Close but no cigar: New Paltz school budget fails by 18 votes

Dominick Profaci. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Despite majority support at the polls, New Paltz’s school budget still failed Tuesday night – a mere 18 votes away from getting the 60 percent super majority needed to pass a budget above the state tax cap.

When it came to whether or not they supported the $50.31 million budget, 1,726 voters said they did and 1,180 said they did not. That meant only 59.39 percent of voters supported raising the tax levy by 4.4 percent next year.

“It did not pass,” Superintendent Maria Rice explained.

Voters did opt to allow the district to buy $339,000 worth of buses by a slim margin. Of those who voted Tuesday, 1,426 supported the buses and 1,373 did not.

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In a crowded school board race featuring no incumbents at all, voters went this way:

– Dominick Profaci received 1,776 votes.
– Ruth Quinn received 1,641 votes.
– Brian Cournoyer received 1,497 votes.
– Tanya Marquette received 961 votes.
– Marvin Birnbaum received 575 votes.
– Julie Tresco received 568 votes.

Former school board President Don Kerr got two write-in votes.

According to Board of Education President Patrick Rausch, Profaci will be sworn in Wednesday for having been the highest vote getter. He replaces Barbara Carroll, who was an appointee serving out Kerr’s term.

Profaci said he was glad to have won the support of the public and said he thought he could get along with both Quinn and Cournoyer as board colleagues. “I think the three candidates who were chosen were excellent choices by the community,” he said.

However, both he and fellow board member-elect Cournoyer said the failure of the budget – especially by only 18 votes – made the night one of mixed emotions.

“Honestly the most important thing in this election, to me, was for the budget to pass. I’m just very upset that it went down by such a small margin,” Cournoyer said. “I’m really just very upset about the budget. I don’t know what’s going to happen from here. I know the board will have to come back with a second budget and be able to pass that one.

“It didn’t fail by a wide margin. I’d just like to state for the record that the 60 percent super majority rule is undemocratic. It allows the minority to rule, and that’s not how democracy works.”

So what happens next? Voters will have to return to the polls for Round Two in late June. As for what budget they’ll see on that ballot, that’s less clear.

“We have to regroup, and we have to decide what we’re going to do,” said Rausch, the school board president.

In preparing the $50.31 million budget with that 4.4 percent tax levy increase, the New Paltz Board of Education also came up with an alternate budget that did meet the tax cap mandate. New Paltz’s legal limit, after exemptions, is a 3.4 percent tax levy increase.

When asked if the school board would simply revert to that 3.4 percent budget – which would only need 50 percent voter approval to pass – Rausch said it wasn’t that simple. “It’s not automatic. The board would have to discuss,” he said.

Superintendent Rice will come back to the board with her recommendation. Board members would then have to decide if they’d follow or reject that advice.

For more about the fallout of the failed budget, check out next week’s edition.

There are 29 comments

  1. na

    Why do people think the only way for the district to acquire money is by the public voting to tax a minority of property owners.

    There’s no law prohibiting each parent from writing out a check to the district for an extra few thousand. So why don’t they? Don’t they care about their kids?

    1. Mike

      Why do Seniors think the only way to get their medicine is through Medicaid? Why don’t they just write a check for a few extra thousand and get the drugs they need. Don’t they care about their health?

      1. Jim M.

        Medicaid Mike? First of all, seniors use Medicare, which they and all of us pay for through deductions from our paychecks. Do you not think they should be allowed to use a service they’ve paid for? Or perhaps you prefer that this money be diverted to foreign aid, or to support illegal aliens — something warm and fuzzy like that?

        Get your facts straight.

        Second, the kids here are doing pretty darn good. And taxpayers are doing enough to give them a basic education, which in my opinion fulfills any social responsibility. If parents want extras — like expensive sports programs, art programs — then yes, they should pay separately for that. Seniors and people who choose not to have kids should not be forced to pay for these extras.

        1. Mike

          You are correct, I had Medicaid/Medicare mixed up. I have no idea what that has to do with foreign aid and illegal aliens.

          Regarding the kids, I would like something better than “pretty darn good”. I’m looking for excellent. Parents aren’t asking for extras — the proposed budget already included substantial cuts to programs and staff. We’re already accepting less.

          A substantial majority of voters wanted this budget and their not going to get it. That’s the real shame.

          1. Jim M.

            “You are correct, I had Medicaid/Medicare mixed up. I have no idea what that has to do with foreign aid and illegal aliens.”

            Mike, it has everything to do with the issue. You seem to despise the fact that some seniors are receiving medicine through a program they paid for (and some do not even receive the medicines they require, because Medicare won’t pay for them).

