CLARENCE, N.Y. (WIVB) - Taxpayers across the region have big decisions to make regarding the future of their respective school districts.
By 1 p.m. in Clarence, 2,600 voters had already come to the polls - nearly a record with several hours of voting remaining. The district says it needs to go way above the tax cap and needs at least 60 percent of the voters to say "yes."
Outside the high school polling place, there was a clash of groups vying for the voters' attention. Those urging a "yes" vote point out the district has avoided big tax increases in past years, even while losing millions in state and federal aid. Now they are advocating the district receive a 9.8 percent tax increase.
Brendan Biddlecom of Keep Clarence School Great said, "The tax rate will be lower now if this budget passe, than it was 10 years ago. Lower than it was five years ago."
Those who say "no" to the tax increase say teacher health and pension costs are not sustainable, and that there should have been a retirement incentive plan passed for older, higher paid teachers.
Lisa Thrun of Citizens for Sustainable Schools argued, "Well 9.8 percent is just too much, and there are people in the community that are really worried right now about having to make their payments. They're worried about not being able to stay in their homes, especially seniors with fixed incomes."
At times, campaigning has gotten nasty. A "vote no" sign was vandalized and changed to "vote yes." And a sign purporting to represent Clarence Taxpayers, reads: "Let the schools rot! Vote no on the budget!"
There is a real concern that one of Western New York's leading school districts will remain divided even after the voting is finished.
Parent Chris Brophy said, "Clarence is a great community, and what's getting out there right now is sign vandalism and mud slinging. That's not Clarence, and that's not what we want to be for our kids."
The district needs to close a $6.5 million budget gap.
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