School budget fails again

Photo by Andy Uzzle

A second, reduced budget proposal was defeated at the polls Tuesday, June 21 by a vote of 1380 to 1322.

School Board trustees will have to pass a budget by June 30 that includes further cuts.The budget carried  a price tag of $53.3 million and a tax levy increase of 6.38 percent.

The original $53.5-million proposal failed 1631 – 1369, a margin of around 262 votes. Some interpret this as a statement from voters that further cuts need to be made, even at the expense of the students.

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Last year, when the budget was defeated by a two thirds majority, board vice president Tom Ham said he viewed the results as a mandate from the voters to make cuts.

This year, with a margin of only 58, he sees things differently.Adding the caveat that he cannot officially speak for the board, Ham said, “I have no intent personally in making drastic cuts. I would not be adverse to cutting one dollar.”

The proposal came in lower than amount that the board could have adopted as an austerity budget when voters rejected the $55.1 million proposal almost three weeks ago. However, if voters again reject the budget, by law, the board must adopt a lower spending plan.

Under austerity, certain purchases are not allowed, but the board has already removed these items from the budget. Therefore, the an austerity budget could be as little as one dollar lower. On the other hand, the board could opt to cut the budget further.

There is no limit to low the budget could be, as long the district could continue to provide an education for its students, and meet all state mandates. This could mean the removal of any non-mandated classes or programs.At several recent board meetings, superintendent Seth Turner has asked the board to be up front with the public about what cuts might be made if the budget should be rejected a second time.

The board has remained silent.“I assume that silence means that [no drastic cuts will be made],” said Ham. “In my case, it does mean that. Last year was painful enough.”Turner chose not to comment on the budget vote results.“If this budget does not pass, everything can and will be looked at,” assistant superintendent Michael Apostol said last week.

Outgoing board member Steven Haun finds it discouraging that only ten percent of registered voters in the district were able to place it into a second year of austerity.Haun hopes the board decides not to cut extracurricular activities. He says it’s a shame that the district is going into its second year of austerity.“It’s not what I had hoped for,” he said.

Bob Thomann, who will replace Haun at the July 8 meeting, says he is cautiously optimistic about the budget. He hopes to see minimal cuts made.“I believe a one dollar reduction probably relates best to what the superintendent wants to do,” said Thomann. “To cut more than that may put the board at odds with the superintendent, and that wouldn’t be a good thing.”Parents in the district are disappointed, but hopeful.Jennifer Mangione says she is holding onto the hope that the board of education will cut only one dollar. She does not think the voters’ rejection is call for large scale cuts to student programs.“It’s not failed by so much that they should think about cutting programs,” said Mangione. “From what I’m hearing, people really just want it reduced by one dollar.”Thirty-two affidavit ballots still need to be verified by the Ulster County Board of Elections- not enough to overturn the results. These ballots will be counted and the official results accepted by the board at a special meeting on Tuesday, June 28. The board must also set a contingency budget at that time.

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