A Tax-Cap Cheat Sheet

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The state School Boards Association wrapped up its annual conference today in Rochester and released this cheat, er, tip sheet on trends related to the property-tax cap.

Basically, if you want smooth sailing, stay under the 2 percent cap. Last May, voters approved 96 percent of school budgets on the first try, and 92 percent stayed under the tax cap — which was implemented this year.

“As school districts begin community budget forums and planning sessions, now is an opportune time to reflect back and ask, ‘What can we learn from our first go-round with the cap?’” said the group’s executive director Timothy Kremer.

The report, “Lessons from Year 1 of the Tax Levy Cap,” offered four suggestions to school boards:

— “Less is more:” 99 percent of budgets at or below the cap were approved; 60 percent were approved that sought an override — which requires a vote of 60 percent of voters.

— “Not all overrides are created equal:” Districts that sought an override were more successful if they were able to demonstrate a unusual reason why they needed to exceed the cap.

— “Opposites attract:” Voter turnout was higher in districts that sought an override. But overall, voter turnout was down 8.4 percent this year compared with 2011.

— “Higher means lower:” The greater the voter turnout, the less likely the budget was to pass.

“Based on year one of the cap, the old adage that people vote with their pocketbook rings true,” Kremer said. “Whether quality public schools and the tax cap can peacefully coexist on a long-term basis remains to be seen.”

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