School Bond Narrowly Defeated 49.1% to 50.9%

by Judy Silberstein


School Board President Linnet Tse and Superintendent Paul Fried emerge from tallying the vote to announce the results.

(February 12, 2009) It didn’t take a formal announcement to fathom results of the bond vote on Tuesday evening, February 10. The grim faces of Mamaroneck School Board President Linnet Tse and Superintendent Paul Fried were sufficient to get the idea across to the many bond supporters gathered outside the district’s administrative offices: the $38 million bond for infrastructure and fields had gone down. The unofficial tally was 2180 “yes” to 2260 “no.”

"We knew it would be difficult for the community to support a bond of any size in this economy, but we felt we had to give it our best shot - and we gave it our best shot,” said Ms. Tse. She read the results and thanked everyone for their hard work. The board will meet after the February break to decide what to do next. “The work isn’t going away,” she said.

Across town, a bond opponent was amazed and delighted to learn of the result. “I can’t believe it; I can’t believe it,” said Catherine Wachs, who coordinated anti-bond efforts through the website taxedenuf.org. “The voters have spoken – we wanted only a modest amount of spending,” she said. “The defeat is a combined effort on the part of people fed up with high taxes and those strongly opposed to artificial turf fields.” They were joined, she said, by others disaffected by being denied the option of supporting repairs but rejecting new fields.

Unofficial Vote Tally: February 10, 2009

YES

NO

TOTAL

Central

547 (47.4%)
607 (52.6%)
1154

Chatsworth

625 (49.8%
629 (50.2%)
1254

Mamaroneck

217 (35.7%)
391 (64.3%)
608

Murray

791 (55.5%)
633 (44.5%)
1424

TOTAL

2180 (49.1%)
2260 (50.9%)
4440

The unofficial tally showed the bond was defeated by only 80 votes out of 4400, or 50.9% to 49.1%. The “no” votes were in the majority at three of four elementary school districts, passing only at Murray.

Turnout was way above the norm (although not a record, as reported elsewhere). The 4440 total was slightly lower than the 4724 who voted on the revised budget in June of 2007 (after the first budget was defeated in May). Typically budgets have passed by wide margins in the past decade, with total vote tallies ranging from 1701 to 2958.

The last school bond defeat in Mamaroneck was in the 1990s when the community rejected plans to expand the Hommocks and move the sixth grades from the elementary schools to the middle school – a scheme that was redesigned and won ultimate acceptance and funding in 2000.

An Engaged Electorate and a Hot Campaign

In the current campaign, both supporters and opponents used advertisements, websites, flyers, emails and phone calls to make their case and get out their voters. According to Ms. Wachs, a dozen “taxedenuf” volunteers made calls from the phone book on the eve of the vote and found 70% of those they reached were against the bond. “We were the Davids against their giant sports Goliath,” said Ms. Wachs. “They outspent us, they outmailed us. All we did was a serious grass roots effort – and it was natural grass,” she quipped.

Although “clearly disappointed,” Ms. Tse extended thanks, via the district website, “to everyone who exercised their precious right to vote today.“

“Democracy was the winner,” said Amy Levere, past president of the board and co-chair of Friends of the Bond. “To have so many people paying attention was a good thing.” As for the future, “we’ll have to wait for the board to make their next move,” before Friends of the Bond can make its plans, she said.

The rough economy and plunging stock market was cited by all sides as a factor in the bond defeat. A further 400 point drop in the Dow on Tuesday may have added to voters’ economic insecurities.

“Let’s not forget that the economy helped our cause, “said Ms. Wachs. “People are scared, they don’t know what’s coming down the road and they don’t want to take on any more debt.“

Ms. Levere noted, “School budgets and bonds are the only things with direct tax impacts that people get to vote on. To the extent that people are upset, frustrated or anxious, this is their outlet.”

While respecting everyone’s right to their opinions, when they are based on facts, Ms. Levere regretted the large amount of faulty information circulating in the community before the vote. “To the extent people voted on misinformation, that’s very disappointing,” she said. “We tried hard to get the information out, but some people voted emotionally.”

What's Next? All Sides Concur There is Work To Be Done

Going forward, the board is already being lobbied in different directions. Field advocates note the fields are worse than ever and aren’t going to improve. Field detractors say the economy is bad and isn’t showing signs of improving any time soon. Somehow, the board has to find a solution that bridges the divide and succeeds at the ballot box.

In a letter to the editor, Ms. Wachs extended a hand to the board and urged those who voted no "to work with our school board, offering creative solutions for funding so we may put forth another bond that the whole community can support– and pass."

Among the options raised so far are:

  • a “bare bones bond” with only critical infrastructure projects;

  • one bond to include all the infrastructure projects plus at least one new field at the high school;

  • and two bonds separating infrastructure from fields.

The closeness of the vote has left the board without clear sign posts to follow; all they know is the community is deeply divided.