Voters in the Saugerties Central School District Tuesday approved a $61.05 million budget proposal for the 2016-17 school year by what school officials said was a greater than 2-to-1 margin. Though no official tallies had been released by the district prior to press time, Superintendent Seth Turner reportedly confirmed the budget’s success on Facebook.
Also successful in the unofficial tally was a block of challengers to three open seats on the board of education. Running under the Working Together umbrella, Paul Van Schaack (1,120 votes), Elena Maskell (1,046 votes) and Katie Emerson-Hoss (931 votes) each earned a three-year term on the Board. Incumbents Flo Hyatt (681 votes) and Angie Minew (507 votes) were defeated in their bids to remain on the school board. A third incumbent, George Heidcamp, chose not to run for re-election.
The budget will increase overall spending by 2.93 percent, but will only include a 0.12 percent bump in the local property tax levy.
School officials could not be reached for comment before the Saugerties Times went to press, but last month Superintendent Seth Turner lauded the budget as meeting the various needs of the district and its community.
“The priorities for the 2016-17 budget of course are student needs; consideration of the economic climate and local impact; facility maintenance, including safety, security, technology and site work; and planning for long-term fiscal health,” said Turner.
The spending plan includes increases in regular education teaching costs ($17.11 million, a 2.94 percent increase); programs for special education students, which Turner said comprises about 18 percent of the student population ($9.39 million, a 9.7 percent increase), contract transportation ($3.64 million, a 0.23 percent increase); plant operations ($2.04 million, a 3.1 percent increase); supervision of regular school ($1.13 million, an increase of 6.47 percent); and general support ($922,369, an increase of 17.18 percent.)
Among the new expenditures is an instructional salary total of $56,696 for summer school, which the district is planning to run for grades 7-9; grades 10-12 would still attend BOCES-run summer school.
The cost of some expense lines will go down when compared to the 2015-16 budget. Employee benefits ($16.09 million, a 0.82 percent decrease), debt service ($2.49 million, a 1.14 percent decrease) and occupational education ($1.53 million, a decrease of 13.17 percent) will all cost less in 2016-17.
Emerson-Hoss said that she was disappointed by the turnout, if not the end result.
“It means we won,” she said. “It’s hard to say what else it means when the voter turnout was so low. Only about 1,500 people expressed their preference. I believe that’s fewer than 10 percent of the registered voters in Saugerties. The tally certainly indicates that those who voted knew who they wanted on the board.”
Emerson-Hoss added that the sweep of the Working Together block showed that those who did turn out to vote were looking for a change.
“I think the significance is that voters want representatives that are committed to working together for the good of all, not a few,” she said, “These were votes for inclusive, collaborative and positive politics instead of divisive, fear-based and controlling rhetoric. Thankfully, we didn’t see much of the latter in this round of elections. However, I believe those who were defeated had engaged in it to varying degrees in past elections and while on the board. We understand once elected we represent everyone, not just those who elected us. Also everything has to be taken with the understanding that only 1,500 people made this decision. Who knows how the whole district feels?”
“I believe in a process that we must hear as well as listen to the concerns that are presented to use by the public,” said Van Schaack. “I believe in having open discussions, and keeping all members on our community informed of the decisions that are made by the school board in a way that can be understood. We live in an information age that is real time, and in some cases inaccurate. If you win the trust of your community, you will have a better working relationship moving forward. We need to take the politics out of education, I know that is a tall order, but we need to try.”