Exit poll shows ‘no’ voters thought tax increase was ‘not responsible’

GUILDERLAND — An exit poll on the narrowly defeated $43 million capital project to upgrade Guilderland’s seven schools shows the most frequently cited reason for voting “no,” at 56 percent, was, “The tax increase is not responsible.”

For district residents owning a home or property with a full-market value of $326,000 — which, according to school-district documents, is the median in the district — the estimated tax increase per year would have been $103, or 32 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.

The second most common reason, at 50 percent, was, “The proposal is not fiscally responsible.”

The referendum was defeated by 58 votes on Oct. 16 with 1,317 for, and 1,375 against.

The most common reason among those who approved the project was, “I believe in investing in the district’s facilities,” at 83 percent, and, “The items to be addressed are necessary,” at 82 percent.

Superintendent Marie Wiles said on Friday, the day the exit-poll results were released, that she doesn’t want to get ahead of what the school board will decide to do. A subcommittee of the board, the business practices committee, will meet on Nov. 9.

“We can’t let our facilities decline to the point where they become unsafe or unstable … Ironically, the longer you wait, the more costly it gets,” Wiles said, noting that school construction costs involve architectural and engineering fees and the district must meet “rigorous standards for quality” set by the State Education Department.

She also said, “There’s never been a time when the district has looked at its learning spaces and said: Are these equipped to prepare students for the future, and does the community care about that? The answer might be yes, but within a reasonable cost.”

Wiles concluded, “People move to communities where the school districts are perceived to be high quality in preparing kids for the future. At some point in the future, I wouldn’t want our lack of up-to-date learning spaces to be the reason why people don’t want to move here.

“On the other hand, we don’t want taxes to be the reason why people can’t afford to stay here. We need to find the balance.”

Exit-poll analysis

The turnout at the capital referendum was 37 percent higher than at the May budget vote, where the $100.9-million budget passed. However, the Oct. 16 turnout was still just 11 percent of the district’s registered voters.

“I think there is almost a crisis of engagement in terms of going to the polls and taking the minute it takes to cast your vote,” said Wiles.

At the capital referendum, 706 of the 2,692 residents who voted, or 26 percent, filled out an exit survey — with the majority, 71 percent, completed online at the polling venues.

The exit poll was voluntary and anonymous. Of the exit-poll respondents, 65 percent said they were in favor of the referendum, and 35 percent said they were opposed. The approval rating was 16 percent higher among exit-poll respondents than among voters, since the split in the vote had been 49 percent for, 51 percent against.

According to the report, this kind of difference is not unusual: “In recent years, the difference between the actual approval rate and the survey approval rate has been 10 percentage points or more each year.”

According to the report:

— The approval rate among survey respondents who said they are parents of current Guilderland students, at 84 percent, was significantly higher than among survey participants who do not currently have children attending, which was at 52 percent. By contrast, 81 percent of survey respondents without currently enrolled children supported the district’s budget proposal in 2018.

— Among respondents, the lowest approval rate, of 47 percent, was seen in the group between 51 and 64 years old.

— The highest approval rate, 81 percent, was among those aged 31 to 50.

— Six-hundred-and-ninety-eight respondents answered the question about whether or not they were employed by the district; 93 percent said they were not. This is consistent with budget votes in previous years, the report says.

— Of those who approved, 52 percent said they had children currently in Guilderland schools. Of those who did not approve, only 18 percent said they currently have students in Guilderland schools.

— People without children currently in Guilderland schools represented the majority of survey participants, as was also true in May when voters approved the proposed budget. Sixty percent of referendum survey respondents did not have children currently in the schools, while those without children in school accounted for 64 percent of survey respondents.

— Among respondents against the referendum, the most-often cited reason for opposition, at 56 percent, was, “The tax increase is not responsible.” The second most common reason, at 50 percent, was, “The proposal is not fiscally responsible.” The third-most common was “other,” with respondents writing in various reasons. The fourth and fifth were “The items to be addressed are not necessary,” with 27 percent, and “I want to support the proposal but can’t afford it,” at 20 percent. Sixteen percent checked “I do not have children/grandchildren in the schools.”

— The most common reason among those who approved was “I believe in investing in the district’s facilities,” at 83 percent, and “The items to be addressed are necessary,” at 82 percent.

— Survey respondents said their best sources of information about the referendum were district newsletters, with 56 percent of respondents citing these; 37 percent cited local newspapers; and 26 percent cited school newsletters.

— The highest approval rate was among those who said their best source of information was the district Facebook page, with an 87-percent approval rating; while the lowest approval rate, 50 percent, was seen among people who got information primarily from cable channel 1302.

What would have been

Of the $43 million referendum, about half, or $21.2 million, was to go to security and safety, including fire-alarm, public-address, and telephone systems, as well as security cameras and impact-resistant film for glass on exterior doors. It would have also included plumbing upgrades and arious interior, exterior, and site work at all seven schools.

About $9.4 million would have gone to efficiency, including renovation of heating and ventilation systems at all schools, and replacement of clock systems and outdated storage systems at four out of five elementary schools.

About $12.1 million would have gone to technology, modernizing science and tech labs at the middle and high schools, improving wireless infrastructure, and adding flexible and reconfigurable classroom furniture.


More Guilderland News

  • The Guilderland committee for police reform assembled arrest records according to race and found that a much higher percentage of Blacks than there are Black residents in town were charged. This is largely due to arrests of out-of-town suspects made at Crossgates Mall, according to Police Chief Daniel McNally. The public is encouraged to read the draft and respond.

  • James Bacon, the group’s attorney, on March 1 was responding to Guilderland and Pyramid’s appeals briefs, filed on Jan. 28 and Jan. 25, respectively, both of which included “misstatements of fact and law which are herein corrected,” Bacon wrote in his filing

  • In November 2019, Albany Country Club proposed changing the zoning of 549 acres from Rural Agricultural to Country Hamlet for a 290-unit development consisting of 100 single-family homes, 100 townhomes, and 90 multi-family units.

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