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Low turnout expected as school budgets are up for a vote

More than $3 billion and 84 elected positions are at stake during Tuesday's school budget and board member elections in Erie and Niagara counties.

And despite the high stakes, if the trend of the past few years continues, there will be fewer voters going to the polls than last year here and throughout New York State.

Nearly 1 million voted in school elections throughout New York State in 2010. That number dropped to about 578,000 last year, a drop of 40 percent, according to the New York State Association of School Business Officials.

Voter participation in school elections in Erie and Niagara counties has declined about 27 percent from 2010 to 2016.

Since the tax cap was initiated, an overwhelming number of budgets have gained approval from voters. The passing rate for school budgets was more than 98 percent in each of the last three years, according the New York State School Boards Association.

Passing rates that high have not been seen in the 48 years of records listed on the association's website. That means budgets are passing at a higher rate by fewer and fewer voters.

[Related: A guide to your district's budget and School Board elections]

Students walk through the hallway at Clinton Street Elementary School in West Seneca, on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The number of voters has been steadily dropping, and that decline intensified after the state tax cap was enacted in 2012, according to the business officials organization. The state school boards association has noticed the trend as well.

"You could make a good case the tax cap has really reduced voter turnout," said David Albert, spokesman for the school boards association.

Even though most budgets will pass, a proposed budget is more likely to fail if the tax levy is above the tax cap.

Does the tax cap work? It depends on whom you ask

"Whether or not the tax cap has caused the decrease in voter turnout, they have gone together," Albert said. "We've seen a steady decline."

All the proposed budgets in Erie and Niagara counties total more than $3 million, and residents will be voting on other propositions, too.

Some residents will be voting to buy new buses, or to use money from reserves to pay for new buses, like in Alden, Clarence, Grand Island, Holland, Springville-Griffith, North Collins, Orchard Park and West Seneca.

[Related: Where do I vote? Info on 37 school district elections]

Some will vote on buying land, like residents in Niagara-Wheatfield, where school officials want to purchase land across from Errick Road Elementary School to address parking needs.

Others will vote on capital projects that will tackle health and safety issues in district facilities, like at Frontier and Lewiston-Porter, or improvements to arts, athletic and technology facilities, like in Lake Shore. Sloan and Cheektowaga voters will decide on having high school students serve in nonvoting positions on school boards.

For all of the school election results, check after 8 p.m. Some polls don't close until 9 p.m.

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