School district elections, for budgets and board members, are on tap around Western New York today, and this is what voters who care about education and their taxes must do: Go vote. And, if you live in Williamsville, be especially careful about how you vote.
There, in a district suffering from long-term conflict between the teachers union and the superintendent, the union is hoping to stack the entire nine-member School Board with its supporters. It already has put favored candidates in six of the slots, winning every time it made the effort.
There is nothing to prevent unions from supporting candidates who back their positions, of course. It happens at every level of government, just as business interests seek to elect their preferred candidates. It’s a part of the system. But the decisions are ultimately in the hands of voters, who have their own interests to consider. It’s hard for voters – including parents and taxpayers – to believe those concerns will be adequately considered if an entire board is held in the sway of any one interest group – union, business or any other. That’s just common sense.
The fact is that while the interests of teachers unions, voters, parents and students may overlap, they are not identical. The union’s interest is in the welfare of its members and, to the extent that those interests coincide with the interests of affordable, high-quality education, no one should have any problem.
But it isn’t always the case that those interests are always in alignment. Demands on salaries, benefits and working conditions frequently put those interests in conflict. With a board entirely composed of union-backed candidates, the likelihood of increasing numbers of decisions tilting in the union’s direction can only increase.
Meanwhile, voters in Williamsville and other school districts holding votes today also need to decide on the budgets presented by their school boards. School budget votes have always been troubling in New York. As the only public budget that voters directly influence, they can become lightning rods for general dissatisfaction, and their rejection has only modest influence on tax rates.
Voters in recent years have generally approved school budgets, usually a good idea absent obvious mismanagement. It’s much better to influence school spending by changing school board members than it is by rejecting budgets.
If those boards are made up of members who understand the issues, including the consequences of inappropriate spending levels, they have a better chance of producing consistently defensible budgets.
Among the issues influencing this year’s election is the state tax cap – generally 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Breaking it requires a supermajority of voters. That possibility is on the ballot in East Aurora, Maryvale and Niagara Falls. Breaking it may provide more funding to schools, but could also mean local taxpayers forfeit a rebate under New York’s Property Tax Relief Credit.