            Your attitude suggests that we should just pump money into a government and expect nothing back, just keep on paying more taxes for things like schools.

            In the meantime, our government pays hundreds of billions for foreign aid and foreign wars, and supports a culture of illegal immigration. Have you not heard the recent story about illegal aliens getting 4.2 billion in tax refunds through manipulation of paperwork? That is just the tip of the iceberg — google it.

            You begrudge seniors (some of them veterans who shed blood for this country) their medicine through Medicare. So I am suggesting that maybe you ought to begrudge other government expenditures. But judging from your attitude, it sounds like these expenditures you might find reasonable.

  2. Napo

    Yes NA you nailed it…furthermore, that road you use to get yourself home every night? I never drive on that road so I am pretty sure you won’t have an issue with me asking you to write a check to make sure those potholes get filled and the snow gets plowed..I mean, don’t you care about the underside of your car or your suspension? And I got another one for you, I don’t much care for this thing called “sports” and I really fail to see how my tax dollars need to go toward something I don’t personally find rewarding, so all those public school kids that are taking my precious dollars to run around a field and chase a ball? Well they can just write a check, right? Because I don’t like sports, so why should I be helping them protect their brains from high impact, or their shins from horrible kickings? And science? Don’t get me started, I hate science. Why am I paying for some kid to learn about science? I never leaned about science and look how great my life turned out to be! I got cable TV! Which, I would like to point out, I write a check for every month…I certainly don’t ask the government to pay for my Food Network or Spike TV interests, so why on earth should the property owners of a community be coughing up hard earned dollars to pay for stuff that doesn’t affect their cable TV options? I mean come on, my kids won’t be of age to attend public school for another 14 months! Why on earth would I want to divert my cable TV funds to schools until my own offspring are actually there? It’s crazy! Seriously, you’re talking to someone who only drinks water bottled in little plastic containers supplied by multi-nationals, so what am I doing paying taxes for a water treatment plant? I say, if you drink from the tap, then you pay for it! Because that is the Amarican way: if it doesn’t affect me directly, in the short term, using big letters and maybe some smiley face stickers, then I have no interest seeing my tax dollars go to support it. I would go so far as to say education itself spits in the eye of the American dream. A community with a reputation for excellent public schools? Good lord, how is that going to impact the value of my property? My land is great, not because it is in a community that supports its schools; it’s great because it consists of 60% magic super- dirt, which I know is a fact because while the rest of you were wasting time with science and sports and “the public good” I was lucky enough to find a magic bean salesman camped out down by the river. He explained to me that taxes, schools, roads, bridges, parks with fun curly slides and sandboxes, fire fighters, libraries, buses, rail trails, pothole-free roads, police, teachers and shin guards are all a giant waste of my tax dollars…so what is really important? I guess, simply going to bed every night, at the end of my pothole filled road, knowing that I helped play a small part in the underfunding of my neighbor’s children’s future. Maybe I will have another one of those utopian dreams where some (probably public school educated) kid is trying to break into my house…I call the cops, explain the situation, get an estimate, write a check and as soon as the check clears that cop is there to enforce the law (which I really hope was not written with ink form a pen that my tax dollars helped fund).

    1. Jim M.

      NAPO: Like a true socialist, you seem to think that throwing unlimited money at public institutions guarantees a utopian lifestyle.

      No one is saying that we should eliminate public funding for schools, but there is a limit to how much people can be taxed. Perhaps you enjoy paying taxes and can afford to do so, but others cannot.

      And just because a school district has a reputation for excellence, and because school taxes are high, does not mean that the children here are getting a quality education. It’s all just talk. And the impact of this reputation on real estate values are dubious at best.

      Do you really think that people will choose to purchase property in a place where tax rates are high? Do you really think property values will soar when homeowners are putting their houses on the market to escape to a lower tax community?

      Take a look at all the FOR SALE sign NAPO, and use your head for something else besides comedy.

  3. stopraisingmytaxes

    I bet if each teacher and administrator in the district contributed just a tinny bit more to their own healthcare cost and pension plans – that alone would make up the difference in money need to keep anyone from being laid off and all programs in place. Just an Idea – but I’m sure the big bad UNION won’t allow that. Salaries and Benefits make up over 70% of the budget…When is enough is enough? Folks are tired of seeing their taxes raised – If the district can’t make ends meet on a $50,000,000 budget ($21k per student) we have problems.

      1. stopraisingmytaxes

        Less by $170k….0.3% ? – PLEASE! $12,147,800 for Employee Benefits? Why are we giving salary increases to school administrators? Anyone checked out the economy recently. Anyone noticing the foreclosure rates in the county? Ever heard of a salary freeze? I know teachers who would continue to run student clubs at no charge but the UNION leaders will not allow it. Its time to come up with alternative solutions to keep programs going. The teachers UNION needs to rise up and give a little back – contribute a little more to their own well being, stop fleecing the taxpayers.

