As school budgets go out to referendum in all districts this spring, voters will see one more question than they have in the past.

After being asked to approve the bottom line of the local school budget, voters will be asked if they want the chance to vote again next year. We hope that all of those people who have taken the trouble to get to the polls, regardless of whether it was to vote “yes” or “no” on the budget, will agree on one thing and vote yes on voting.

The mandatory school budget referendums are a feature of the school district consolidation law that has affected even those districts that did not have to merge.

The special elections get a lot of criticism for low turnout and high costs. The date of voting varies between districts, but budget votes are usually held before the state primary election in June so that a school committee has time to rewrite a budget and hold another vote before the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

The consolidation law called for three consecutive votes and then gives communities the option of going without them after that. We hope that won’t happen. Holding elections is a core function of local government, and the expense and inconvenience they cause the people who manage them is more than offset by the benefit they provide. School budget referendums give all residents, whether they have kids in school or not, a say in what is often the biggest category of spending in their tax bill.

Low turnout is not a sign that the election is not needed. Not voting can be a form of voting, too, just as is leaving a ballot oval blank on a ballot. Not voting can mean that voters are not interested in the outcome of the election or that they are satisfied with the status quo.

The most important part of the school budget referendums is the discipline they provide to the elected boards that approve budgets. School board members hear a lot from parents and from school district employees, but under the current law they cannot forget the people who have no direct connection with the system besides their tax bill.

This knowledge guides the budget process, and that shouldn’t be forgotten. So whether it’s up or down on the budget, voters should say “yes” to voting.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.