Saugerties school voters on Tuesday approved a $62.4-million spending plan for the 2017-18 school year by an unofficial tally of 1101-496, with a roughly 69 percent approval rate which was on par with last year’s vote.
The three open seats on the school board went to newcomer Susan Gage (1038 votes) and incumbents Damion Ferraro (954 votes) and Krista Barringer (846). Gage retired at the end of the 2015-16 school year after twelve years as the district’s director of special education. Incumbent Charles Schirmer and challenger Alex Rappoport got 717 and 673 votes respectively in their unsuccessful races.
Voters also overwhelmingly approved a pair of propositions, with a 1046-555 tally in favor of building a greenhouse on the high school campus, and 1104-496 supporting the establishment of a capital reserve fund.
In total, there were 1628 votes cast, 83 submitted as absentee ballots. Forty affidavit ballots had yet to be counted, but there aren’t enough to change the outcome.
“I feel as though we hit the trifecta,” said superintendent Seth Turner. “The community supported all three resolutions that we placed before them. I’m very excited that they continue to support the budgetary plan that we put forward. But the fact that we will now be establishing a greenhouse is absolutely phenomenal, and I’m very excited to get going on that project. And the support for the capital reserve project will pay dividends for the constituents in the community for years to come as we identify facility repairs. We can draw on that reserve to hopefully nullify any costs that come up.”
Overall spending will increase by $1.3 million, around 2.2 percent, in 2017-18, in a spending plan that comes with a tax-levy increase at the state cap, 1.56 percent. The anticipated tax levy attached to the budget is $37,771,856.
The district based its estimated tax rates for 2017-18 on current assessments and equalization rates. For district propertyowners in both Saugerties and Woodstock, that’s $20.48693 per $1000 of assessed value. District propertyowners in the Town of Ulster would see their tax rates come in at an estimated $25.13734 per $1000 of assessed value.
“The support for the budget, when you go back to that, it really is indicative that the community is really supportive of the plans that we’re putting forward,” said Turner. Acknowledging some late uncertainty at the state level in its budgeting process, the district considered a number of scenarios in the weeks prior to adopting the spending plan.
“What it took was a wealth of planning,” Turner explained. “We were prepared to move in a lot of different directions, but what we were committed to was to ensure that whatever budgetary actions that we had to take, that we would always keep student needs at the forefront.”
Turner said that school officials were dedicated to keeping the school budgets as clear and concise as possible. “We’ve been audited in recent years and we’ve budgeted within close to 99 percent accuracy, a very high ratio,” he said. “We work hard to ensure that the monies given to us by New York State and the taxpayers of the community are devoted to this specific purpose, which is educating the children in the community in the best way possible.”
Voter approval of the greenhouse proposition will allow the district to construct a greenhouse as part of its Saugerties GROWS (Graduation Requirements through Occupational Work Study), which gives students a wide range of opportunities to fulfill CDOS (Career Development and Occupational Studies) requirements. An estimated maximum cost of $540,000 will be paid from unappropriated and unassigned general fund balance and federal grant money.
Approval of establishing the capital reserve fund gives the district a bit of breathing room when facilities issues arise, Turner said. State education law allows school districts to establish capital reserve funds to use on specific facilities projects for a specified period of time. Saugerties sought approval for a fund that will be built up on an annual basis from funds exceeding the general-fund balance limit of four percent, with an amount not to exceed $10 million. School officials stressed that the capital reserve fund was unrelated to the greenhouse proposal.
“I need to point out that when we wish to expend funds from that reserve it also takes voter authorization,” Turner said. “It really is demonstrative of good fiscal planning and setting this district up for the long haul.”
Turner commented on the five-person race for the three three-year terms for the school board. “I’d like to thank Chuck Schirmer for his dedication to the board of education for over 21 years, and welcome Sue Gage to the board of ed,” Turner said. “I think she’ll be a valuable asset to this community. I congratulate Krista Barringer and Damion Ferraro for winning their respective elections as well.”