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Chappaqua School District Voters Resoundingly Defeat $141.8M Budget

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Chappaqua Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman, seated, confers with Board of Education members moments after the results of the budget defeat were announced Tuesday night.

Chappaqua voters emphatically rejected the school district’s $141.8 million over-the-tax-cap budget on Tuesday, the first time in decades the district’s budget failed.

With a heavy turnout of more than 3,000 voters, 2,006 residents voted against the spending plan and 1,128 people voted in favor, according to unofficial tallies announced at about 10 p.m. The budget exceeded the tax cap by about $1.4 million.

Incumbent Cailee Hwang, who had been the dissenting vote against sending a non-compliant tax cap budget to voters during the board’s deliberations earlier this spring, easily won re-election, picking up 1,586 votes in a three-way race for one seat. Tim McNamara came in second with 1,006 votes followed by Kimberly Carey with 425.

Hwang, the board’s vice president, said she was “humbled and overwhelmed by the tremendous support from the community” but that the board now faces questions about the budget.

“We have work to do. We need to come together and try again to do better. All of us,” Hwang said Tuesday night. “I have faith that we can.”

Board President Hilary Grasso declined to comment on the outcome of the budget vote while leaving the Horace Greeley High School gymnasium shortly after the results were made public. She said the board has scheduled a Wednesday evening meeting at the high school for 7 p.m. to discuss its next steps. The board can decide to schedule a second vote next month or go straight to a contingency budget.

Pushback against the budget grew in the community, with lawn signs popping up urging that it be voted down. Some of the groundswell against the plan was the more than $500,000 included to add three more school resource officers (SRO), which would have resulted in a full-time officer in each of the district’s six school buildings.

Currently, there is a full-time officer at Horace Greeley High School and two other SROs, one that is split between the two middle schools while the other one is shared among the three elementary schools.

Some parents had argued that studies have shown SROs provide little extra protection against intruders seeking to do harm.

But district officials had pointed to surveys that had been conducted of district residents showing there was support for the additional SROs as well as adding three elementary school teachers to limit class size. They had stated that the proposed 2.99 percent tax levy hike was in line with other districts in the area.

The lack of a growth factor in the community, meaning expansion of the tax base, limited the district’s maximum tax levy increase to 1.81 percent.

Under state law, school districts must receive 60 percent approval from participating voters if a budget is presented to the public that exceeds the cap.

Since the first year of the tax cap in 2012 through last year, there had been 267 instances of districts asking for an override of the cap from voters, according to the New York State School Boards Association. It had received approval 171 times, about a 64 percent success rate.

Meanwhile, tax cap-compliant budgets were successful 99 percent of the time.

Also on the ballot was the Chappaqua Library’s $3.6 million budget, which passed easily, 2,277-833. Jennifer Fahey won the library board election over two opponents.


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