School board members from the Fonda-Fultonville and Oppenheim-Ephratah central school districts will hold special meetings in the next few days to talk about what to do next, now that their proposed 2012-13 budgets have been defeated by the voters.
The Oppenheim-Ephratah school board will meet at 6:30 p.m. today. Fonda-Fultonville board members will meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Both proposals would have increased the tax levy - the amount of money raised through property taxes - by more than the state-mandated tax cap allows. Because of that, both budgets would have needed approval by 60 percent of the voters, and neither one received even a simple majority.
In Fonda-Fultonville, the margin was 787-596 against the $24.19 million spending plan, which would have raised the tax levy by 7.96 percent. In Oppenheim-Ephratah, the vote was 275-104 against the $8.5 million budget that would have raised the tax levy by 4.5 percent.
When a budget is defeated, state law gives a school board three choices: resubmit the same budget for another vote, submit a different budget with a different tax increase, or go directly to a contingency budget with no tax-levy increase.
If a budget fails for a second time, a contingency budget is automatically adopted.
In Fonda-Fultonville, the defeat of the budget could mean the elimination of interscholastic sports and kindergarten; those decisions are up to the school board. District Superintendent James D. Hoffman has said retaining the kindergarten program is his highest priority, and eliminating interscholastic sports would mean other program and staff cuts would not have to be made.
In Oppenheim-Ephratah, district officials will look at making further cuts to reduce or eliminate the tax-levy increase. Under the tax cap, the increase in the levy is limited to 2.79 percent.
District Superintendent Dan Russom said the board will look at several scenarios.
"What would it mean to come in with a budget at the tax cap?" Russom said. "Where could we reduce it to get it to 2.79 percent? Could we reduce it to 2 percent? What would a contingency budget mean?"
The meeting at Oppenheim-Ephratah could take on additional significance, because a proposed merger with St. Johnsville Central School could be reconsidered. St. Johnsville district voters approved the merger in December, but Oppenheim-Ephratah district voters turned it down last year.
"When I contacted the state Education Department, I was told there could be another [merger] vote," Russom said. "A second vote is triggered by a petition."
Russom said a petition for a second vote would need a minimum of 36 signatures. The petition would be sent to the state Education Department commissioner, who could order another election for sometime in December, he said.
"The commissioner would look at how close the vote was in both districts," Russom said. "There are no guarantees he would order another vote, but he could."
Voters in the St. Johnsville Central School district approved the proposed merger by a margin of 461-79, but Oppenheim-Ephratah voters turned it down by a tally of 458-400.
Russom said his "best guess" is that someone in the district will begin circulating a petition for another vote.
John R. Becker can be reached at email@example.com.