Anemic voter turnout for Tri-Lakes school budgets

Voter turnout for North Country school districts was low this year even though difficult decisions and painful spending cuts captured the attention of the public and the media.

The voices of more than three quarters of all registered voters in the Tri-Lakes area remained silent when the polls opened Tuesday. Those who were willing and able to make their voices heard on their school district budgets made the decision for the vast majority.

There are roughly 7,000 residents who are registered to vote in the Saranac Lake Central School District. Only 755 of them made it to the voting booth.

Saranac Lake's budget, which includes a modest 2 percent tax levy increase, was not as controversial as some of its neighboring schools, but it does eliminate 15 staff positions, mostly through layoffs and attrition, and effectively closes the Lake Colby Elementary School.

Even with some big decisions on the table, only about 10 percent of the voters managed to tell their school district administrators and board members whether they had the public's support.

The Lake Placid Central School District's proposed budget was hotly debated during school board meetings and drew fire from residents during public hearings. It included controversial cuts to teaching staff, reductions in course offerings and a tax rate increase of slightly more than 4 percent.

Yet only about 17 percent of its 4,000 registered voters made it to the polls.

Tupper Lakers also made a thin showing during a hair-raising year for their school district. School administrators did backflips to pass a budget with an unprecedented spending decrease of 2.6 percent. The bulk of those savings come from Superintendent Seth McGowan and other key staff absorbing the responsibilities of their retiring middle-high school principal.

Nevertheless, declines in state aid and rising costs forced the school to increase taxes by more than 4 percent.

Of the 3,777 registered voters in Tupper Lake, 489 turned out to vote. That's a little more than 12 percent.

It was a similar story in Keene as well. About 16 percent of its 840 registered voters made it to the polls last week.

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