By convincing margins, voters from Bridgehampton to Montauk approved school budgets Tuesday and rejected the more anti-tax school board candidates. However, the newly constituted boards should not ignore the fact that there were considerable numbers of no votes in many districts.
Two factors would seem to be at play in the results. One is that parents of students now in school were strongly motivated to turn out to vote. This was notable especially on a day like Tuesday, during which torrential rains bombarded the streets almost until the balloting ended. Candidates closely associated with the schools themselves — parents, a former teacher, and a teacher’s husband — tended to prevail.
Voters also appeared willing to reward their elected officials for at least trying to draft budgets that matched the tough economy. This is a difficult balance to strike, given the expenses that come as a result of unfunded state mandates, myriad contractual obligations, high school tuition, and longstanding pension agreements. Perhaps the majority of voters understood this and were resigned to seeing their taxes rise.
Nevertheless, it is unsettling, especially for residents on fixed incomes or dependent on Social Security, to see school budgets go up — as most did this year — at more than twice the rate of inflation. Whether through district consolidation or as a result of a possible statewide tax cap, something will have to give. For the school