  4. Jim M.

    The budget has thankfully failed and now it’s time to look towards other solutions to our budgetary problems.

    Instead of taxing homeowners out of their homes, why not demand that the federal and state government return funds to our districts.

    On the federal level, our government claims it has no money for schools yet continues fighting costly foreign wars, bailing out foreign banks, and doling out foreign aid to the tune of hundreds of billions.

    On the state level, Albany collects plenty of tax and lottery revenues yet keeps reducing aid to our schools. Where is all the money going to? Is it all flowing into the personal coffers of corrupt state legislators like the two convicted this week?

    This is the money we should be going after — the money we’ve already paid to supposedly ensure the lifestyle one expects of an advanced industrialized nation.

    Combine this with an end to unfunded mandates and most of the budget problems can be solved without raising taxes.

    1. NA

      There is s a solution to the problems imposed by the property tax on shelter – but it’s hardly every talked about – and that is to move to an income based method of funding local government, either by doubling the 6% state income tax or implementing an equivalent Circuit Breaker law.

      Almost anyone with less than a $150k income would likely benefit from a shift to the income based method for funding local government or the various Circuit Breaker proposals which would effectively turn the property tax (school, county, and town) into an income tax – by limiting a person’s property tax of their home to what approximates the 6% rate of the state income tax.

      Say you are a teacher with an $80K gross income and a $65K taxable income. Under a breaker the tax on your home might not exceed $3.9K for all taxes (school, county, and town).

      So why don’t the parents and the public service unions demand these proposed laws be enacted? Who knows? It’s probably because we have been conditioned to believe there is only one way. The Senate passed a breaker bill once or twice already – but the Dems in the Assembly didn’t support it.

      1. Jim M.

        “So why don’t the parents and the public service unions demand these proposed laws be enacted? Who knows? It’s probably because we have been conditioned to believe there is only one way.”

        Yes, NA, you are exactly right. The conditioning not to look beyond the bridge of one’s nose seems to be very successful around here.

        We need to look for better solutions to school funding. The one you suggested is worth exploring.

        1. stopraisingmytaxes

          Teacher and Administrator Salaries, Benefits & Pension plans are out of control. Teachers retire in this area making $70-$80k per year for the rest of their lives with full health benefits. That is unsustainable. Superintendent of Schools makes $244k w/Benefits. Gov. Cuomo makes $178K. Teachers should be paying what private sector employees pay for their health benefits and should be responsible for their own retirement plans. Why are my tax dollars funding my neighbors retirement plan? I can barley contribute to my own retirement plan. This isn’t about the kids – this is all about Salaries, Benefits and Pension plans. Im tired of hearing “its only a cup a coffee a day” You know what? I want my cup of coffee, sometimes two. Im getting tired of giving that up so some 3rd grade Gym teacher can retire at 55 making $80k per year.

  5. Mike

    Jim M., I’m not going to try to convince you one way or the other.

    The only thing I care about here is the school budget. Foreign aid and all the other issues are irrelevant here.

    I don’t believe that rejecting the school budget is any way to “send a message” about foreign aid, illegal immigration, or any other issue. No need to involve kids in your financial proxy war.

    What has me irked is that a substantial majority of the district’s voters wanted the budget but will not get it. I primarily blame Governor Cuomo for that.

    1. JIm M.

      “The only thing I care about here is the school budget. Foreign aid and all the other issues are irrelevant here.”

      Irrelevant? Really? Do you not know the school district is in a shortfall because of reduced federal funding? And reduced state funding? And the state too has received reduced funding from the federal government.

      How is this irrelevant?

      There is no financial proxy war. This is finance, plain and simple. If you care about an issue, please first understand it.

      I happen to know of other highly industrialized nations that have no higher income tax rate than ours. Also, no extra school taxes. No capital gains taxes either. And you know what? Their schools look like palaces compared to ours, and the kids are perhaps better educated than ours.

      Now why is this?

      Because the people there account for every tax dollar. They pay attention. They don’t simply spout platitudes like “do it for the kids” or “invest in the future of our children” or “I want my child to have better than I did”.

      What do you think, you’re the only one who loves kids? Give me a break.

      1. Mike

        Jim, I don’t think these concepts are beyond my grasp.

        Here is what I want: a majority vote to decide the school budget.

        I cannot figure out what you want. Something about foreign aid, illegal immigrants, and capital gains tax. You’re all over the place.

        I never claimed to be the only one that loves kids. It’s clear many people in the community care about our kids — 59% from one sampling.

