ALBANY, N.Y. - Local school officials are applauding the state’s decision to give school districts the time to hold second votes on their 2020-21 spending plans if they fail.
On Sunday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that absentee ballots for school boards and budgets could be hand-delivered by 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 9, or received through the mail by 5 p.m., June 16.
Two days later, he issued another executive order committing the state to setting a date for a revote before the end of July.
This is good news, especially for some school districts, like Mahopac and Brewster, that had struggled to get ballots printed and sent out in time.
Also, under such a tight deadline for a revote—should one become necessary—many districts feared they might have to go straight to a contingency scenario, which meant cutting jobs and programs.
Things were already looking pretty bleak due to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession.
Normally, the state’s 700 or so school districts hold budget votes and elections in May.
Deborah D’Agostino, North Salem school board president, called the new executive order “a good thing in that it keeps spending decisions local and can prevent districts from being forced to work with a contingency budget.”
“That said, we have proposed a well-thought-out budget which is under the levy cap. We are hoping that a revote will not be necessary,” she said, adding that the board has reached out to the community for support and are “optimistic” that they will approve the budget as proposed.
Somers schools Superintendent Dr. Raymond Blanch reacted to the news Thursday as well.
“It is good that the state is thinking about and planning for different budget scenarios.”
Those options would be discussed by the Board of Education “if necessary,” Blanch said.
When the school budget vote was rescheduled for June 9, no corresponding changes were made to reschedule the date for a budget revote.
The revote must occur before the end of July, because school districts must send their tax levy to the town in early August.
Without the governor’s action, or approved legislation, districts would have been forced to adopt a contingency budget if their budget proposals were defeated on June 9.
After absentee voting became necessary because of the pandemic, some school districts struggled to get ballots printed and sent out in time.
The governor also signed an executive order Sunday, June 7, that extended the deadline for submitting absentee ballots for the state primaries on Tuesday, June 23. If those ballots are postmarked by June 23, they will be counted.
While progress is being made, and the number of active COVID-19 cases have declined, “no New Yorker should have to choose between their health and their right to vote," Cuomo explained.
Last week, state Sen. Pete Harckham, D-South Salem, introduced legislation to extend the dates for school district and library elections until Tuesday, June 16. It was co-sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Jonathan G. Jacobson, D-Newburgh.
The legislation became moot after Cuomo issued the executive order that allowed absentee ballots to be received by mail through 5 p.m. on that date.
Reacting to the state’s latest move, Harckham said: “The action by Gov. Cuomo to guarantee a date for a school budget revote before the end of the July is good news for school districts around the state.”
“The extra time will allow voters to reexamine budget priorities and, hopefully, provide students with the support and resources they deserve,” he added.
Second votes have always been part of the budget process. Spending plans can be resubmitted to voters either unchanged, or in a revised form. Contingency budgets are always the last resort.
However, this year’s highly unusual circumstances caused logistical issues and some confusion.
Harckham thanked the governor for supporting the second vote.
“The second vote is part of the annual school district budget vote process, and today's action will allow for that process to proceed as designed, even in these extraordinary times. It will afford all communities the opportunity to reflect and discuss the impacts of the draconian cuts and restrictions placed upon a public school district should a district adopt a contingency budget.”
Harckham represents the 40th District, which includes Brewster, North Salem, Somers, and Yorktown.