LAKEGEORGE - The second 2011-2012 budget proposed by the Lake George Central School Board of Education in five weeks was soundly defeated Tuesday, June 21 by school district voters.
This is the first time in at least 40 years the school budget has been voted down, area election officials said.
The $20,343,279 spending plan was defeated by a vote of 669 to 521. The budget reflected a 1.66 percent increase over 2010, or a boost of $333,057.
Grim expressions were on the faces of Lake George school administrators and school board members at about 8:15 Tuesday as the vote was being tallied from voting machines and absentee ballots were being counted - behind locked doors.
With this second No vote, the school district will have to revert to a state-mandated contingency budget, which prohibits spending on certain items, including buses and school supplies.
Lake George Superintendent of Schools Patrick Dee said that school officials will now begin focusing on preparing a spending plan to meet those mandates.
"The vote results are very disappointing," he said. "The Board of Education worked diligently listening to the community and they had put together a very good budget."
He said that although the continency budget is about $1,600 more than the last budget proposed by the board, the administration would be keeping expenditures at or below the $20,343,279 sum.
Dee blamed the defeat of the budget primarily on a group of residents from the east side of Lake George who had issued flyers and set up a website criticizing the school district's spending. He said they had distributed inaccurate information.
But members of the group, Lake Georgers Helping Achieve Lower Taxes, defended their figures, which show total annual compensation for teachers and administrators as high as $218,442 - data they obtained through the state FOIL act. The figures show that 43 teachers and administrators are receiving more than $100,000 in total annual compensation, and 27 others are making in excess of $89,000, far higher than the total annual household earnings of the majority ofLake George residents.
Philip Ostrom of Lake George, who had participated in a series of budget meetings, said the Lake George school board had not responded to the public's concern over increased spending during economically challenging times.
"There are senior citizens who have not had a raise in two years, a lot of people are out of work and hurting, and we cannot sustain these constant budget increases while the school district's enrollment is dropping," Ostrom said.
He and others said the key to controlling spending is taking a hard line in negotiating with teachers on the issues of salaries and benefits, which represent more than 70 percent of district spending, he said.
Peter Brothers, from the east side, noted that state employees pay 35 percent of the cost of their family-plan health insurance premiums of $17,500, while school district employees pay 8 percent or less of their annual family-plan premium of $21,800. Raising the percentage minimally could save the district taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.
Diane Matthews of the LGHALT group, said Tuesday night that the statewide teachers union had sponsored a recent district-wide mailing of postcards urging support for the budget.
"Its a relief that the voting process is over, and the community voice has been heard," she said. "There's been a definite problem in the lack of open dialogue between the school board and the community, and we're looking forward to changing this."