        1. Jim M.

          Mike, you want, you want, you want.

          First you want a budget passed without any critique.

          Then you want voting rules changed because the result does not suit you.

          You stomp your foot like a child.

          You assume that when people say no to a tax increase they don’t care about children.

          How simple-minded you are!

          1. Mike

            You are not actually saying anything and now you’ve resorted to name calling.

            Best of luck with life, Jim.

  6. JacksonBrown

    Less than 20 percent of private sector employees get pensions. Most people save their own money for retirement — for example, through 401(k)s. By contrast, Teachers and Administrators via the UNIONS expect to be paid by us for the rest of their lives.

      1. JACKSONBROWN

        Mike, The only thing Public Sector workers “deserve” is a fair wage. PERIOD! Your ok paying for your neighbors retirement because he/she plays kickball with your kid everyday? THEY should be responsible for their own retirement NOT their neighbor. Its out of control. I don’t want a penny of my $4100 school tax paying for some teachers pension. Think of all the money that can be saved if teachers were responsible for their own retirements. People are fed up with public sector unions and rising taxes. As a former New Paltz student, athlete, I will never vote YES for another school budget until the teachers UNION and school board wake up to reality. The joy ride is over and Im going to do everything in my power to spread the word. Maria Rice has no business making $244,000 – Thats absurd!! The bumper sticker slogans – “its for the kids” is a farce. It not for the kids.

  7. stopthesalayincreases

    When you work for the school district in this economy, taxpayers expect no salary increases for everybody. We, the taxpayer are expected to give you a raise? This includes salaries from the Superindent and on down the line. How dare these people who make outrageous salaries to begin with, have the stones to ask for more money? Really? How can you look any taxpayer in the eye vote for this budget? You say it is the kids? Not entirely. I reviewed the budget and I saw wage increases. I did not vote for this budget and I will not vote for the next budget vote in June unless I see “ZERO” salary increaes across the board for everyone.

    1. NA

      I can think of several reasons to not trust that people who make a living from running our schools.

      Here is but one of the tricks they used to use, years ago, to obscurely raise the Superintendent’s salary. Anyone reading the single year proposed budget would think that the Superintendent was not getting any raise. But by looking at 3 successive years of budgets, the TRUTH would be revealed.

      Note: The indicated years and salaries are hypothetical and are just used for an example.

      1987 Budget: Superintendent Salary = $65K; Proposed Salary = $65K; Percent of Increase = 0%.
      Then, that year, the superintendent’s salary would be raised by $10K to $75K and the next budget would 1989 Budget: Superintendent Salary = $75K; Proposed Salary = $75K; Percent of Increase = 0%.
      Then, that year, the superintendent’s salary would be raised by $10K to $75K and the next budget would
      1990 Budget: Superintendent Salary = $85K; Proposed Salary = $85K; Percent of Increase = 0%.

      Get the picture? Each budget would show a 0% salary increase. Yet each year the Super got a substantial raise in salary.

  8. na

    ugh! The formatting did not work and there was a typo. Allow me to try this again.

    1987 Budget: Superintendent Salary = $65K; Proposed Salary = $65K; Percent of Increase = 0%.

    Then, that year, the superintendent’s salary would be raised by $10K to $75K and the next budget would say:

    1989 Budget: Superintendent Salary = $75K; Proposed Salary = $75K; Percent of Increase = 0%.

    Then, that year, the superintendent’s salary would be raised by $10K to $85K and the next budget would say:

    1990 Budget: Superintendent Salary = $85K; Proposed Salary = $85K; Percent of Increase = 0%.

  9. JACKSONBROWN

    “Nationwide, inflation-adjusted, per-pupil education spending has increased by about 140 percent in the last 40 years, and the number of teachers per pupil has increased by over 70 percent,” Victor Joecks writes for NPRI.org. The result? “Student achievement … has been hovering around the same level – or even decreasing for decades,” Therein lies the ugly truth: K-12 spending increases are really about giving school employee union members automatic annual “step” raises, free pensions and low-cost health insurance. Union leaders can’t admit that publicly, so they say the spending is needed to help kids succeed.

    “ … Union bosses and liberals, relying on public ignorance they have helped foster, have falsely claimed for decades that a causal relationship exists (between spending levels and student achievement).

    1. JIm M.

      Right on JacksonBrown.

      People in our district need to consider the law of diminishing returns.

      No matter how much they throw at eduction, there’s going to come a point when student performance simply will not / cannot improve. Even a 200% tax increase this year will not bring us a district full of little Einsteins next year.

      The teachers’ union and administration would like to have us believe otherwise, but their arguments are not sound.

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