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RSD17 Proposed Budget Voting Results – An Analysis Via Exit Polling by Friends of HES

Submitted by Katie Packtor.

(May 15, 2019) — Residents of Haddam, Haddam Neck, and Killingworth took to the polls last Tuesday, May 7, 2019, to place their vote on Regional School District 17’s proposed 2019-2020 budget. Turnout was high and many people made an extra effort this year to vote.

The past two years, Haddam voter turn out was within a few percentage points, with 19.8% in 2017 and 17.8% in 2018. This year, 26.8% of registered voters came to the polls – a gain of 9 percentage points.

Likewise, in Killingworth, voters participated at 23.4% this year; while turnout in 2017 was 16% and in 2018 it was 14.1%. Like Haddam, Killingworth saw a gain over 9 percentage points over last year.

Superintendent Howard Thiery stated that the results this year were “not atypical.” However, a closer look at the voting outcomes suggest that the results of this budget referendum were, in fact, unusual compared to the recent past. While the past several years have shown that Haddam is usually split about 50/50 on proposed budgets, Killingworth typically supports them at a rate of about 75%. This year, those in favor of RSD17’s budget fell in both towns, by 6.2 percentage points in Killingworth, and a larger 21.7 percentage points in Haddam.

What is the explanation for this large drop in support in both towns, particularly in Haddam? The events leading up to this vote were among the most controversial and heated in the recent history of the district. After the announcement that the Board of Education (BoE) had voted to close Haddam Elementary School (HES) and consolidate the schools in March of 2018, concerned citizens have been scrutinizing the work of the board. While the BoE felt they had justified their decision, constituents argued otherwise. Many questions have been raised by residents of both Haddam and Killingworth regarding the impact that HES closing will have on Haddam’s economy, trepidation over moving fourth graders into a new intermediate school co-located with the middle school, and unease regarding the BOE’s procedures, data, finances and planning.

To help understand why Haddam residents may have been voting no, a group of residents affiliated with the “Friends of HES” group conducted exit surveys at the Central Office at Haddam Firehouse polling places on voting day. 608 total surveys were completed by voters after exiting the polls. Among those, 533 responded to one of the three listed reasons on the survey for their “no” vote. Others filled out the comments section with various reasons for their “no” or “yes” vote.

Of the 533 who responded with one of the three listed reasons for their “no” vote:

  • 129 (24.2%) listed the “budget too high” as their primary reason, and 302 (56.7%) as one of the reasons for their no vote;
  • 270 (50.7%) listed HES closing as their primary reason, with 423 (79.4%) listing it as one of the reasons for their no vote; and
  • 165 (31%) listed restructuring as their primary reason, with 378 (70.9%) listing it as one of the reasons for their no vote.

Please note that the percentage listing a primary reason exceeds 100% because some people chose more than one category as a primary, or #1 reason, for their vote.

In a nutshell, while many voters were concerned about the budget amount, with nearly 57% listing it as a reason for their vote, a much higher percent listed Haddam Elementary School’s closing and school restructuring as key reasons for their vote. 80% stated opposition to the school closing as a key factor in their vote, and slightly over 70% cited restructuring as a reason.

This polling was done with the intent to give input to the BOE on their plan. It was carried out as objectively as possible, with as much coverage as volunteers could arrange. Any lapses in coverage were due strictly to shortages in manpower and were unintentional. It should be clear, though, that this was not a scientific polling effort. Nevertheless, over one-third of all people who voted in Haddam answered the survey. Among those, the level of opposition to closing of Haddam Elementary School and restructuring among voters is evident. Additionally, comments from the survey show that some who stated they voted “yes” to the budget also expressed concern over the school closing and restructuring.

Poll takers generally felt that voters they talked to were knowledgeable about recent decisions to restructure the school district and close Haddam Elementary School. Many voters stated that they were voting “no” on a school budget for the first time in their lives, as their only palpable input against the recent actions of our Board of Education.

The next vote for the revised budget is set for June 4, 2019 the same day Haddam residents will be deciding if the town should purchase the Haddam Elementary School property and surrounding 10 acres.

1 COMMENT

  1. I, along with a great many others, will be voting NO once again at the upcoming RD17 Budget Referendum for the following reasons:

    1. I am adamantly opposed to the planned “restructuring” (consolidation) – the creation of an Intermediate School that forces the removal of young 4th graders from the comfort and nurturing atmosphere of an elementary school setting and into a facility inadequately partitioned from the more mature 8th graders sharing that same space.

    2. I am profoundly troubled by the adamant decision of the BoE to close a respected and highly visible elementary school which not only is a vital centerpiece of Higganum Village Center, but ironically is the highest rated of the three elementary schools within the district.

    3. Positively no confidence in the integrity of the budget as presented and its supporting documentation. I continue to question the justification in retaining redundant administrative positions with a total compensation package value (salary + benefits) of just shy of $300K, PLUS the creation/addition of yet another administrative position with a compensation package value of nearly $100K.

    I strongly urge the voters of Higganum, Haddam and Killingworth to join me in sending the BoE and our Superintendent yet ANOTHER message of our opposition to this whole plan. Our voices have fallen on deaf ears at every single meeting, but a NO vote on a Budget that sets everything in motion must not be silenced and cannot be ignored.

    I will also be voting YES to the question of Haddam purchasing HES and the land immediately surrounding it because I, as a taxpayer, want to have a say (vote) in what happens next with that property.

Comments are closed.

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