that did not – Niagara Falls in Niagara County and Hinsdale in Cattaraugus County – both proposed budgets that would keep the amount of property tax revenue flat.

School leaders across the region say they have struggled in recent years to make budget cuts as enrollment has dropped in many schools at the same time that expenses rose and the state pulled back on promised aid.

Overall school spending in suburban, rural and small city districts in Western New York would increase by 2.27 percent, to $3.4 billion, compared to last year under the budget proposals voted on by residents Tuesday.

In Cassadaga Valley, the budget passed, 172 to 30, a bus proposition passed, 176 to 27, and Daniel W. Pavlock was re-elected with 190 votes. Other results included:

Randolph – Budget passed, 155 to 55, and Janet Huntington and David A. Adams were elected, defeating Thomas Deacon.

Portville – Budget passed, 188 to 34; a bus proposition passed, 187 to 36, and incumbent James Tkacik was re-elected to a five-year term.

Medina – Budget passed, 376 to 46. Ann Bunch, Renee Paser-Paull and Brian Koch won seats on the School Board, defeating Virginia Nicholson and Danielle Class.

Franklinville – Budget passed, 162 to 49, a proposition on leasing real property also passed, and board President Richard Wright won re-election with 151 votes, beating write-in candidate Elizabeth Shenk, who had 28.

Panama – The budget passed, 115 to 31, and James Mistretta was elected with 124 votes.