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What happens when a school budget is voted down?

As local residents prepare to vote on their school budgets May 18, many are wondering what alternatives their district has to passing the budget that has been proposed for 2010-11. With that in mind, here's a little background on what a 'no' vote for a school budget would look like:

Districts, that is, school boards, have a couple of options if a proposed budget is voted down. First, they can choose to move directly to a contingency budget. The other option is to go to a second vote with either the same budget or a revised proposal.

If the school board elects to hold a second vote, it must be held on the third Tuesday in June. If that proposal is defeated, the board is then required to adopt a contingency budget by July 1.

By law, schools must also hold their elections for the Board of Education May 18, but any new board members elected would not be sworn in until July 1, so they would have no bearing on any decisions for next year's budget.

Holding a second vote on a revised budget can pose a cost to school districts, which can vary depending on district size and population. For this reason, districts often opt to go right to a contingency budget.

Contingency budgets are limited by a certain spending cap calculated based on the Consumer Price Index, which, in the midst of this recession, is negative for the first time since 1955. According to the State Legislature, that means the current cap requires level spending from the previous year.

Even with level spending, a district's tax levy could still increase due to reductions in state aid.

Many area schools held out until the April 23 deadline to adopt their proposed budgets, hoping New York State would approve its budget for next year with higher projected aid for school districts. If state aid does increase after the district adopts its budget, it cannot be used to increase appropriations, only to reduce the tax levy.

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