Voters in the Kingston City School District on Tuesday supported the district’s $169.58 million spending plan for the 2017-18 school year by a wide margin. The unofficial 1,863-1,012 result was buoyed by a clean sweep in polling places in all seven of the district’s elementary schools.
Superintendent Paul Padalino said the overall results showed the community was behind the direction the district is heading, as all three incumbent members of the Board of Education — President Nora Scherer, Vice-President the Rev. James E. Childs Jr. and Trustee Priscilla Lowe — earned the right to keep their seats against a pair of challengers, and two propositions also passed by a significant margin.
Of those, a $4.23 million renovation plan for the former Frank L. Meagher Elementary School, a proposition school officials said will come at no additional cost to local taxpayers, had the potential for a tough battle as some critics pointed out the high number of variables and dwindling student population. The renovation will prepare class space for a universal pre-K hub and the district’s administrative headquarters. According to the plan, state building aid, capital reserve funds, and the anticipated sale of the Cioni Administration Building would cover the renovation costs. But ultimately voters approved the proposition by a margin of 1,727-1,137.
“I think the community saw the value in what we want to do at Meagher and how it will impact students, and also I think people saw the idea of this building, the Cioni Building, sold and put on the tax rolls,” said Padalino on Tuesday night. “That was a big piece of it, and I think a lot of people came out because they wanted to see that happen. We’re really excited and pleased with the results. Now we’ve got to get ourselves ready to go and start the renovation.”
The Cioni Building was officially on the market three years ago, receiving two bids both coming in at about $660,000, that the district ultimately rejected. Cioni received a $1 million offer a year ago from Grupo Habita, a Mexican-based firm that designs and operates hotels, with its closest — and largest — the 56-room Hotel Americano in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. School officials used that $1 million figure in preparing the Meagher proposition, but Superintendent Paul Padalino said real estate consultants told them the value could be considerably higher now. Curious members of the community won’t have long to wait before finding out.
“Under education law we have to put it out for open bids for 30 days, though the board isn’t required to accept any of those bids,” Padalino said. “After that 30-day period they could list it with a price if they choose to do so. We’re expecting to have bid language discussed tomorrow [Wednesday, May 17, after the Kingston Times went to press] night at the board meeting, and we will hopefully have the bids out on the street at the end of the week.”
A separate proposition, to change the mileage minimum to provide bus transportation for middle school students from 1.5 miles to a half mile was approved by a margin of 1,895-960.
The approved budget has a local property tax levy of $101.7 million, an increase of 1.35 percent, the state’s cap for the district. School officials struggled with trying to overcome a $1.7 million shortfall to avoid having to go over the cap, but were ultimately able to do so with a combination of state aid and money from the district’s fund balance. The spending plan maintains academic programs and extracurricular activities, doesn’t eliminate jobs, maintains what the district considers “appropriate” class sizes of 22 or fewer in K-2, continues instructional support for special education, and keeps other initiatives put in place over the past few years in place.
“It would have been nice to do a few additions here and there, but we were pleased we were able to keep the things that have pushed us in the direction we’ve been going over the last four years and maintain them and stay the course,” Padalino said.
As with both propositions, the district’s budget plan was approved by voters in all polling places across the district. It won by the narrowest margins at Edward R. Crosby (220-153) and George Washington (222-162) elementary schools, but cruised elsewhere, including Ernest C. Myer (244-88) and Robert R. Graves (367-187) elementary schools.
All three incumbents were re-elected with relative ease on Tuesday, with Scherer (1,907), Childs (1,713) and Lowe (1,631) outpacing challengers Herbert Lamb (1,132) and Steven Spicer (1,051).
“To me that’s always an indicator of community support, when you see contested board elections and the incumbents come back in,” Padalino said. “It means people appreciate the work they’re doing, understand that they’re working hard for kids and for what’s best in the district, and they want to see that direction stay the same. Obviously people usually run against incumbents on a platform of change, and I think this indicates that people like the direction we’re heading. For the board, myself and the administration, it’s nice to have the consistency.”