When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in New York two months ago, and school districts closed across the state, education budget uncertainties were exacerbated.
Now, after drafting 2020-21 budgets based on unstable state figures and with an ongoing state revenue review through at least the end of 2020, north country school districts are beginning to host public hearings as the state’s June 9 uniform school budget and board of education voting day approaches.
Under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order issued May 1, the timeline and rules for school districts conducting a 2020 annual meeting for school board elections and budget votes were modified, requiring the annual meeting to be held virtually and residents to vote remotely.
In response to the executive order, the New York State School Boards Association pledged its support to member districts as they host virtual public hearings within the state-mandated May 26 through June 1 window and count absentee votes June 9.
The St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, 40 W. Main St., Canton, has provided adjusted support services for the 17 component districts in St. Lawrence County and one district in Lewis County. Typically, school districts can purchase shared services through the SLL BOCES Print Shop year round, for calendars, newsletters, posters, budget mailings and other materials, Manager of Communications and Print Services Rebekah Mott said.
Though the absentee process is not new, she said, all voters across all districts must vote by absentee ballot this year, increasing the volume of ballot packets and envelopes dramatically.
“And the biggest portion of that cost is not necessarily the printing,” she said, adding that all ballot packets must include prepaid return envelopes. “It’s the postage.”
At a Canton Central School District board meeting earlier this month, Superintendent Ronald P. Burke said the estimated cost for Canton’s ballot materials and postage this year would be nearly $50,000 through an external publishing company.
But through BOCES and printing services at SUNY Potsdam, that cost will be defrayed. Even under typical circumstances, school districts purchase reduced-cost printing material — like paper, cards and envelopes — use BOCES printing utilities and receive partial reimbursement from the state for participating in the cooperative service.
Though the state reduced the required number of mailed annual meeting notices from four to two this year, school districts must have mailed initial postcards with scheduled hearings and complete ballot packets to all qualified voters within a given district.
Using county data, district administrators have been tasked with compiling a full list of qualified voters, which includes those over age 18 who have lived in the district for at least 30 days. But not all voters within a district reside in the same ZIP code, Ms. Mott said, which complicates the process.
Canton Central staff, for instance, prepared nearly 9,500 ballot packets for its voters, who reside in ZIP codes covering Canton, and parts of West Potsdam and Heuvelton, among other nearby municipalities. Similarly, Massena Central School District solicits votes from several ZIP codes as well, including Louisville and Raymondville,
“There’s really no good way to hit every household perfectly,” Ms. Mott said.
She added that BOCES recommends residents who believe they should have received ballot materials contact their district clerk.
All ballots must be received by a district by 5 p.m. June 9, and be signed according to the ballot instructions. Any ballots in provided sealed envelopes not signed by the voter may be rendered invalid. Several districts are also requesting volunteer assistance to count votes after the 5 p.m. deadline. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and should reach out to district administrators if interested.