Voters in the Onteora Central School district will go to the polls 2 p.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday, May 16, to elect four board of trustees candidates and to decide whether to approve or reject the district’s proposed budget.
West Hurley residents will have a new polling place at West Hurley firehouse instead of West Hurley Elementary School. All other residents will vote at their designated neighborhood schools at Woodstock, Phoenicia, or Bennett Elementary. Voters are asked to vote on a proposed budget of $54,296,155 for the 2017-2018 school year, which includes a spending increase of 2 percent or $1,073,377, and a levy increase of 1.8 percent. Driving the budget increase is nearly $1 million in rising health insurance premiums for employees. There are no cuts to programs, but one special education teacher, a regular education teacher and one school monitor will be cut.
If voters reject the budget twice, a State mandated contingency would be put in its place that restricts spending on school equipment, public use of school facilities, technology and capital expenses. Projects cut in such a scenario will include a new science lab in the high school, minor radon remediation at Phoenicia school, summer school and field trips. Additionally, in a contingency situation, the tax levy cannot exceed the prior year’s levy, and thus a contingency levy would include no increase.
A special meeting of the board of education will follow the election at approximately 9 p.m. at the Onteora Middle/High School in Boiceville, to accept the votes cast. Kindergarten-through-grade six students will have an early dismissal at 1 p.m. on Tuesday May 16.
A copy of the proposed school budget is now on file at the district’s schools including the Central Office on the Boiceville campus, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-through-Friday; in local town libraries in Hurley, Olive, Phoenicia, West Hurley and Woodstock during regular library business hours, and by going to the district’s website at Onteora.k12.ny.us.
There are four board seats available; three hold a full term of three years and one seat is for one-year. There are only four candidates, Robert Burke Warren, Rob Kurnit, Laurie Osmond, and Bennet Ratcliff. Unless a surprise write-in groundswell emerges (and thus far, no one has been vocal about it) the only contest will see the lowest vote getter receiving the one-year term. School Board President Bobbi Schnell who resigned for health reasons recently vacated the seat. This person will immediately fill the vacancy, usually on the night of the election.
Phoenicia resident Robert Burke Warren is the only newcomer, though he has been involved with board issues for many years. He is a musician, writer, and teaches music. He is currently Director of after-school enrichment programs and Director of communications programs at the Woodstock Day School. His son graduated from Onteora in 2016 and now he wants to give back to the community. “I am inclined toward service, and I hope to give back to my beloved community in this way, to ensure other kids will continue to receive the advantages my son did,” he wrote in an email. Warren was a vocal proponent to keep Phoenicia elementary school open and supported the mascot change.
Woodstock resident Rob Kurnit is returning following a defeat in the election last year after a seven-year tenure as trustee. He is eager to return and focus on district facilities and early childhood education, two topics he is most passionate about. Kurnit has worked professionally as a builder and custom woodworker, which he said allows him to understand the needs of facilities upgrades. “I am still dedicated to focusing on Policy, and Facilities as both constantly need to be analyzed and updated,” he wrote in an email. Kurnit was on the board when Superintendent Bruce Watson was hired, noting that he wants to be a part of the process again. “I am running again, because I am still passionate about making public education the best it can be for all students.”
Woodstock resident Bennet Ratcliff has three children and works as a consultant in the field of education on a national level, and in the past he has consulted in national and international politics. He has served as board trustee since February 2016. Ratcliff believes it takes a whole community effort to educate children and notes the recent US News and World Report, awarding Onteora a silver medal for academic achievement, the only school in the county to earn such award. He writes, “As a Board member, I will focus on making our great schools even better with policies to build an environment of inclusivity, to update our technology and science resources, to maintain our music, art and sports opportunities, to promote sustainable facilities, to review homework guidelines and start times, and to spend tax dollars wisely.”
Woodstock resident Laurie Osmond is the most seasoned of the group when it comes to being a trustee, having served for nearly nine-years. She has one daughter in high school and works as a media producer, editor, writer and videographer. She is currently Vice President of the school board, but in the past has served as president, and has sat on various committees including facilities and policy. In an email she wrote, “I want to continue to advocate for our kids with our legislators. I think it’s also important that we look at things that may not be serving our students as well as they could be; policies and practices that could be improved on, like school start times or homework.”