In 2003, in the midst of an economic recession, state...

In 2003, in the midst of an economic recession, state lawmakers moved back the voting date of school board elections and district budgets from mid-May to June 3. Credit: Uli Seit

School board representatives are calling for statewide postponement of district voting on budgets and board candidates — the first such action proposed since 2003 — citing risks and disruptions caused by the spread of the coronavirus.

A website notice by the New York State School Boards Association urges local candidates to avoid door-to-door collection of petition signatures needed to put them on school ballots in elections scheduled for May 19. The association, representing 670 boards statewide, including 124 on Long Island, said it would do its part to ease the strain on candidates by pushing for later elections this year.

“At this point in time, public health is the paramount concern,” stated the association’s executive director, Robert Schneider, who added that his group was working with the state Education Department and other agencies to delay elections or seek “some other alternative for this year.”

One alternative under discussion is absentee balloting on a larger-than-usual scale, said David Albert, a state school-boards spokesman, who added that he expected an announcement on the subject later this week. 

Education department officials said Monday they were reviewing the issue.

There is a precedent for at least a brief postponement. In 2003, in the midst of an economic recession, state lawmakers moved back the voting date from mid-May to June 3, in an effort to gain time for restoring state financial aid to schools that had been cut by then-Gov. George Pataki.

School districts, all of which have shut down until April 1 at least, operate on tight budgeting schedules in the spring. Under law, districts’ spending plans and new board trustees are supposed to be in place by the beginning of the next school year, starting July 1.

Jarod Morris, 21, who has announced his candidacy for Wyandanch’s school board, endorsed the call for later elections and said he would be relying for the moment on Facebook and other social media to get his message across.

“I’m kind of an old-fashioned person — I believe in handshaking and all that,” Morris said in a phone interview. “But now we’re in the 21st century, and social media makes it easier than ever to reach out.”

School budget votes involve billions of dollars in spending which, in turn, account for about two-thirds of property taxes in the Nassau-Suffolk region. In normal years, voting would be preceded by months of board workshops and public hearings, where local residents get a chance to air their views. 

In response to the virus emergency, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has authorized board meetings by teleconference or similar means, as long as the public has remote access. 

E.J. McMahon, research director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative Albany-based think tank, warned in a message sent to Newsday against any "backdoor" attempt by school officials to prevent taxpayers from having a say. 

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