Local election officials did a lot of sitting, a whole lot of knitting, and even a little napping during the 14 hours they manned the polls yesterday.
Durham had anticipated a larger than usual voter turnout for the Referendum on Regional School District 13’s $35,981,819 budget for 2012-2013, in part because it was higher than last fiscal year and includes funding for a hotly-debated all-day Kindergarten program. In the end, the town didn’t need the extra ballots.
“It’s a little bit lower than expected,” said Durham Moderator Louis Battipaglia of the turnout.
“It was very slow,” added Durham Registrar of Voters Pamela Lucashu.
If things were slow at Korn School in Durham, where 1,068 people voted, there was even less action in Middlefield, where just 575 people, (18 percent of eligible voters) turned out to cast ballots at the Community Center.
“There was quite a period of time when there was nobody,” said Middlefield Moderator Barbara Rowe.
It was the same story in Killingworth, which saw only a 10.6 percent turnout for the Referendum on Regional School District 17’s $38,894,732 budget. Three or four people standing in line to vote at Killingworth Elementary School qualified as a “rush,” said Moderator Rick Albrecht, and that only happened in the final couple of hours and when people arrived for the school’s book sale.
Poll workers said that many people complained about a lack of publicity for the Referendums but they also theorized that the rain and the fact that Middlefield and Killingworth’s share of their respective school district budgets went down this year may have been contributing factors.
“I never understand why the turnout is that low on a budget that is this big that impacts everyone in both towns,” said Regional School District 13 Superintendent Susan Viccaro of the turnout in Durham and Middlefield. “I don’t even attempt to explain it.
"We start the budget process, really, in January and it moves forward into the Referendum in May. The entire month of March, there are four weeks the board spends [on the budget]. I feel there are many articles on Patch and in Town Times," she said. "I’m always surprised when people say they don’t know what’s happening.”
Who Was For It, Who Was Against It?
That both school districts’ budgets passed the first time, however, is worth noting. Last year, it took two referendums to pass the Regional School District 13 budget. In Killingworth, Albrecht recalled it once took 11 referendums before voters approved the Regional School District 17 budget.
In this referendum, however, Killingworth definitely was the deciding factor, voting 287 to 167 in favor. In Haddam, the budget barely squeaked by in a close 385 to 379 vote.
“There’s a general grousing about spending on public schools,” said Killingworth resident Michael Dove, who has a 12-year-old in 6th grade in Haddam-Killingworth Middle School. “The middle school is a wonderful school. I have a special needs kid and there’s fantastic support from the school. I’m a believer in public education. I think every dollar we spend is an investment. It comes back many times over.”
In Middlefield, by contrast, voters were much less enthusiastic. They voted 316 to 259 against approving Regional School District 13’s budget. Ultimately, however, they were outnumbered by Durham’s 606 to 462 vote in favor of passing it.
"That actually has been pretty typical. Middlefield has voted the budget down and Durham has carried it in previous years, so that’s not an surprising trend," said Viccaro.
You won’t find everyone in Middlefield complaining about the result, though.
“There’s a value added by having such a great school system and we know it,” said Middlefield First Selectman Jon A. Brayshaw. “The parents are grateful—and a great school system costs money.”
If the Referendum was a snooze for some, last night’s vote to pass the budget has certainly invigorated Viccaro.
“I am very pleased,” she said. “It is very exciting. I get to go in tomorrow and post some kindergarten positions and I will regroup with the administrative team and the Board of Education, and we will move forward!”