Onteora budget and trustee vote primer

Valerie Storey, Rob Kurnit and Leo Warren.

Voters in the Onteora Central School district will go to the polls Tuesday, May 15, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Woodstock, Phoenicia, Bennett schools, and the West Hurley Firehouse to consider a proposed budget of $55,557,578 for the 2018/19 school year. This is a budget increase of $1,281,423 or 2.36 percent and a tax levy increase of 2.98 percent, well below the State allowed levy increase of 3.63 percent. The budget increase is mostly driven by a rise in employee benefits, and Capital projects including new bleachers and press box at the Middle/High School.

A second proposition on the ballot is a request to purchase two school buses for $175,000. This is to replace aging buses with high mileage that are more costly to maintain than to purchase new.

If voters reject the budget in two separate votes, 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.

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A special meeting of the board will follow the election at approximately 9 p.m. May 15 at the Onteora Middle/High School in Boiceville, to accept the vote results. Kindergarten-through-grade six students will have an early dismissal at 1 p.m.

A copy of the school budget is now on file at the district’s schools including Central Office from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-through-Friday, 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.

Three candidates, two seats

There are three candidates vying for two seats on the Onteora District School Board of Education. Rob Kurnit and Valerie Storey are the incumbents, and Leo Warren who ran in 2016 but lost, has challenged once again. Storey and Warren say they are running as a team. All three agree individual freedoms are important, however safety in school is equally important. Even though the three had different opinions regarding the Indian Mascot, they now agree the Eagle is the new Mascot and there is no turning back.

Incumbent Kurnit is a Woodstock resident since 1991 and is finishing up his eighth year as a Trustee. He is Vice President of the Ulster County School Boards Association and in 2016 received a lifetime achievement award from New York State School Boards Association. He is on the facilities committee where, as co-chair he worked to implement the districts’ Energy Performance Contract. Kurnit is involved with various capital improvement projects throughout the district including new heating systems at the Middle/High School and Phoenicia Elementary, and building of new playgrounds. As a woodworker and builder Kurnit believes he brings experience regarding the facilities, but he is also a passionate advocate for early childhood learning. “That is still a major focus of mine. I think it’s just logical, everybody seems to agree if you give kids a great start, that is the foundation for success in life.” Kurnit also enjoys being a Trustee. “I’ve gotten a lot out of it from an individual point of view, I’ve got to meet a lot of interesting people, so I think that’s a benefit.”

Incumbent Storey, a Hurley resident is finishing up her first term of three years who also enjoys being on the Board. She is a full time mom with children in the district. “When I go into Bennett, or my son’s class, or we are doing different projects at the Phoenicia Earth Day last week, it’s awesome to work with the kids and you see their faces, and that’s why I keep doing it.” She is co-chair of the facilities committee and sits on the district wide safety committee. She wants to oversee a smooth transition of new employees to the administration department, including the new Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Assistant Superintendent for Business. “I’m excited to see what the administration can do and how we can support our students.” She has opted her own children out of the State testing, though she believes the State is headed in the right direction with teachers overseeing new standards.

When Shokan resident Warren was asked why run again he said,  “I want to make a difference and my children are young in the district.” He continued, “I volunteer a lot, involved with a lot of parents and different groups, so I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that they would like to see someone with my business experience on the board, as well as somebody who is involved with the community and listens to what people say.” He and his wife run a custom engraving and printing business. Warren is a coach for Little League, sits on the shared decision making committee at Phoenicia Elementary and is involved with the PTA. He said declining enrollment has become more of an issue since he ran two years ago. “We need to look at our multiple facilities with declining enrollment. What we need to do is analyze all our numbers and identify a way to maintain what the students have, the benefits they have within our district without increasing taxes.” He believes the driver behind tax increase is labor and benefits costs to employees and wants to take a close look followed by adjustments.

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