Local Schools, Local Decisions
In theory a supermajority is sometimes deemed necessary to decide particularly weighty matters that may seriously impact the minority. By definition a supermajority is a majority greater than a simple majority (2/3 or 3/5 for example). In Congress, it takes a supermajority to convict in an impeachment, expel a senator or representative, override a Presidential veto, ratify a treaty, or pass a Constitutional amendment. In short, a supermajority is used to decide serious business.
As a former school superintendent, I can attest that passing a school budget in New York State has always been serious business in every district. Now, however, it has become even MORE serious since the state legislature adopted a budget cap of 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. A supermajority of 60% is now necessary to pass a budget with greater increases.
Massachusetts has a similar, but less draconian law that requires only a simple majority to exceed the cap. In New York, the legislation had been in the works for years, although few thought it would be adopted under a Democratic governor.
Some see the new legislation as yet another salvo against schools by state legislatures. New York’s Governor Cuomo, like New Jersey’s Governor Christie, has complained about salaries that superintendents receive and has moved to cap them too. On the other hand, the budget cap coupled with reduced state aid may finally force mandate relief, which, I must say again as a former superintendent, New York schools needed years ago and still do.
Something’s got to give. Pension contributions for schools have soared to 11%. Schools can cut back on some expenditures, but they can’t control the cost of heat, fuel, health and other insurances, repairs, books, materials, and supplies.
So I can’t quite shake the feeling that the requirement now for a supermajority to pass a budget that exceeds the cap is kind of an insult, both to the school people who build the budget and to the citizens that vote on it. Superintendents and boards of education have always needed to weigh the needs of the school against what the community could afford. If they judged wrong, the voters would let them know. Apparently the legislature thinks it knows better than the local people regarding what they want and what they can afford.